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Governmental Liability: Policy/Custom

     Monthly Law Journal Article: Staff Use of Force Against Prisoners--Part II: Governmental and Supervisory Liability, 2008 (10) AELE Mo. L.J. 301.

    A pretrial detainee asserted that medical care at a county jail fell below constitutional standards as a matter of official policy, custom, or practice.The 2008 findings from a U.S. Department of Justice investigation of health care at the jail found systemic flaws in the jail's scheduling, record-keeping, and grievance procedures that produced health care below the minimal requirements of the U.S. Constitution. In this case, a federal appeals court reversed the trial court’s refusal to allow admission of the report as evidence toward meeting a plaintiff’s burden of proving an unconstitutional custom, policy, or practice. The appeals court concluded that it should be admitted under the hearsay exception for civil cases in Federal Rule of Evidence 803(8)(A)(iii) for factual findings from legally authorized investigations. Daniel v. Cook County, #15-2832, 2016 U.S. App. Lexis 14886 (7th Cir.).
     An arrestee claimed that he was "savagely" attacked by another intoxicated arrestee when they were both placed in a "sobering" cell by employees of the sheriff's department. A jury entered a verdict against both individual defendants and the county. A total of $2,605,632.02 in damages was awarded. Based on the jury's findings, the parties later stipulated to $840,000 in attorney fees, $12,000 in punitive damages against one jailer, and $6,000 in punitive damages against a second jailer. A federal appeals court rejected the claim that the individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity as there was evidence from which the jury could have concluded that the jailers had been deliberately indifferent to the clearly established duty to protect the plaintiff against a substantial risk of harm, including evidence that one defendant had disregarded the plaintiff's pounding on the cell door at the time of the attack, while the other had placed the two arrestees in the same cell despite the fact that separate cells were then available. As to the jury's award of punitive damages, once a finding of deliberate indifference was reached, no additional evidence was needed to make a finding of "reckless disregard." The award against the county, however, was reversed as there was no evidence that the county had actual knowledge of the risk to the plaintiff's safety. Castro v. County of Los Angeles, #12-56829, 2015 U.S. App. Lexis 7240 (9th Cir.).
     A former detainee sued a county after its jail allegedly failed to provide him with his prescribed and necessary anti-seizure medication when he was incarcerated there. A federal appeals court upheld summary judgment for the county since the plaintiff presented absolutely no evidence that county policymaking officials would have been informed of the denial of his medication on the morning in question and made a deliberate choice to either ignore it or tacitly authorize the denial in the next few hours. There also was no evidence of a widespread persistent continuing pattern of unconstitutional misconduct by the county's employees. Johnson, Jr. v. County of Douglas, #13-1134, 2013 U.S. App. Lexis 15938 (8th Cir.).
     A 67-year-old male prisoner prone to disorientation and confusion and suffering from dementia sued jail officers and the county sheriff after his cellmate at the county jail severely beat him. The defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because there was no evidence that officers were subjectively aware that the plaintiff faced a substantial risk of serious harm or that the sheriff's department policies or customs caused his injuries. His wife's claims for loss of consortium were also rejected. Goodman v. Kimbrough, #12-10732, 2013 U.S. App. Lexis 12740 (11th Cir.).
     A federal appeals court overturned a judgment for a county in a lawsuit claiming that it was responsible for a man's false conviction that was based on perjured testimony obtained from a jailhouse informant who was unreliable. The court reinstated the claim, noting that the district attorney, in determining admiistrative policies and carrying out training regarding the functioning of the officer, represented the county, and that his actions had included establishing an index concerning the use of jailhouse informants. Goldstein v. City of Long Beach, #10-56787, 2013 U.S. App. Lexis 9333 (9th Cir.).
     A pretrial detainee claimed that his conditions of confinement at a county jail were unconstitutional, and that the sheriff was deliberately indifferent to his medical needs for an injury to his leg. The conditions complained of included poor sanitation and hygiene alongside lack of heat and bedding, blocked ventilation, overcrowding, and inadequate recreation. These conditions, he argued, together with a failure to provide detainees with a way to clean themselves with running water or cleaning supplies, stated a claim for relief. He said that three doctors told him that his leg infection was the result of the unsanitary conditions. His claim for medical indifference was rejected, since he received ongoing observation, medication, and medical attention, but the federal appeals court ordered further proceedings on his unconstitutional conditions of confinement claim. Budd v. Motley, #11-3425, 2013 U.S. App. Lexis 6557 (7th Cir.).
