A civil liability law publication for officers, jails, detention centers and prisons
ISSN 0739-0998 – Cite this issue as: 2017 JB October
Incarceration Cost Recovery
Prison and Jail Conditions: General
Strip Search: Prisoners
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MONTHLY CASE DIGEST
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Incarceration Cost Recovery
A federal statute, 42 U.S.C. Sec 1396d(29)(A), bars the payment of federal Medicaid funds for the medical care of “any individual who is an inmate of a public institution (except as a patient in a medical institution),” A person is not, however, an “inmate of a public institution” if he resides in the public institution “for a temporary period pending other arrangements appropriate to his needs.” The state of Ohio sought to classify pretrial detainees under age 19 as non-inmates, living in a public institution for only “a temporary period pending other arrangements appropriate to [their] needs,” for whom the state could claim Medicaid reimbursement. Federal Medicaid officials rejected this, finding that the inmate exclusion recognized “no difference” between adults and juveniles, or convicted detainees and those awaiting trial. A federal appeals court agreed, ruling that the involuntary nature of the stay is the determining factor. The exception does not apply when the individual is involuntarily residing in a public institution awaiting adjudication of a criminal charge, whether adult or juvenile. Ohio Department of Medicaid v. Price, #16-3550, 410 F.3d 919 (6th Cir. 2017).
A prisoner could not show a jury that correctional officials and private medical service providers at a prison acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs when his reports of abdominal pain and colon spasms were thoroughly investigated. Medical providers were able to substantiate only a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome, and the prisoner failed to produce any evidence that his subsequent treatment for this condition deviated from accepted medical practices and standards. Physical exams and ordered X‐rays, an ultrasound, bloodwork, stool cultures, and other tests were performed, but the results were consistently normal. The decision whether further diagnostic testing, such as a colonoscopy, was necessary was “a classic example” of a matter for medical judgment. Proctor v. Sood, #16-1942, 863 F.3d 563 (7th Cir. 2017).
Prison and Jail Conditions: General
An Illinois prisoner claimed that nearly two dozen prison employees both deliberately ignored his medical needs and retaliated against him because he filed grievances and lawsuits. He claimed that he received inadequate supplies of toothpaste, laundry detergent, and mailing supplies at three different prisons over a period of six years. Screening the complaint, the trial court narrowed the number of defendants and then granted summary judgment for the defendants who remained. “This lawsuit is not the first one,” the appeals court commented in upholding the result, in which the prisoner “has tossed into a single complaint a mishmash of unrelated allegations against unrelated defendants.” He had engaged in “nearly constant” litigation during 2009 and 2010. Owens v. Godinez, #15-3892, 860 F.3d 434 (7th Cir. 2017).
An obese man incarcerated for a drunk driving conviction was intoxicated when he reported to a county jail for a weekend stay. He fell off an upper bunk, and was placed in a holding cell. When they thought he was sober, they again assigned him to an upper bunk. While asleep, he suffered convulsions, fell off the upper bunk onto the concrete floor, and died. His estate sued, arguing that jail conditions violated the Eighth Amendment and caused his death. The trial court found insufficient evidence to show that the defendants were aware of, but disregarded, a risk to the decedent’s health and safety. A federal appeals court upheld summary judgment for the defendants, who had tailored their care for the decedent to account for his intoxication, even asking him if he was experiencing any withdrawal symptoms, to which he replied no. The deputies believed he was sober when they moved him. Had they known about his alcoholism and the risk posed by withdrawal, they might have taken additional steps to protect him. Without any indication that they knew of a serious risk, they could not be held liable for either the conditions of confinement or the medical treatment they provided. Estate of Simpson v. Gorbett, #16-2899, 863 F.3d 563 (7th Cir. 2017).
A prisoner who spent three and a half hours on a restraint board sued correctional officers and medical staff members for alleged violations of his civil rights. The trial court dismissed all claims except an Eighth Amendment excessive force claim against a lieutenant who authorized the use of the restraint board. A federal appeals court held that it was erroneous to deny qualified immunity to the defendant lieutenant. Under the totality of the circumstances, he was entitled to qualified immunity even if he may have been mistaken in believing that the prisoner was trying to injure himself when placed on the board. The prisoner had violated rules for obtaining medical assistance, falsely claimed a medical emergency, and seriously disrupted medical operations. Discipline was warranted after nurses reported that he had contrived a medical emergency and could safely be placed on the restraint board. Using the restraint in accordance with the safety precautions required by prison policy was needed to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security. Jackson v. Gutzmer, #16-2184, 866 F.3d 969 (8th Cir. 2017).
