Eighth Amendment right of jail inmate to be free from deliberate indifference to risk of suicide; qualified immunity

Estate of Clark v. Walker, 865 F.3d 544 (7th Cir. 2017)

Seventh Circuit denies motion for summary judgment and claims of qualified immunity by jail deputy and contract nurse in suicide case, where deceased inmate’s estate alleged defendants failed to follow jail’s suicide protocols despite testing that showed maximum suicide risk; private contract nurse found ineligible to invoke qualified immunity.

Found in DMHL Volume 36, Issue 3

Eighth Amendment violations due to inhumane prison conditions and lack of treatment; inmate suicide

Palakovic v. Wetzel, 854 F.3d 209 (3rd Cir. 2017)

Third Circuit reverses the trial court’s grant of defendants’ motions to dismiss claims brought by estate of inmate who committed suicide in prison, holding that the district court erred by (1) improperly applying the guidelines for determining the liability of facility staff for an inmate’s suicide, and (2) improperly denying claims that the prison was liable for subjecting the inmate to inhumane conditions and being deliberately indifferent to his documented mental illness, separate and apart from his suicide.

Found in DMHL Volume 36, Issue 2

Exhaustion doctrine—modification when claimant compromised by mental illness

Weiss v. Barribeau, et al., 853 F.3d 873 (7th Cir. 2017)

Seventh Circuit reverses the district court’s grant of summary judgment to prison officials on inmate’s Eighth Amendment claim, on the grounds of inmate’s failure to exhaust administrative remedies, finding that inmate’s capacity to make required timely administrative complaints and appeals was compromised by his mental illness and by the actions of prison officials in response to that illness.

Found in DMHL Volume 36, Issue 2

Eighth Amendment/Conditions of Confinement/Deliberate Indifference

Rasho v. Elyea, No. 14-1902, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 3976 (7th Cir. Mar. 7, 2017)

Eighth Amendment/Conditions of Confinement/Deliberate Indifference: Seventh Circuit reverses grant of summary judgment to contract psychiatrists in state prison system where inmate with serious mental illness alleges that psychiatrists effected his transfer out of a special mental health treatment unit in retaliation for the inmate’s grievances against staff, resulting in denial of effective treatment.

Found in DMHL Volume 36, Issue 1

Sufficient Facts Alleged Regarding Suicide of Detainee to Permit "Deliberate Indifference" Lawsuit Targeting Jail Staff to Continue

Short v. McEathron, No. Civ.A.5:04 CV 00043, 2004 WL 2475561 (W.D. Va. 2004)

Suicides and suicide attempts by jail and prison inmates with a mental disorder are unfortunately not a rare event.  Following an inmate suicide, a lawsuit may be filed that asserts that correctional officials did not take adequate steps to prevent the suicide.  The United States Supreme Court in Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 848 (1994), established that a prison official may be held liable under federal law if the official "knows that inmates face a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it."  Such a complaint is widely referred to as a "deliberate indifference" claim...

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 1

Use of Five-Point Restraints on Inmates for 46-48 Hours Without Procedural Checks Ruled Unconstitutional

Card v. D.C. Dep't of Corr., No. 2:00CV631, 2005 WL 2260167 (E.D. Va. Sept. 13, 2005)

Incarcerated individuals with a mental illness may be particularly prone to engage in disruptive behavior.  When an inmate engages in disruptive behavior, correctional officials may respond in various ways.  They may reduce the inmate's privileges, place the inmate in isolation or segregation, or employ four- or five-point restraints to subdue the individual.  Under Virginia state policy, an inmate who tried to escape or demonstrated violent or unmanageable behavior could be positioned face up on a bed with leather straps applied to the wrists, ankles, and across the chest for up to forty-eight hours if initial approval had been provided by the Warden or Administrative  Duty Officer.  This policy was challenged by an inmate who had been placed in five-point restraints for 46-48 hours on five occasions (six to nine meal and restroom breaks were provided each time)...