     A prisoner's conviction for criminal sexual conduct was reversed by a Michigan state appeals court, and remanded for a new trial. For unknown reasons, one was not scheduled and the trial court was unaware of the 1989 reversal until 2007. As a result, he spent over seventeen years as a pretrial detainee after the reversal of his conviction. Rejecting his claim that the county was liable for violating the plaintiff's right to a speedy trial, the appeals court noted that there was no evidence that the prosecutor was directly responsible for the failure to respond to the appeals court's remand order. There was also no indication that the need for action at any time became obvious to a county policymaker, nor was what happened a predictable result of a county policy or inadequate training of assistant prosecutors. Heyerman v. County of Calhoun, #10-2322, 2012 U.S. App. Lexis 10731, 2012 Fed. App. 160P (6th Cir.).
     Prisoners who sued a county for alleged acts of excessive force against them by correctional employees were entitled to a new trial on their claims. The model jury instructions that the trial court gave the jury on municipal liability and what constitutes an unconstitutional custom or practice failed to adequately state that this could be proven "through evidence that incidents of excessive force were not investigated and their perpetrators were not disciplined." Hunter v. County of Sacramento, #09-15288, 2011 U.S. App. Lexis 15309 (9th Cir.).
     Two former prisoners at a county jail claimed that deputies, in separate incidents, used excessive force against them. A federal appeals court held that the plaintiff prisoners were entitled to a new trial on their claims against the county because the jury instructions did not adequately define what a practice or custom was for purposes of imposing municipal liability. The trial court should have included the plaintiffs' proposed instructions relating to jail officials' alleged failure to investigate incidents of excessive force and to take disciplinary action against guards who used such force "despite the existence of an official policy prohibiting the use of excessive force." Hunter v. County of Sacramento, #09-15288, (9th Cir.).
     In a lawsuit by a pretrial detainee attacked by other prisoners who were gang members, he failed to show that correctional officials and officers acted with deliberate indifference in housing gang members together with non-gang members and allegedly periodically leaving them unsupervised. He failed to show the existence of a "de facto" policy of housing gang members and non-gang members together, of allowing gang members to retain weapons, or of leaving prisoners unsupervised. Further, he failed to show that officers were aware of a specific threat to him, since he did not tell them about threats after a first attack, or tell them that the attack occurred because he was not a gang member. Klebanowski v. Sheahan, No. 06-2572, 2008 U.S. App. Lexis 18760 (7th Cir.).
     Prisoner who claimed that he was beaten by correctional officers failed to show that the warden was personally involved in the violation of his rights or that there was an unlawful county policy or custom concerning the use of excessive force or that such a policy caused his injuries. Further, he failed to show that the force used against him was excessive under the circumstances. Hernandez v. York County, No. 07-4774, 2008 U.S. App. Lexis 17985 (Unpub. 3rd Cir.).
     The fact that officers transporting prisoners had different duties than arresting officers, or that jail clerks did not receive training on the watching of monitors and had too much work to do to adequately watch them was insufficient to impose liability on the city for an alleged practice or custom of failing to provide adequate suicide prevention training to jail personnel. City and officers were not liable for detainee's suicide in city jail. Coleman v. City of Pagedale, No. 4:06CV-01376, 2008 U.S. Dist. Lexis 6781 (E.D. Mo.).
     Prisoner failed to provided any evidence of an official city policy permitting or encouraging the excessive or unnecessary use of force by sheriff's employees against arrestees, or a widespread custom of such use of force, so that the city was entitled to summary judgment. Ludaway v. City of Jacksonville, Florida, No. 07-10859, 2007 U.S. App. 21150 (11th Cir.).
