604 F.3d 293 (7th Cir. 2009), 08-2232, Thomas v. Cook County Sheriff's Dept.

Docket Nº:08-2232, 08-2233, 08-2482, 08-2597, 08-2948.
Citation:604 F.3d 293
Opinion Judge:WILLIAMS, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Marlita THOMAS, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. COOK COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, Alex Sanchez, Jesus Facundo, Terrence Toomey, and Cook County, Defendants-Appellants.
Attorney:Daniel S. Alexander (argued), Chicago, IL, for plaintiff-appellee. Andrew J. Creighton (argued), Office of Cook County State's Attorney, Civil Division, Chicago, IL, for defendant-appellant Cook county. Daniel F. Gallagher (argued), Querrey & Harrow, Christopher Keleher (argued), Chicago, IL, for...
Judge Panel:Before FLAUM, WOOD, and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges. SYKES, Circuit Judge, with whom POSNER and TINDER, Circuit Judges, join, dissenting in part from denial of rehearing en banc.
Case Date:December 01, 2009
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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604 F.3d 293 (7th Cir. 2009)

Marlita THOMAS, Plaintiff-Appellee,


COOK COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, Alex Sanchez, Jesus Facundo, Terrence Toomey, and Cook County, Defendants-Appellants.

Nos. 08-2232, 08-2233, 08-2482, 08-2597, 08-2948.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

December 1, 2009

Argued Dec. 9, 2008.

Amended May 3, 2010.[*]

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Daniel S. Alexander (argued), Chicago, IL, for plaintiff-appellee.

Andrew J. Creighton (argued), Office of Cook County State's Attorney, Civil Division, Chicago, IL, for defendant-appellant Cook county.

Daniel F. Gallagher (argued), Querrey & Harrow, Christopher Keleher (argued), Chicago, IL, for Defendant-Appellant for Cook County Sheriff, Sanchez, Fucando, Toomey.

Before FLAUM, WOOD, and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

WILLIAMS, Circuit Judge.

Norman Smith, a thirty-two-year-old pretrial detainee, arrived at Cook County Jail on April 24, 2004, and died less than a week later from pneumococcal meningitis. His mother, Marlita Thomas, sued Cook County, the Cook County Sheriff, and a number of correctional employees under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendants violated her son's constitutional rights by failing to respond to his serious medical needs. Thomas also alleged various state law claims. At trial, a number of Smith's fellow inmates testified that Smith's condition rapidly deteriorated while prison officials turned a blind eye. The jury agreed with this assessment. It returned a verdict in Thomas's favor and awarded damages in the amount of $4,450,000 against Cook County, the Sheriff, and three individual officers. The district court denied the defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law and the defendants now appeal. Specifically, they challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting each of the jury's liability determinations, the trial court's evidentiary rulings, and the jury's compensatory damages calculation.

We conclude that the jury had sufficient evidence to impose liability against the officers for their deliberate indifference to Smith's medical needs. The same is true for Cook County, as the evidence against it was sufficient for a reasonable jury to

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conclude that the County had a widespread policy of disregarding detainees' medical requests. We do not find sufficient evidence, however, to hold the Sheriff liable. The causal connection between the Sheriff's policies and practices and Smith's death is tenuous in light of the jury's finding that individual correctional officers deliberately disregarded Smith's medical needs. Nonetheless, the Sheriff's absence as a liable party does not affect the jury's compensatory damage award. The parties are jointly and severally liable for the entire award, which measures the amount required to compensate the plaintiff for her indivisible harm, and the Sheriff only added an additional source from whom the plaintiff could collect. That the Sheriff is no longer liable does not limit the amount of damages to which the plaintiff is entitled.

Nor is the amount affected by the jury's improper allocation among defendants. Because we presume that jurors follow the instructions given, we must interpret the jury verdict to be consistent whenever possible. As a result, we interpret the jury's allocation in this case as an attempt to split the total damages among the defendants, rather than an effort to issue duplicate awards for the same injury. We also do not find a $4,000,000-plus damage award for constitutional violations that resulted in death to be excessive.

Finally, none of the defendants' evidentiary challenges warrant a reversal. Although we are somewhat troubled that the jury only heard the deposition testimony of a key witness and did not have the opportunity to assess his credibility on the witness stand, the district court's decision to admit the testimony was not an abuse of discretion. And even if it was, corroborating live testimony from other witnesses, along with the defendants' opportunity to cross-examine during the deposition, render its admission harmless. Therefore, we affirm the district court's order denying the officers and Cook County's motions for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial. But we reverse its judgment denying the Sheriff's motion, and remand with instructions to enter judgment in the Sheriff's favor.


