Liability of Public Officials for Care of Mentally Ill Inmates in Correctional Setting

Saylor v. Nebraska, 812 F.3d 637 (8th Cir. 2016), as amended (Mar. 4, 2016)

Claim by jail inmate with mental illness against jail doctors and staff under 42 USC § 1983 did not establish deliberate indifference required under the Eighth Amendment to establish liability. Summary judgment granted to all defendants based upon qualified immunity.

Background: James Saylor sued the State of Nebraska, the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (“NDCS”), Correct Care, LLC, and several individuals alleging violations of his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Saylor alleged that defendants acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs by failing properly to treat him for PTSD. He claimed that his level of care at Nebraska State Prison was so low as to constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The district court dismissed Saylor’s claims against the State of Nebraska and the NDCS and the claims for monetary relief against the individual defendants in their official capacities. The district court then denied the remaining defendants’ motions for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity.

Holdings: On appeal, the Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that there were not genuine disputes concerning “the predicate facts material to the qualified immunity issue.” Because the Court found that the record showed that all defendants “met Saylor’s medical needs beyond the minimum standard required,” there was no deprivation of Saylor’s Eighth Amendment rights. Thus, defendants were entitled to qualified immunity.

Notable Points:

Qualified immunity for non-medical defendants: In order to overcome a defense of qualified immunity for the non-medical defendants, a plaintiff must show that supervisors had direct responsibility for the alleged violations, had actual knowledge of the violation, or gave tacit authorization for the violation. The Court held that the non-medical prison supervisors who approved Saylor’s transfer were not indifferent to his PTSD in violation of the Eight Amendment because Saylor provided “no specific evidence that they were involved in, or directly responsible for, his allegedly insufficient medical care.”

Qualified immunity for medical defendants: In order to overcome a defense of qualified immunity for the medical defendants, a plaintiff must show that defendants were personally responsible for violations, or were responsible for a systematic condition that violated Constitution. Here, the Court held that the State prison’s medical staff was not deliberately indifferent to Saylor’s PTSD even though Saylor argued that he received treatment that rose to the level of cruel and unusual punishment after his original treating physician left. Records showed that medical staff provided beyond the minimum standard required after his previous treater left, first providing Saylor with another physician at the same facility and then ultimately a physiatrist at a different facility. They also continued his medication consistent with their independent medical judgment. The staff also granted Saylor’s request for a private cell and sought his agreement for certain deviations from his original treatment plan.

Found in Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 1