     California prisoner failed to show that a sheriff was personally involved in or had knowledge of the alleged verbal threats, unsanitary conditions, denial of a needed special diet, or denial of use of the library. The county could not be held liable for such deprivations, even if true, when no claim was made that they were the result of an official county policy or custom. Apollo v. County of Sacramento, No. 05-16774, 2007 U.S. App. Lexis 14209 (9th Cir.).
     Prisoner could not pursue federal civil rights claim against sheriff and county for his injury in a prison shower exit based on alleged negligence in failing to provide a shower mat, since negligence is insufficient for such a claim. The prisoner also failed to show, for purposes of an Eighth Amendment civil rights claim, that there was an official county policy or custom which results in the absence of non-slip shower exits. Smith v. Leonard, No. 06-41123, 2007 U.S. App. Lexis 14003 (5th Cir.).
     When no previous suicide had occurred at a city jail, and there was no evidence of a city policy which was deliberately indifferent to prisoner suicide, the city could not be held liable for the death of a prisoner placed on suicide watch (after he asked a detective, during his booking, to please give him a gun so that he could shoot himself), but who hung himself with two blankets torn into strips. Bradley v. City of Fendale, No. 02-73001, 2007 U.S. Dist. Lexis 26270 (E.D. Mich.).
     Prisoner who claimed that he was beaten by unknown prison guards failed to present evidence of inadequate training or hiring policies which could support a claim for liability on the part of the county. Aguirre v. Nueces County, Texas, No. 06-40317, 2007 U.S. App. Lexis 3028 (5th Cir.). [N/R]
     Estate of jail inmate who died from untreated methadone withdrawal on the sixth day of a ten day sentence for a traffic offense presented sufficient evidence from which a jury could find that the county had a widespread custom or practice of failing to provide timely methadone treatment to prisoners. Davis v. Carter, No. 05-1695, 2006 U.S. App. Lexis 16183 (7th Cir.). [2006 JB Aug]
     City Department of Corrections was not liable for damages for having kept an inmate in custody beyond the maximum length of his sentence. There was no showing that the extended detention was the result of an official city policy or custom. Dupree v. City of New York, No. 04CV0992, 418 F. Supp. 2d 555 (S.D.N.Y. 2006). [N/R]
     Federal appeals court finds a triable issue of fact on whether a county had inadequate policies regarding the training of jail medical personnel as to how to respond to the fall of a medically unstable prisoner, a prisoner's refusal of needed medical treatment, or the need to conduct a prompt assessment on whether such a prisoner should be transferred to another facility with more medical resources. Civil rights claim against county reinstated in lawsuit over death of 71-year-old prisoner from cardiac arrest. Long v. County of Los Angeles, No. 04-55463, 2006 U.S. App. Lexis 7552 (9th Cir.). [2006 JB May]
     Despite a detainee's alleged intoxication, jail personnel's failure to either transfer him to the hospital or at least contact an on-call nurse was unreasonable for purposes of a Fourteenth Amendment claim for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs when the detainee insisted that he was suffering from a serious medical condition and needed assistance. His estate could proceed with its claim against individual personnel for the detainee's death from an allegedly untreated heart attack, but there was not proof of an official policy or custom causing the deprivation which could support liability on the part of the city or county. Hollenbaugh v. Maurer, No. 5:05-CV-207, 397 F. Supp. 2d 894 (N.D. Ohio 2005). [N/R]
     Detainee kept for six days at county detention facility after a judge ordered his release without bail failed to show that a county policy caused his prolonged incarceration or that there was a widespread pattern of such problems that the county knew about. Russell v. Hennepin County, No. 04-3922, 420 F.3d 841 (8th Cir. 2005). [2006 JB Feb]
     A twelve-hour delay in releasing a detainee after a judge determined that no bail was required on his intoxicated driving charge did not "shock the conscience," and was not caused by any official county policy or custom. Federal appeals court upholds summary judgment for county and sheriff in detainee's due process lawsuit. Lund v. Hennepin County, No. 05-1791, 2005 U.S. App. Lexis 23833 (8th Cir.). [2005 JB Dec]
