Liability of Public Entities in Caring for Persons during Involuntary Commitment Process

Anderson v. Marshall Cty., Miss., No. 15-60051, 2016 WL 143303 (5th Cir. Jan. 12, 2016) (per curiam)

Estate of mentally ill person, who was taken into involuntary custody due to mental health crisis and later died in County Sheriff Department’s custody, failed to meet requirements for claims against hospital and County under 42 USC § 1983, as evidence did not demonstrate that defendants had a policy or practice amounting to deliberate indifference, as required under Monell. 

Background: After Princess Anderson arrived at a hospital in Marshall County Mississippi, she became increasingly agitated and physical with emergency room staff. Anderson tested positive for marijuana and opiates, and was diagnosed with acute psychosis. After a mental health evaluation, it was determined that Anderson required psychological care, but she refused voluntary admission. The chancery court granted the doctors’ request to have Anderson involuntarily committed and ordered the DeSoto County sheriff to take custody of her. Because Anderson was a resident of Marshall County, she was transported from DeSoto to Marshall County jail on Tuesday, February 8th. On arrival, DeSoto deputies told the Marshall County jail officer that Anderson had become agitated during the transport requiring that she be restrained. The Marshall jail officer did not review Anderson’s medical records (believing she was not entitled to view Anderson’s health information), and Anderson was placed in a cell. Although other inmates reported that Anderson needed emergency medical attention, she was not taken to a hospital until Friday, February 11th when Anderson’s mother arrived at the jail to take her to a hospital for follow-up tests. Shortly after arriving there, Anderson died of multisystem organ failure. Her mother, Angela Anderson, sued Marshall County and the Sheriff for violations of Princess Anderson’s rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court determined that there was no § 1983 violation.

Holding: The Fifth Circuit held per curiam that Angela Anderson did not meet “the high bar required for Monell liability” under § 1983 and upheld the district court’s grant of summary judgment against her. On the failure to train claim, the Court held that the plaintiff failed to establish that Marshall County acted with deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of inmates when adopting its training procedures. The Court also found the single incident exception to Monell’s general requirement of a pattern of unconstitutional conduct was not applicable given the evidence presented by the plaintiff.

Notable Points:

Plaintiff did not show evidence of a pattern of deliberate indifference: Anderson came forward with no evidence to show or allege a pattern of deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of prisoners in Marshall County’s training, policies, or procedures. Without evidence of a pattern, Marshall County could not be found to have been on notice that its current training was producing unconstitutional results. Absent a pattern, the plaintiff must show deliberate indifference through the single incident exception.

Plaintiff’s evidence was not sufficient to meet § 1983’s single incident exception: The single incident exception would require that Marshall County’s training be so inadequate that the county was on notice that an untrained officer would have neglected a prisoner in the way Marshall jail officer was alleged to have done. The Fifth Circuit reiterated that “it is not enough to say that more or different training or supervision would have prevented Princess’s injuries.” It is almost always the case that more or better training could have prevented a poor outcome, so that cannot be enough to subject a county to governmental liability. Specifically, the Court said that, given the training provided, Marshall County “could not have anticipated that Officer Anderson and other correctional officers would ignore Princess’s litany of obvious ailments.”

Found in Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 1