244 F.3d 628 (8th Cir. 2001), 00-1648, Tlamka v Serrell

Docket Nº:00-1648
Citation:244 F.3d 628
Party Name:GERALD R. TLAMKA, AS SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR FOR THE ESTATE OF FRANK J. TLAMKA, DECEASED, APPELLANT, v. OTHA LEE SERRELL; MICHAEL T. LICHTENFELD; MICHELLE D. WILLIAMS; FRANK X. HOPKINS; HAROLD W. CLARKE, APPELLEES.
Case Date:March 23, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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244 F.3d 628 (8th Cir. 2001)

GERALD R. TLAMKA, AS SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR FOR THE ESTATE OF FRANK J. TLAMKA, DECEASED, APPELLANT,

v.

OTHA LEE SERRELL; MICHAEL T. LICHTENFELD; MICHELLE D. WILLIAMS; FRANK X. HOPKINS; HAROLD W. CLARKE, APPELLEES.

No. 00-1648

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

March 23, 2001

Submitted: October 23, 2000

As amended March 26, 2001.

Second amendment made April 2, 2001.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Counsel who presented argument on behalf of the appellant was Dustin L. Dingman of Lincoln, NE. Peter T. Hoffman of Lincoln appeared on the brief.

Counsel who presented argument on behalf of the appellee was Jennifer M. Amen, AAG, of Lincoln, NE.

McMILLIAN, Ross, and Hansen, Circuit Judges.

Hansen, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff, Gerald R. Tlamka, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on behalf of his father's estate. Plaintiff's father, Frank J. Tlamka (Tlamka), was incarcerated at the Nebraska State Penitentiary (NSP) from December 2, 1994, through July 1, 1995, the date on which he suffered a heart attack and later died. Plaintiff alleges that corrections officers Otha Serrell, Michael Lichtenfeld, and Michelle Williams violated Tlamka's Eighth Amendment rights by deliberately refusing and delaying emergency medical treatment during his heart attack. Plaintiff further claims Frank Hopkins, NSP Warden, and Harold Clarke, Director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, failed to train the corrections officers, thus causing a deprivation of Tlamka's constitutional rights. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of all defendants, concluding they were entitled to qualified immunity, and plaintiff now appeals. We affirm the district court's decision as to Hopkins and Clarke but reverse and remand as to the claims against the corrections officers.

I.

The record upon which the district court based its summary judgment ruling is comprised almost entirely of affidavits by prisoners and corrections officers present at the time Tlamka collapsed in the prison yard. From these accounts, we discern the following facts relevant to whether defendants are entitled to summary judgment based on qualified immunity. At approximately 1:00 p.m. on July 1, 1995, Tlamka suffered a heart attack and collapsed in the NSP prison yard. A nearby inmate ran to notify a corrections officer that he thought Tlamka was having a heart attack. Two other inmates rushed to the unconscious Tlamka and attempted to locate his pulse. Unable to find one and noting that Tlamka was turning bluish in color, the inmates immediately began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). One of

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the inmates had previously received CPR training, while a third inmate who was knowledgeable in proper CPR techniques provided instruction. The inmates continued CPR for approximately one to five minutes and began to see positive results--Tlamka regained a more normal color, his eyes opened, and his chest began to heave as if he was struggling to catch his breath on his own.

The affidavit accounts of what next transpired substantially conflict and differ. According to the inmates, corrections officers Lichtenfeld, Williams, and Serrell arrived on the scene, at which time Officer Serrell immediately ordered the inmates to cease administering CPR.1 Despite the order, the inmates continued to perform CPR but were again ordered by Serrell to cease and to clear the area. Upon the second order, the inmates desisted reluctantly and with objection, both from the inmates performing the CPR and from other inmates who had gathered at the scene. The inmate providing the CPR instruction argued with the corrections officers that it was imperative that CPR be continued.

Tlamka's condition deteriorated immediately after the inmates ceased CPR--as one inmate describes, Tlamka again turned blue, and his chest began "hitching." According to the inmates' sworn accounts, although Tlamka was in dire distress, none of the corrections officers approached him to check his pulse nor did they continue the CPR begun by the inmates. Sometime later, other corrections officers arrived with a gurney to transport Tlamka to the turnkey area, located approximately 50 feet from where he had collapsed, where a prison nurse was waiting to render aid. By the time the gurney arrived, Tlamka had turned a darker shade of blue and purple. As he was transported to the turnkey area, the officers walked at a normal pace and did not provide Tlamka with any medical attention. Upon his arrival, the awaiting nurse initiated CPR, which was continued until an ambulance arrived and transported Tlamka to the local hospital. Tlamka never regained consciousness and later died at the hospital.

The inmates offer a range of estimates as to how long Tlamka went without CPR after Serrell issued the order to the inmates to cease CPR. The consensus, as the district court noted, is that a two-to five-minute delay occurred between issuance of the order and the time when Tlamka reached the turnkey area where the nurse resumed CPR. Inmate Rodney Porter contended in his affidavit that there was a ten-minute delay during the same period. He also stated, as did the other inmates, that none of the corrections officers performed CPR nor attempted to administer any other type of medical attention to Tlamka prior to his arrival in the turnkey area.

Defendants offer affidavits from Serrell, Williams, and another corrections officer in support of summary judgment. None denied in the affidavits that an order was issued directing the inmates to cease CPR. Serrell contended, however, that Lichtenfeld relieved one of the inmates who was performing CPR immediately after he arrived on the scene. He also contended that CPR was continued as Tlamka was transported to the turnkey area. In addition, the corrections officers' accounts of the incident do not support inmate Porter's claim that 10 minutes passed before Tlamka arrived in the turnkey area. Serrell, in particular, stated that approximately three minutes passed from the time he arrived on the scene to the time Tlamka arrived in the turnkey area.

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Consequently, there are two important areas of factual dispute raised by the dueling affidavits. Was the administration of CPR to Tlamka stopped by the officers, and, if so, how much time did it take to get Tlamka to where the prison nurse could tend to the emergency?

II.

The district court concluded in ruling on defendants' motion for summary judgment that it was not clearly established at the time of Tlamka's heart attack that a corrections officer may violate an inmate's Eighth Amendment rights by temporarily halting CPR. The court therefore granted summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. Plaintiff argues on appeal that the district court failed to view the record in his favor and that the court's qualified immunity determination was erroneous. We review de novo a district court's grant of qualified immunity on summary judgment. Lambert v. City of Dumas, 187 F.3d 931, 935 (8th Cir. 1999). Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In deciding whether defendants are entitled to summary judgment, we view the summary judgment record in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, the nonmoving party, affording him the benefit of all reasonable inferences. Lambert, 187 F.3d at 934.

A.

Qualified immunity protects a governmental official from suit when his "conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Sexton v. Martin, 210 F.3d 905, 909 (8th Cir. 2000) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). "What this means in practice is that whether an official protected by qualified immunity may be held personally liable for an allegedly unlawful official action generally turns on the objective legal reasonableness of the action, assessed in light of the legal rules that were clearly established at the time it was taken.'" Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 614 (1999) (internal quotations omitted). To determine whether an official is entitled to qualified immunity, we apply a two-part inquiry: "whether the plaintiff has alleged the deprivation of an actual constitutional right at all, and if so,... whether that right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation." Id. at 609 (quoting Conn v. Gabbert, 526 U.S. 286, 290 (1999));...

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