Found in DMHL Volume 25 Issue 1

Treatment of Mentally Ill Individuals in Custodial Settings: Liberty Interest Deprivation and Eighth Amendment

Claim of prisoner with mental illness that liberty deprivations from facility’s Behavior Action Plans were imposed without due process and resulted in Eighth Amendment violations raises genuine issues of fact and survives motion for summary judgment

Townsend v. Cooper, 759 F.3d 678 (7th Cir. 2014)

Townsend, a prisoner at the Green Bay Correctional Institution (GBCI), sued GBCI officials for civil rights violations. Townsend suffered from significant mental illness and engaged in disruptive behavior, including suicide attempts and fighting. Townsend was repeatedly subjected to observation placements and Behavioral Action Plans (BAPs). Vacating the judgment below, the Seventh Circuit held that Townsend had raised genuine issues of material fact regarding whether the imposition of the BAP violated his due process rights by imposing an atypical and significant hardship compared to the ordinary incidents of prison life, without appropriate notice and an opportunity to be heard and whether the BAP imposed conditions of confinement that denied Townsend the minimal civilized measures of life’s necessities.

To succeed on his Fourteenth Amendment due process claim, Townsend was required to “establish that he ha[d] a liberty interest in not being placed in the [BAP]—as it was administered to him—without procedural protections,” noting that it was “undisputed that he received no procedural due process, so the claim turns on whether he can establish a liberty interest.” Prisoners have a liberty interest, guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, in “avoiding transfer to more restrictive prison conditions if those conditions result in an atypical and significant hardship when compared to the ordinary incidents of prison life.” In order to succeed on an Eighth Amendment claim, a prisoner must show that the BAP “imposed conditions that denied him the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities” and that defendants “acted in disregard of a substantial risk of serious harm to him.”

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 1

Treatment of Mentally Ill Individuals in Custodial Settings: Eighth Amendment

Failure to follow national suicide screening prevention standards with prisoner who later commits suicide presents colorable eighth amendment claim that survives summary judgment motion

Barkes v. First Corr. Med., Inc., 766 F.3d 307 (3d Cir. 2014)

After Christopher Barkes committed suicide while being held at a correctional facility in Delaware, his wife and children brought a § 1983 suit against the commissioner of the state department of corrections (“DOC”), the warden, and the private company with whom the DOC contracted to provided medical services to the prison (“FCM”) alleging violations of the Eighth Amendment of the federal Constitution.

When Barkes was arrested in November, 2004, he underwent a medical intake screening procedure conducted by a licensed nurse employed by LCM, the private contractor hired to provide medical services to the prison. The procedure involved (1) a self-report intake form that included questions about suicidal ideation, (2) screening for seventeen suicide risk factors, and (3) a standard medical intake form with questions about “altered mental status ... or abnormal conduct.” Barkes indicated that he had attempted suicide in 2003, but made no mention of three other attempts (one in 1997 and two in 2004) and checked only two of the seventeen suicide screening factors (eight were required to initiate suicide prevention measures). Finally, the licensed practical nurse who conducted the evaluation reported that Barkes showed no signs of either altered mental status or abnormal conduct. Barkes did, however, place a call to his wife that evening and express his intention to kill himself, but his wife did not inform the DOC. The next morning, Barkes was observed lying on his bed in his cell at 10:45, 10:50, and 11:00 a.m. When an officer came to deliver his lunch at 11:35 a.m., Barkes had hanged himself with a bed sheet.

The Third Circuit held (1) for purposes of determining whether the warden and DOC commissioner were entitled to qualified immunity, Barkes’ constitutional right to “proper implementation of adequate suicide prevention tools” was clearly established at the time of his suicide; (2) that summary judgment was inappropriate given evidence that “FCM's policies and procedures in place at the time of Barkes's suicide created an unreasonable risk of a constitutional deprivation;” and (3) that a reasonable jury could have found that Barkes’ suicide was caused by the DOC’s failure to supervise FCM. The second holding was based on evidence of the DOC’s awareness that “FCM's suicide prevention screening practices were not in compliance with [National Commission on Correctional Health Care] standards, as required by their contract with the DOC.” The Third Circuit reached its third holding despite the fact that Barkes did not self-report any suicidal ideation or exhibit any suicidal behavior because, in the court’s view, “had Appellants properly supervised FCM and ensured compliance with the contract, Barkes's answers during his screening would have resulted in additional preventive measures being taken.”