     Jury was properly instructed that county could not be held liable for alleged injuries prisoner suffered from not receiving prescription medicine unless he could show that the county had a wide-spread policy or custom of failing to pre-approve detainees' prescriptions for administration before they reported for incarceration at the jail. Calhoun v. Ramsey, No. 03-3036, 2005 U.S. App. Lexis 8694 (7th Cir.). [2005 JB Jul]
     Two officers were not entitled to summary judgment on claim of deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs of insulin-dependent diabetic prisoner when they allegedly had knowledge of her condition. Prisoner failed to show, however, that the city had a custom of denying medical treatment to pre-arraignment detainees. Garretson v. City of Madison Heights, No. 04-1046 2005 U.S. App. Lexis 7164 (6th Cir.). [2005 JB Jul]
     County, correctional officers, and on-call physician were not deliberately indifferent to serious medical needs of detainee who died of a brain tumor. Miller v Calhoun County, No. 03-2434, 2005 U.S. App. Lexis 9716 (6th Cir.). [2005 JB Jul]
     Pretrial detainee who claimed that delay in transporting him to a hospital caused him to become a paraplegic failed to show that an alleged county policy of understaffing the sheriff's office and jail resulted in his injuries. McDowell v. Brown, No. 04-10272, 392 F.3d 1283 (11th Cir. 2004). [2005 JB Mar]
     Federal appeals court upholds jury's award of $29 million in compensatory and $27.5 million in punitive damages against two deputy sheriffs for causing pre-trial detainee's death through use of excessive force. Failure to show that the death was caused by any official policy or custom, or by deliberate indifference to a widespread pattern of violation of jail policies, required summary judgment on claims against county sheriff. Mere number of uses of pepper spray did not show that it was being misused. Estate of Moreland v. Dieter, No. 03-3734, 2005 U.S. App. Lexis 743 (7th Cir.). [2005 JB Mar]
     Prisoner showed an adequate connection between the alleged attack on him by other inmates and a D.C. alleged policy or custom of transferring prisoners without informing the transferee correctional facility about active orders requiring their separation from other prisoners to state a federal civil rights claim against the District. Ashford v. District of Columbia, No. Civ.A. 02-1955, 306 F. Supp. 2d 8 (D.D.C. 2004). [N/R]
     Female prisoners who claimed that they were sexually assaulted by a jailer stated a viable claim against the city for alleged failure to adequately train or supervise its jailers. "We are unwilling to say, at this point, that it is not obvious that male jailers who receive no training and who are left virtually unsupervised might abuse female detainees." Drake v. City of Haltom, 106 Fed. Appx. 897 (5th Cir. 2004). [N/R]
     Even if female prisoner's constitutional rights were violated when she was allegedly strip searched by male guards at city jail "without good cause," she did not claim that the city had a policy or custom of allowing "baseless cross-gender strip searches," so that the city could not be held liable. Further, the Constitution does not require jails that house female detainees either to staff more than one jailer at a time or to staff a female jailer. The appeals court also found that even if the prisoner alleged a constitutional violation arising out of the misuse of the jail's video system, she failed to show any basis for holding the city liable on the basis of any of its customs or policies. Soto v. City of Haltom, No. 03-10650, 106 Fed. Appx. 903 (5th Cir. 2004). [N/R]
     Inmate in New York correctional facility could not pursue federal civil rights lawsuit against county, county prosecutor, or county sheriff claiming that they violated his constitutional rights because they failed to prosecute correctional officers for allegedly threatening him on three occasions, in the absence of any allegation that the failure to prosecute was the result of any official policy or custom. Additionally, neither prosecutor nor sheriff were in a supervisory position within the prison hierarchy, and therefore did not have a duty to protect him from these alleged threats. Lewis v. Gallivan, 315 F. Supp. 2d 313 (W.D.N.Y. 2004). [N/R]
     Even if prisoner received inadequate medical care after secretly ingesting cocaine upon his arrest, resulting in his death in custody, county was not liable to his estate in the absence of any evidence that an official policy of providing inadequate care was the cause of his injuries. Graham v. County of Washtenaw, No. 02-1614, 358 F.3d 377 (6th Cir. 2004). [2004 JB May]
     Plaintiff failed to show that county had a policy of deliberate indifference in training correctional officers in the handling of mentally ill detainees, or that any such inadequacy in county's training caused detainee's death. No liability for county for the death of detainee from heart failure while incarcerated. Carey v. Helton, No. 01-5623, 70 Fed. Appx. 291 (6th Cir. 2003). [N/R]
     Lawsuit by New York prisoners against over fifty correctional employees concerning more than forty separate and unrelated incidents at fourteen different prisons over a period of almost ten years was properly dismissed, federal appeals court rules. Complaint failed to establish the existence of a policy or practice existing throughout the state correctional system or even within one prison which caused a violation of Eighth Amendment rights. Claims included alleged assaults by correctional officers, failure to protect inmates from assaults by other prisoners, and failure to provide medical care for injuries. Additionally, none of the plaintiffs stated that they had exhausted available administrative remedies prior to filing suit. Webb v. Goord, #02-0097(L), 340 F.3d 105 (2nd Cir. 2003). [2003 JB Nov]
     Federal appeals court rules that prisoner could pursue his claim against the District of Columbia asserting that it had a policy or custom that caused him to suffer inadequate medical treatment once he was transferred to a Virginia state prison while serving a D.C. sentence. Prisoner should not, appeals court holds, be required to show that D.C. officials acted with subjective deliberate indifference in order to pursue his claim. Baker v. Dist. of Columbia, No. 01-5205, 326 F.3d 1302 (D.C. Cir. 2003). [2003 JB Jul]
     California sheriff acted on behalf of the county in establishing a policy segregating gang members in a special unit in the county jail, rather than on behalf of the state. The county, therefore, could be liable for his actions in continuing to hold a former gang member in the unit, which allegedly resulted in the prisoner being beaten to death by five of his cellmates. Eleventh Amendment immunity did not apply. Cortez v. County of Los Angeles, #00-56781, 294 F.3d 1186 (9th Cir. 2002). [2002 JB Nov]
     Sheriff could not be held liable for alleged deliberate indifference by county jail medical personnel when there was no evidence that he had authorized, approved, or even knowingly acquiesced in any failure by the personnel to dispense treatment to the plaintiff. County was also not liable, despite criticized sick call policy, in the absence of any showing that the policy somehow caused the alleged problem. Warren v. Shelby County, Tenn., 191 F. Supp. 2d 980 (W.D. Tenn. 2001). [N/R]
     250:149 Sheriff was not a county policymaker under Alabama law, but rather acted on behalf of the State; county therefore could not be held liable for his actions in federal civil rights action. McMillian v. Monroe Co., Alabama, 117 S.Ct. 1734 (1997).
     238:156 Regardless of whether way in which disciplinary hearing was held violated inmate's constitutional rights, city could not be held liable in absence of municipal policy or custom causing the violation, and supervisory officials could not be held liable without personal involvement in the incident, or role in creating policy or mismanaging personnel who caused the violation. Perkins v. N.Y. City Dept. of Correction, 887 F.Supp. 92 (S.D.N.Y. 1995). [Cross-reference: Prisoner Discipline].
     238:154 U.S. Supreme Court to review case in which county was held liable for approximately $800,000 for injuries to arrestee flung to the ground by deputy who was hired despite having a number of misdemeanor convictions and a long arrest record; issue of hiring standards for officers at issue. Brown v. Bryan Co., Ok., 67 F.3d 1174 (5th Cir. 1995), cert. granted, Board of Co. Commissioners v. Brown, 116 S.Ct. 1540 (1996).
     Case remanded to district court for determination of whether jail officials handcuffed inmate to bed for six days and opened his legal mail in violation of his civil rights. O'Donell v. Thomas, 814 F.2d 524 (8th Cir. 1987).
     No liability for sexual assault committed by convict placed in half-way house. Carlson v. Conklin, 813 F.2d 769 (6th Cir. 1987).
     Supreme Court rejects inmate's Federal civil rights suit for lack of due care as insufficient cause to be a constitutional deprivation. Simple negligence is not actionable under Sec. 1983. Davidson v. Cannon, 54 U.S. Law Week 4095 (1/21/86).
     Sex is bona fide occupational qualification for sergeant. State Div. of Human Rights v. Oneida Co., 500 N.Y.S.2d 995 (A.D. 4 Dept. 1986).
