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

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

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

Sixth Circuit Refuses to Vacate Tennessee Consent Decree Involving Conditions in Arlington Development Center

United States v. Tennessee, 615 F.3d 646 (6th Cir. 2010)

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has refused to vacate a consent decree and court orders entered in the 1993 lawsuit concerning conditions at the Arlington Development Center. In the lawsuit originally brought by the Department of Justice under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, the trial court had found that the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities had failed to provide individuals residing in ADC with medical care, and keep them free from abuse and neglect and undue bodily restraint. Tennessee sought to have the consent decree vacated on the grounds that there was a change in the law between the time the federal trial court approved the consent decree and entered orders enforcing its terms. Tennessee argued that “state control” changed the standard for determining when a resident is voluntarily confined as opposed to a person being placed involuntarily in a state-operated facility.

The Court stated that even though there was a split in the courts as to whether the state owes an affirmative constitutional duty of care and protection to voluntarily admitted residents as it owes to involuntarily committed individuals under Youngberg v. Romeo, the 6th Circuit had not ruled on the issue. It also noted that although individuals with intellectual disabilities are considered “voluntary” residents in Tennessee and are free to leave the facility at any time they wish, they are admitted with the consent of their parents or guardians and are at their mercy as to whether they will remain placed at the facility. The Court also recognized the comprehensive involvement of the state in every facet of a resident’s daily life, including provision of their food, transportation, shelter, medical care and protection, and that they generally remain in the state’s care for years. The Court therefore held that there had been no change in the law since entry of the consent decree and subsequent orders that would warrant vacation of the consent decree.

Found in DMHL Volume 30 Issue 1

US Supreme Court Orders California to Reduce Prison Population for Failure to Provide Constitutionally Adequate Treatment for Inmates with Serious Mental Illness


Brown, Governor of California, et al. v. Plata, et al., No. 09-1233, decided May 23, 2011
Slip opinion found at: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/09-1233.pdf

In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Kennedy, the United States Supreme Court upheld the decision of a three-judge panel entered under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”) ordering California to reduce its prison population by 137.5% of its original design capacity, or by 46,000 prisoners, within two years in order to address severe and unconstitutional conditions related to the delivery of mental health and medical care to California’s 156,000 inmates.

This decision is the result of two consolidated federal class action suits challenging the mental health and medical conditions in California’s prisons. The first, Coleman v. Wilson, 912 F. Supp. 1282 (E.D. Calf. 1995), was filed in 1990 alleging that deplorable mental health care constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. After a 39-day trial, the court found the prisons severely and chronically understaffed with no method for ensuring competence of staff. The prisons failed to implement necessary suicide precautions due to severe understaffing and mentally ill inmates languished for months and years without access to care, suffering severe hallucinations and decompensating to catatonic states. After 12 years, a Special Master appointed to oversee remedial efforts reported that after slow improvement, the status of mental health care was again deteriorating. A rise in the prison population had led to greater demand for care, and existing program space and staffing levels were inadequate to keep pace. In 2006, at the time of trial before the three-judge panel, the suicide rate was approaching one per week with the suicide rate nearly 80% higher than the national average for prison populations. Suicidal inmates were held for prolonged periods in telephone booth-size cages without toilets. Slip Opn. at 11. According to the Special Master, 72.1% of suicides involved “some measure of inadequate assessment, treatment, or intervention, and were therefore most probably foreseeable and/or preventable.” Slip Opn. at 12. In 2007, the rate had risen to 82% and by 2010 there had been no improvement.

A second class action, Plata v. Brown, was filed in 2001, in which California conceded that deficiencies in prison medical care violated the Eighth Amendment. When the State had not complied with the remedial injunction issued, the Court appointed a Receiver to oversee the remedial efforts. Three years later, the Receiver described equally deplorable continuing deficiencies in medical care. In one prison, up to 50 sick inmates were held together in one 12 foot x 20 foot cage up to five hours awaiting treatment. The Coleman and Plata plaintiffs thereupon requested their respective district courts to convene a three-judge panel to order reductions in the prison population.

The Supreme Court held that if a prison deprives inmates of their basic needs for sustenance, including adequate mental health and medical care, courts have a responsibility to remedy the Eighth Amendment violations. Under the PLRA, only a three-judge panel may enter an order imposing a population limit and only after a district court has entered an order for less intrusive relief that has failed after the state has been given reasonable time for compliance. Before doing so, that court must also first consider a range of options, and then find by clear and convincing evidence that crowding is the primary cause of the violations, no other relief will remedy the situation and the relief is narrowly drawn and the least intrusive means to correct the violations. The court must also consider any adverse impact such a population limit will have on public safety and the operation of the criminal justice system. The Supreme Court thus held that the three judge-panel had properly heard evidence of then-current conditions and that no other relief short of imposing a population limit would remedy the situation. California indicates that it is proceeding to implement measures to reduce its prison population, but with the State’s severe budget crisis, it remains to be seen how effective its efforts will be.

Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Thomas joined. Justice Alito also filed a dissenting opinion in which Chief Justice Roberts joined.

Found in DMHL Volume 30 Issue 5

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

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