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 1

Intellectual disability determination and the death penalty

Request to submit “newly discovered evidence” to establish intellectual disability and ineligibility for death penalty not barred by 28 U.S.C § 2255(e) even after original appeal denied

Webster v. Daniels, 784 F.3d 1123 (7th Cir. 2015) (rehearing en banc)

Bruce Webster was convicted of kidnapping resulting in death and related offenses and was sentenced to death. These convictions and his death sentence were affirmed on direct appeal in Texas, and his motions for habeas relief, which were heard in Indiana where he resides on death row, were denied. Webster sought a rehearing en banc to address the question of whether he could file for a writ of habeas corpus to present new evidence demonstrating that he was categorically and constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002) and Hall v. Florida, 134 S.Ct. 1986 (2014). Federal prisoners who claim to be convicted or sentenced in violation of the Constitution must present a claim for relief by a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Subsection (e) generally prevents a prisoner from making an application for a writ of habeas corpus. There is, however, a savings clause in § 2255(e) that allows a prisoner to apply for a writ of habeas corpus where “it appears that the remedy by motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.” A panel of the Seventh Circuit originally concluded that a claim of new evidence can never satisfy the standard in § 2255(e).

Upon rehearing en banc, the Seventh Circuit determined that “the savings clause [in § 2255(e)] permits Webster to resort to a [habeas] petition.” Of essential importance to the Court were the facts that “the Supreme Court has now established that the Constitution itself forbids the execution of certain people,” and that a “core purpose of habeas corpus is to prevent a custodian from inflicting an unconstitutional sentence.” The Court held that a categorical bar against the use of § 2255(e)’s savings clause in this way could lead to “the intolerable result of condoning an execution that violates the Eighth Amendment.” Conceding that this rule could not be applied to all newly discovered evidence due to finality considerations, the Court held that habeas relief was available to Webster because the new evidence proffered existed before the time of the trial and there was evidence “indicating that [it] was not available during the initial trial as a result of missteps by the Social Security Administration, not Webster’s counsel.”

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 2

Intellectual disability determination and the death penalty

Habeas corpus relief granted to criminal defendant sentenced to death in state court system on grounds that he is ineligible for death penalty due to intellectual disability

Pruitt v. Neal, 788 F.3d 248 (7th Cir. 2015)

Tommy Pruitt was charged with murder, attempted murder, and related offenses in Indiana state court, and was convicted and sentenced to death. After exhausting his state post-conviction remedies, Pruitt sought federal habeas relief claiming that he was intellectually disabled and thus categorically ineligible for the death penalty. He also included several claims alleging ineffective assistance of his trial counsel, including one based on their failure to investigate and present evidence at sentencing that Pruitt suffered from schizophrenia. 

The Seventh Circuit held that the Indiana Supreme Court’s “determination that Pruitt failed to demonstrate significantly subaverage intellectual functioning based on inconsistent test scores” was objectively unreasonable and contrary to the clear and convincing weight of evidence. The Indiana Supreme Court erred by relying on “inaccurate assumptions and select pieces of evidence” in its factual determination, weighing circumstantial evidence—such as Pruitt’s ability to fill out applications for employment and his other work and school history—as more indicative of his true intellectual ability than his many subaverage IQ test scores. The Court also noted that the state court record contained “unrebutted evidence that Pruitt satisfie[d] the adaptive behavior prong of intellectual disability.” The Seventh Circuit also held that trial counsel’s failure to investigate and present evidence of Pruitt’s paranoid schizophrenia was “sufficiently egregious and prejudicial” to establish ineffective assistance. Ultimately, the Seventh Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded the case for new penalty-phase proceedings.

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 2


Because no Supreme Court precedent established a right to suicide prevention protocols, corrections officials were entitled to qualified immunity in case involving claim that inmate suicide arose from facility’s violation of inmate’s Eighth Amendment right to appropriate suicide screening, treatment and monitoring

Taylor v. Barkes, 135 S.Ct. 2042 (2015) (per curiam)

Christopher Barkes was arrested in 2004 for violating probation and was taken to a Department of Corrections (DOC) facility in Wilmington, Delaware, where he underwent a suicide screening based on a model form developed by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) in 1997 as part of intake procedures. The intake was completed by a nurse from the contractor employed by the facility (First Correctional Medical, Inc. [FCM]). Barkes stated that he had attempted suicide in 2003 and disclosed that he had a history of psychiatric treatment, but said that he was not currently contemplating suicide. The nurse gave Barkes a routine referral to mental health services and did not initiate any special suicide prevention measures. Barkes was placed in a cell by himself. He placed a call to his wife that evening and expressed his intention to kill himself, but his wife did not inform the DOC. The next morning, Barkes was observed lying on his bed at 10:45, 10;50, and 11:00 am. At 11:35 am, an officer delivered lunch to the cell and discovered that Barkes had hanged himself with a bedsheet.

The Third Circuit held that Barkes’s constitutional right to “proper implementation of adequate suicide prevention tools” was clearly established at the time of his suicide. It also held that summary judgment was inappropriate given evidence that “FCM’s policies and procedures…created an unreasonable risk of a constitutional deprivation” and evidence of DOC’s awareness of FCM’s non-compliance with NCCHC standards. Finally, it held that a reasonable jury could have found that Barkes’s suicide was caused by the DOC’s failure to supervise FCM despite the fact that Barkes did not self-report suicidal ideation or exhibit suicidal behavior. In the court’s view, “had Appellants properly supervised FCM and ensured compliance with the national standards, Barkes’s answers during his screening would have resulted in additional preventive measures being taken.”

The Supreme Court reversed per curiam, holding that the right “to proper implementation of adequate suicide prevention protocols” was not clearly established “in a way that placed beyond debate the unconstitutionality of the [facility’s] procedures.” Although the Third Circuit found the right established by its own precedents, the Court emphasized that no Supreme Court decisions have established a right to proper implementation of adequate suicide prevention protocols or discussed suicide screening protocols. Thus, the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because they were not “contravening clearly established law,” even if the suicide screening and prevention measures had shortcomings.

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 2

Death Penalty

Right of defendant convicted and sentenced to death prior to Atkins decision to seek review and determination of whether defendant has intellectual disability and is therefore precluded from death penalty under the Eighth Amendment

Brumfield v. Cain, 135 S.Ct. 2269 (2015)

Petitioner Kevan Brumfield was convicted of murder in Louisiana and sentenced to death before the Supreme Court decided Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002). A subsequent Louisiana state Supreme Court case mandated an evidentiary hearing whenever a defendant provides facts sufficient to raise a reasonable ground to believe that he has an intellectual disability. See State v. Williams, 831 So.2d 835 (La. 2002). Brumfield amended his state post-conviction petition to include an Atkins claim and sought an evidentiary hearing. The amended petition referenced evidence introduced at sentencing that Brumfield had an IQ of 75, had a fourth-grade reading level, had been prescribed medications and treated in psychiatric hospitals as a child, had been identified as having a learning disability, and had been placed in special education classes. The trial court dismissed his post-conviction petition without holding an evidentiary hearing or granting funds to conduct additional investigation. Brumfield sought federal habeas relief.

The district court granted relief under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2254(d)(1) and (2), but the Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the state court decision was not “contrary to” and did not involve “an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law,” nor was it “based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.”

The Supreme Court vacated and remanded, holding as unreasonable under § 2254(d)(2) the state trial court’s determinations that 1) Brumfield’s IQ score was inconsistent with a diagnosis of intellectual disability and 2) he presented no evidence of adaptive impairment. Although the record contained some contrary evidence, that evidence did not foreclose all reasonable doubt as to Brumfield’s intellectual disability. The facts raised at sentencing were sufficient to raise doubt concerning Brumfield’s impairments. The Supreme Court held that Brumfield had “cleared [§ 2254(d)’s] procedural hurdles” and so was entitled to an evidentiary hearing to show his intellectual disability.