A prisoner with a history of mental illness exhibited “escalating symptoms” after he stopped taking his medication, and was transferred to the prison’s mental health unit. After some time there, he was transferred to a segregation unit. He believed that he was transferred there not because he no longer needed specialized treatment, but in retaliation for filing complaints against prison staff members. Further, after the transfer to segregation, he was allegedly denied “minimally adequate” mental health care for over 20 months. A federal appeals court overturned summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The prisoner presented sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that two doctors caused his transfer to segregation for reasons unrelated to medical judgment. Summary judgment was affirmed, however, for defendants with “more tenuous” connections to the prisons mental health care including two doctors who supervised the contract between the corrections department and its medical provider, and the warden, who was also not personally responsible for any possible constitutional violation. Rasho v. Elyea, #14-1902, 856 F.3d 469 (7th Cir. 2017).
A county created a publicly searchable “Inmate Lookup Tool” which had information about thousands of people who had been held or incarcerated at a county correctional facility since 1938. A man sued, claiming that the county and facility had publicly disseminated information on the Internet in violation of the Pennsylvania Criminal History Record Information Act, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. 9102, about his expunged 1998 arrest and incarceration. The trial court granted the plaintiff partial summary judgment on liability before certifying a punitive damages class of individuals about whom incarceration information had been disseminated online. The court also ruled that the only remaining question of fact was whether defendants had acted willfully in disseminating the information. A federal appeals court affirmed the class certification order, rejecting an argument that the trial court erred in granting partial summary judgment on liability before ruling on class certification. The court upheld rulings that punitive damages can be imposed in a case in which the plaintiff does not recover compensatory damages, that punitive damages can be imposed on government agencies, and that the class was properly certified. Taha v. County of Bucks, #16-3077, 862 F.3d 292 (3rd Cir. 2017).
After a prisoner finished serving his sentence, he was confined in a treatment and detention facility as a sexually violent person. His treatment team assigned him a “decision-making model,” which is an exercise or treatment tool in which the detainee examines his thought processes associated with a particular decision. He sued, based on his belief that the assignment was retaliation for his exercise of his First Amendment rights. Serving as his own lawyer, he testified, questioned witnesses, introduced exhibits into evidence, and objected to defense counsel’s questions at several points. The jury found for the defendants. A federal appeals court affirmed, rejecting an argument that the jury instructions on the First Amendment retaliation claim were erroneous. The plaintiff failed to object to the instructions, and he could not meet the high standard for showing a “plain error.” He also waived an argument that the trial court erred in admitting privileged and prejudicial treatment medical records into evidence. Walker v. Groot, #14-2478, 2017 U.S. App. Lexis 15068 (7th Cir.).
A man sued the state of Nebraska and other defendants after his name and photo mistakenly appeared on the Nebraska State Patrol’s online sex offender registry. A federal appeals court ruled that even if the complaint was sufficient to state a negligence claim under the state Tort Claims Act, the claim was time barred under a two-year statute of limitations. A claim for unlawful takings failed, as he did not show that any property was taken or damaged for public use. Federal civil rights claims against state employees in their individual capacities were properly rejected because a mistake or lack of due care by state employees in these particular circumstances did not establish invidious or irrational treatment that could violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Roe v. Nebraska, #15-3680, 861 F.3d 785 (8th Cir.).
Strip Search: Prisoners
****Editor’s Case Alert****
During a month spent in a county jail, a woman alleged that she underwent four strip searches that violated her Fourth Amendment rights. Three of the strip searches occurred in the jail’s Registry, where detainees are routinely strip-searched when first arriving or returning to jail. These were conducted by a female corporal, with no male deputies present, and as many as five other women detainees present. The corporal instructed the women to undress and to shake their hair, open their mouths, lift their breasts, and squat and cough, while she visually inspected for hidden contraband. The fourth search occurred in a cellblock. After searching the cells for contraband, a female guard gathered the women in the common area and conducted a group strip search. According to the plaintiff, the strip search took place in view of the guards’ central command post inside the cellblock. During this search, she claimed that male guards were present in the command post. A federal appeals court upheld summary judgment for the defendants. Occasionally conducting group strip searches when the number of detainees waiting to be processed makes individual searches “imprudent” does not violate clearly established Fourth Amendment law. Sumpter v. Wayne County, #16-2102, 2017 U.S. App. Lexis 15649, 2017 Fed. App. 187P (6th Cir.).
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Probation: Less Is More: How Reducing Probation Populations Can Improve Outcomes, by Michael P. Jacobson, Vincent Schiraldi, Reagan Daly, and Emily Hotez, Executive Session on Community Corrections at Harvard University’s Kennedy School (Aug. 28, 2017).
Statistics: American Indian and Alaska Natives in Local Jails, 1999-2014, by Todd D. Minton, Susan Brumbaugh, and Harley Rohloff, Bureau of Justice Statistics (September 7, 2017, NCJ 250652).
Statistics: HIV in Prisons, 2015 – Statistical Tables, by Laura M. Maruschak and Jennifer Bronson, Ph.D., Bureau of Justice Statistics (August 24, 2017, NCJ 250641).