The Cook County Department of Corrections (" CCDOC" ) maintains a procedure for examining inmates' health and a system designed to ensure that inmates receive appropriate medical care while incarcerated. Upon arrival at Cook County Jail, each inmate must undergo a medical examination conducted by medical personnel from Cermak Health Services of Cook County (" Cermak" ), which runs the health service for detainees at Cook County Jail. Beyond the initial intake procedure, Cermak provides additional medical services to inmates as needed. Each day, a Cermak medical technician is required to visit the tiers, where the inmates reside, and dispense medication, respond to inmate complaints, and collect medical request forms. The technicians then record, in daily contact sheets, the medications dispensed during their rounds, the medical request forms collected, and any other pertinent information, including reports of inmate sickness. In addition, Cermak maintains an infirmary, mental health facility, lab, pharmacy, and emergency room staffed by physicians, all onsite and within close proximity to the inmates.

For a number of reasons, this system did not always function as it should. First, the Supervisor for Cermak's medical technicians (" CMTs" ) acknowledged that Cermak had experienced problems with CMTs not picking up medical request forms every day. Some CMTs did not have the keys to access the lockbox where inmates

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deposited their completed medical request forms. Others simply failed to fill out or turn in their daily contact sheets. Further, a number of correctional officers reported that Cook County Jail was severely understaffed. The officers, who were employed by the Cook County Sheriff, kept daily logs in which they often made references to the dangers associated with cross-watching-a practice that required one officer to watch two tiers at the same time. One officer noted that cross-watching created a " major security risk." Another complained that he " [could] not be on both tiers at [the] same time." As a result of the understaffing and cross-watching in Cook County Jail, officers could not perform physical security checks with the frequency required by Sheriff department policy. Also, with fewer officers on duty, CMTs were, at times, unable to gain access to the tiers to complete their rounds.

The plaintiff alleged that her son, Norman Smith, fell through the cracks created by the systemic problems in CCDOC. Smith's tragic story began on April 23, 2004 when Chicago police officers arrested him for possession of a controlled substance. The next day, he arrived at Cook County Jail, the facility where he was to remain until his trial date. Smith underwent the typical intake routine, which included a chest X-ray, blood pressure screening, psychological screening, and a review of his medical history. Those tests only revealed elevated blood pressure, for which Smith received a week's supply of medication. However, according to Smith's cellmate, Carlos Matias, Smith demonstrated symptoms of illness on the first day he arrived. Matias testified in his deposition that Smith appeared to be dizzy, began vomiting, and asked Matias to initiate a medical request for him.

Other detainees, along with Matias, testified to the rapid deterioration in Smith's condition through the week. For instance, Smith's other cellmate, Corey Mitchell, testified that Smith was vomiting for three to four days before Mitchell was released Thursday, April 29, 2004, and that he wasn't able to hold down any food or maintain conversations with his cellmates. Matias also testified that by Wednesday, April 28, 2009, Smith could no longer walk on his own. Instead, Matias would drag Smith outside of his cell where he remained on the floor. Several inmates claimed to have filled out medical request forms on Smith's behalf. Others testified that they complained directly to correctional officers and medical technicians on duty at the time, and a few even witnessed or helped Smith fill out his own medical request forms. None of the inmates received a response to these requests.

Early Friday morning, April 30, 2004, Matias awoke to find Smith convulsing on the floor in his cell. He alerted Alex Sanchez, who was the officer on duty at the time, and Sanchez contacted his supervisor, Sergeant James Monczynski. However, the plaintiff contended that significant delays prevented Smith from receiving immediate care. First, Sergeant Monczynski did not arrive at the cell until about a half hour after Officer Sanchez notified him of Smith's condition. Next, Sergeant Monczynski contacted a Cermak paramedic, who was located in an adjacent building connected by a courtyard, and the plaintiff alleged that it took another half hour for the paramedic to arrive. The plaintiff also claimed that the paramedic spent a half hour in the tier office looking for Smith's I.D. before he called the other Cermak paramedics.

The delays allegedly continued as the paramedics did not have the manpower to lift Smith up the stairs in a gurney. So they waited at the top of the stairs. Fortunately, a few inmates intervened, carried

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Smith to the gurney, and the paramedics wheeled him out. Smith died later that morning. The Cook County medical...

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