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 2

Cruel and unusual punishment

Cox v. Glanz, No. 14-5022, 2015 WL 5210607 (10th Cir. Sept. 8, 2015)

Claim by surviving family member that inmate’s suicide was result of deliberate indifference by jail staff survives motion for summary judgment in claim against sheriff in his official capacity, but summary judgment is granted to sheriff on claim against him in his individual capacity due to qualified immunity

Background: Charles Jernegan surrendered to the Tulsa, Oklahoma jail in response to a warrant for his arrest. His intake screening included a mental health and suicide questionnaire. Jernegan reported that he was taking medication for paranoid schizophrenia, and he answered “yes” to questions asking about experience of paranoia and experience of nervousness or depression. Jail protocols called for a person with such responses being directly referred to mental health staff, but no such referral was made. Jernegan did deny to jail staff and a screening nurse that he had any suicidal thoughts. Jernegan later made a request to “talk” with jail mental health staff about unspecified “problems,” but the responding staff person reported that when she went to see Jernegan he had been moved to another cell. The staff person had not followed up on this or seen Jernegan when, two days later, Jernegan committed suicide by hanging himself with a sheet. Jernegan’s mother brought § 1983 action against the county sheriff, in both his personal and official capacity, alleging that the jail’s “deliberate indifference” to her son’s mental health needs constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th amendment. The district court denied the sheriff's motion for summary judgment, on the grounds that there were facts in controversy in the matter that were determinative of the issue of the sheriff’s liability. The sheriff filed an interlocutory appeal.

Holdings: Qualified immunity for individual liability granted and claim dismissed: A 3-judge panel found that at the time of Jernegan’s suicide in 2009, there was no “clearly established” law that would have put the sheriff on notice that his conduct constituted “deliberate indifference” to Jernegan’s mental condition in the jail in violation of the 8 th amendment. The Court found that the then-existing law required a threshold finding that the sheriff had personal knowledge that Mr. Jernegan “presented a substantial risk of suicide” before liability could attach. Summary judgment motion for official capacity liability claim denied: The sheriff argued that “official capacity” liability requires proof of a policy, pattern or practice that resulted in the alleged constitutional violation, and that the record did not support a finding of any such policy, pattern or practice in this case. The panel responded that, although denial of a claim of qualified immunity is a final action that can be heard and reviewed on interlocutory appeal, the denial of a motion for summary judgment that is unrelated to a denial of qualified immunity is not a final action and therefore cannot (except in rare instances) be heard and reviewed on interlocutory appeal.

Notable Points: The panel’s decision is notable for its review of federal case law relating to jail operations that would put jail officials on notice as to what conduct constitutes such “deliberate indifference” to an inmate’s condition that it amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the 8 th amendment. That review included mention of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Taylor v. Barkes, --- U.S. ----, 135 S. Ct. 2042 (2015) (per curiam), where the Court found that, as of November 2004, there was no clearly established "right" of an inmate to be adequately screened for suicide.

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 3

Cruel and unusual punishment

Young v. Martin, No. 13-4057, 2015 WL 5202968 (3d Cir. Sept. 8, 2015)

Claim by prisoner with history of mental illness and behavioral disorder that being restrained naked in a chair for 14 hours violated the 8 th amendment survives summary judgment

Background: State prisoner Young brought a § 1983 action alleging violations of the 8 th Amendment. Young had a long history of serious mental illness and extensive disciplinary problems in different Pennsylvania prisons, and had been in solitary confinement for several years, during which time his symptoms of mental illness had intensified. The incident resulting in his being placed naked in four-point mechanical restraint in a restraint chair occurred when a guard inadvertently left Young’s cell door open. Young went out to an internal ledge above the prison’s law library, where he voiced his objections to the conditions of his confinement. Young never acted aggressively, never threatened others, and when taken into physical custody by guards he initially cooperated, and then engaged in passive resistance, forcing guards to carry him but offering no active resistance to being stripped naked, subjected to a body cavity search and secured to the restraint chair. Prison policies provide for use of the restraint chair when an inmate acts or threatens to act in a manner that places the inmate or others at risk of harm, and provides for a maximum time period of 8 hours (with extension requiring a written request and approval that was never obtained here).

