791 F.2d 1182 (5th Cir. 1986), 83-2615, Partridge v. Two Unknown Police Officers of City of Houston, Tex.

Docket Nº:83-2615.
Citation:791 F.2d 1182
Party Name:Ralph PARTRIDGE and Betty Partridge, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. TWO UNKNOWN POLICE OFFICERS OF the CITY OF HOUSTON, TEXAS, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:June 13, 1986
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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791 F.2d 1182 (5th Cir. 1986)

Ralph PARTRIDGE and Betty Partridge, Plaintiffs-Appellants,



et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 83-2615.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

June 13, 1986

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John P. Mustachio, Houston, Tex., for plaintiffs-appellants.

Mary Madigan Dinan, