Liability of Correctional and Mental Health Officials

Glasgow v. Nebraska, 819 F.3d 436 (8th Cir. 2016)

Correctional and mental health officials do not owe a duty to third parties for injuries inflicted by inmates who are returned to the community following assessment by those officials. 

Background: Nikko Jenkins was a mentally ill inmate who was released from prison after 10.5 years of his sentence because the state changed Jenkins’ recommendation from inpatient to outpatient treatment, which accelerated his release. Upon his release, Jenkins killed 4 people in Omaha, one of them Curtis Bradford. Bradford’s mother, Velita Glasgow, filed suit against the state of Nebraska, among other defendants, for violation of Bradford’s substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment (§1983) and a state law negligence claim, arguing that the state acted with deliberate indifference in accelerating a dangerous prisoner’s release and violated Bradford’s right to life. Additionally, she argued that the state had a duty to protect Bradford from their prisoners and the state abandoned that duty when they knowingly released a mentally-ill prisoner who allegedly threatened to kill someone if he was released. The district court dismissed Glasgow’s claim, stating that the complaint was “devoid of any plausible allegation against [the] defendants.” Glasgow appealed.

Holding: The Eighth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of all claims. An official may be sued if they violated a statutory or constitutional right that was “clearly established” at the time of the conduct. The Eighth Circuit held that “there is no general substantive due process right to be protected against the release of criminals from confinement.” Furthermore, because there was no evidence that the state’s conduct created a significant risk to a precisely defined group of people and that, if that group existed, Bradford was a part of that group, the state was not required by the Due Process clause to protect Bradford’s life from private actors. The court quickly did away with the negligence claim by holding that the plaintiff did not provide any legal authority to explain that the state had a legal duty to Bradford.

Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 2