The district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment, finding that the guards “acted professionally and within constitutional parameters” in “subduing” Young and placing him in the restraint chair. The district court also denied Young’s request for a stay of the proceedings to allow for the release of the U.S. Department of Justice’s report on its investigation of the Pennsylvania prison system’s treatment of inmates with serious mental illness.

Holdings: A 3-judge panel of the Court of Appeals found that the conduct of the guards alleged by Young fell under the “use of excessive force” test to determine whether Young had been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8 th Amendment. Reviewing the record under the criteria identified in Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730 (2002)11 , and “drawing all inferences in favor of Young as the nonmoving party,” the Court ruled that “we cannot say that ‘there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.’”12 The Court thereupon remanded the case back to the district court. The panel directed that the district court on remand consider whether the DOJ report was admissible, and whether such admission would be “unduly prejudicial” to the defendants.

Notable Points:

Eighth amendment analysis of use of mechanical restraints—“excessive force” vs. “conditions of confinement”: The panel rejected the defendants’ claim that their treatment of Young should be analyzed under the “conditions of confinement” framework. The panel noted that the U.S. Supreme Court in Hope ruled that the use of mechanical restraints in a prison setting could constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Applying the Hope criteria, the panel found the following: (1) Young was already subdued, and further was not violent, combative or self-destructive at any point during the incident leading up to his being placed in the restraint chair, (2) the events involved in the incident leading to Young’s placement in the restraint chair did not amount to an “emergency situation,” and (3) there was an issue of fact as to whether the guards’ use of the restraint chair subjected Young to “substantial risk of physical harm” and “unnecessary pain.”

Qualified immunity of the guards: The panel noted that the defendants made a onesentence claim in their appeal that they were entitled to summary judgment on the grounds of qualified immunity—that the state of the law at that time did not give them fair warning that their treatment of Young was unconstitutional. Noting that this claim was not addressed by the district court or briefed on appeal, the panel remanded the issue to the district court for consideration.

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 3

Intellectual Disability (ID) and the death penalty

Brumfield v. Cain, 2015 WL 9213235 (5th Cir. 2015)

Defendant Brumfield found intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for the death penalty, under the standards set out by the Supreme Court in Atkins and Brumfield

Background: Kevan Brumfield was convicted of first-degree murder in 1995 and sentenced to death. After exhausting his state court remedies, Brumfield filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, arguing that he was intellectually disabled and thus ineligible for the death penalty under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002). The District Court held that the state courts had erred by failing to hold an Atkins hearing and granted Brumfield a writ of habeas corpus after holding such a hearing. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit reversed without reaching the merits of the Atkins claim, holding that Brumfield had not satisfied the procedural requirements for habeas relief. The Supreme Court of the United States reversed, finding that he did meet the requirements, and remanded the case to the Fifth Circuit to ascertain whether the District Court’s determination that Brumfield was intellectually disabled was clear error.

