Medical Care and Substantive Due Process Violations in Correctional Facilities

Daniel v. Cook Cnty., No. 15-2832, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 14886 (7th Cir. Aug. 12, 2016)

Seventh Circuit rules that a plaintiff may submit into evidence a DOJ report showing “systemic flaws” in the jail’s medical care of inmates under the hearsay exception for “factual findings from legally authorized investigations.” [Editor’s note: While the substandard care addressed in this case did not involve mental health care, the court’s ruling has important implications for litigation involving mental health care in public facilities.].

Background: Alex Daniel was a pretrial detainee when he suffered multiple fractures in his wrist after falling during a basketball game. Daniel was initially treated by an on-duty general practitioner with an elastic bandage and a sling and after a delay was eventually treated by an orthopedic specialist. Daniel was placed in a long arm cast, which was replaced by a short arm cast three weeks later. The orthopedic specialist instructed Daniel to return in another three weeks to have the short arm cast removed; however, Daniel’s cast was not removed until ten weeks later. During this delay, Daniel filed multiple grievances with the jail staff seeking treatment for his wrist. Daniel was examined by another orthopedist who concluded that Daniel suffered from “residual and permanent stiffness of his left hand and wrist,” more likely than not caused by the long immobilization in the short arm cast. Daniel filed suit and offered as evidence a report from the DOJ detailing systemic health care problems at the jail. The district court granted summary judgment for defendant Cook County ruling that the DOJ report was inadmissible hearsay.

Holding: The Seventh Circuit ruled that the DOJ report met the requirements for a presumption of admissibility in civil cases for “factual findings from a legally authorized investigation” under the Federal Rules of Evidence. The court reversed the grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings.

Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 3