     Sergeant not entitled to compensation as work commander, even though he claimed he performed equivalent duties. Sec. & Law Enforcement Employees v. Hartnett, 500 N.Y.S.2d 571 (A.D. 3 Dept. 1986).
     State law allows station officers bail authority; no liability for city's not following it. Talbert v. Kelly, 799 F.2d 62 (3rd Cir. 1986).
     Court upholds prisoner release fund. Sahagian v. Dickey, 646 F.Supp. 1502 (W.D. Wis. 1986).
     Nurse wins over $200,000 for deputy's sexually harassing her. Information was obtained from the San Francisco Chronicle, Ca., 9/23/86.
     Utah Supreme Court refuses to grant administrator immunity for released juvenile's stabbing girl. Doe v. Argulles, 716 P.2d 279 (Utah 1985).
     Corrections department gets new trial on issue of damages. Department of Corrections v. Hill, 490 So.2d 118 (Fla. App. 1986).
     Liability results over prisoner's admittance to college where he raped and killed student. Eiseman v. State, 489 N.Y.S.2d 957 (A.D. 4 Dept. 1985).
     Co. not liable for sheriff's actions. Dugan v. Co. of Rensselaer, 495 N.Y.S.2d 753 (A.D. 3 Dept. 1985).
     City sued for not warning female employee about fellow employee's past sexual assaults. Duffy v. City of Oceanside, 224 Cal.Rptr. 879 (App. 1986).
     Prisoners with long term sentences that exceed life expectancy not entitled to same benefits under "life term" definition. Longval v. Commissioner of Correction, 484 N.E.2d 112 (Mass. App. 1985).
     Negligence in escape results in liability for killing. Brown v. American Druggists' Ins. Co., 476 So.2d 882 (La. App. 1985).
     No duty to warn victim of inmate's history of sex crimes. Anthony v. State, 374 N.W. 662 (Iowa 1985).
     Co. is vicariously liable for intentional wrongs of onduty deputies. White v. Co. of Orange, 212 Cal.Rptr. 493 (App. 1985). Case reversed; state could be liable for off-duty correctional officer's use of firearms. Frazier by Westion v. State, 486 N.Y.S.2d 919 (Ct. App. 1985).
     By contrast, off-duty correctional officer denied representation over shooting incident with robber. Williams v. City of New York, 476 N.E.2d 317 (N.Y. 1985).
     Co., not state, liable for circuit court employee's actions in delayed release of inmate. Hodges v. State of Oregon, 688 P.2d 132 (Ore. App. 1984).
     State not responsible for correctional guard's off-duty incidents to prevent crime. Frazier by Western v. State, 474 N.Y.S.2d 7 (App. 1984).
     Corrections officials not liable; release of juvenile who rapes and kills young girl. Larson v. Darnell, 448 N.E.2d 249 (Ill. App. 1983).
     State not liable for rape committed by parolee. Humann v. Wilson, 696 F.2d 783 (10th Cir. 1983).
     Murder victim's husband and children permitted to sue the United States under Federal Tort Claims Act for release of prisoner with known homicidal tendencies. Payton v. United States, 636 F.2d 132 (5th Cir. 1981).
     Punitive damages for Section 1983 violation cannot be assessed against state or local governments. City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 101 S.Ct. 2748 (1981).
     State governmental immunity laws apply to bar suit by victim of parolee released by prison officials. Martinez v. State of California, 444 U.S. 277, 100 S.Ct. 553 (1980).
     Commander of parole unit does not enjoy absolute immunity from suit by woman who was attacked by a parolee; question of qualified immunity left to trier of fact. Eide v. Timberlake, 497 F.Supp. 1272 (D. Kan. 1980). Co. not liable directly under Section 1983 or derivatively under Fourteenth Amendment for false arrest and imprisonment. Daughtry v. Arlington Cty., Va., 490 F.Supp. 307 (D. D.C. 1980).
     Municipal governments can be held liable for civil rights violations which occur as a result of official policy or custom. Monell v. Dept. of Socl. Serv. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018 (1978).
     Unless state consents, federal courts do not have jurisdiction over state or its agencies in order to redress inmate claims of cruel and unusual punishment. Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 98 S.Ct. 3057 (1978).

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