Holdings: On remand, the Fifth Circuit held that the District Court’s determination was not clearly erroneous because it was “plausible in light of the record as a whole.” Although the State argued that prior assessments placed Brumfield consistently in the 70- 85 range,3 the Fifth Circuit noted that “no actual IQ scores…were reported anywhere in Brumfield’s records” and that tests provided only “descriptions of the ranges into which Brumfield’s scores fell”, and every expert witness before the district court “agreed that Brumfield’s scores satisfied the first prong of the intellectual disability test.” Additionally, the District Court found that Brumfield had significant conceptual limitations and “carefully explained its reasoning, identified the specific evidence it relied upon, and specifically credited the testimony of certain experts.” Where the court’s reasoning was so careful and its conclusions not implausible—even if it rejected the State’s equally coherent and plausible story—the Fifth Circuit refused to disturb or second-guess its findings. Although Brumfield was not formally diagnosed as intellectually disabled until after age 18, the district court found that the evidence produced showed this failure to diagnose was related to incentives in the school system not to identify students as intellectually disabled. Again, the district court pointed to specific evidence—Brumfield’s poor academic record, below grade reading comprehension, and etiological factors (e.g., low birth weight, family history of intellectual disability). The Fifth Circuit noted that these factors “certainly bolster[ed] the court’s conclusion that Brumfield’s intellectual disability manifested” before 18.

Found in Found in DMHL Volume 34, Issue 4

Intellectual Disability and the Death Penalty

Oats v. State, 181 So. 3d 457 (Fla. 2015), reh'g denied (Mar. 15, 2016)

Inability of defendant to show manifestation of intellectual disability before age 18 does not, alone, result in failure of Atkins claim; Hall v. Florida requires a court to analyze all three prongs of the intellectual disability diagnostic standard, and requires a different legal analysis of the onset prior to age 18 prong than was undertaken by the trial court.

Background: Sonny Boy Oats, Jr., was tried and convicted of robbery and first-degree murder in 1979 and his conviction was affirmed on appeal. In 1994, he sought postconviction relief but was denied. Post-Atkins, he filed a motion to vacate his death sentence on the grounds that he was intellectually disabled. The circuit court held an evidentiary hearing and denied the motion, concluding that Oats had not been able to establish that his intellectual disability had manifested prior to age 18 as required by Florida’s statutory test for determining intellectual disability.

Holding: The Florida Supreme Court reversed, giving three reasons for its decision. First, it noted that the Supreme Court’s decision in Hall v. Florida indicated that the lower court should have addressed all three prongs of the intellectual disability diagnostic standard and not denied the claim based on the apparent failure to meet one of the prongs. Second, the Court held that the lower court failed to consider all of the testimony presented, including evidence from prior postconviction proceedings. Third, the Court found that the lower court erroneously conflated “manifested” with “diagnosed,” an error upon which it based its conclusion that Oats failed to establish his intellectual disability.

Notable Points:

Hall v. Florida requires a circuit court to address all three prongs of the intellectual disability test rather than finding one factor to be dispositive: One of the three prongs of the intellectuality disability test is manifestation of the condition before age 18, but that determination is not dispositive. The Florida Supreme Court held that it was reversible error for the trial court not to consider all three prongs of the intellectual disability test, and to rely solely on the third prong of the test in denying Oats’s claim. The Court, however, was careful to say that, although this was reversible error here, failure to consider all three prongs should not constitute per se reversible error. Nonetheless, all three prongs must be considered because they are interdependent and, even when one is not satisfied, “a finding of intellectual disability may still be warranted based on the strength of the other prongs.”

The circuit court erred in making its conclusion without weighing all testimony presented by defendant: The Florida Supreme Court also held that it was error for the circuit court not to consider all the testimony that Oats presented. The parties stipulated to consideration of the mental health evidence presented in a previous proceeding, and the circuit court did not require the parties to recall all witnesses who testified previously. In its decision, however, the circuit court stated that it was “not in a position to reevaluate the credibility of the witnesses who testified or the evidence” considered in those prior proceedings and simply accepted the postconviction court’s ruling. The Florida Supreme Court held that the lower court should have permitted the parties to recall the witnesses in a new proceeding and submit evidence so that it could be considered and weighed.

Legal standard for analyzing whether intellectual disability manifested before age 18: The Florida Supreme Court noted that the manifestation prong is used to ensure there was evidence of intellectual disability during the developmental period, and that to require evidence of diagnosis before age 18 would render the first two prongs of the standard moot. The Court pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s analysis in Hall as demonstrative of how evidence of manifestation, without affirmative diagnosis, can lead to a clear finding that the prong was established.

Found in Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 1

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

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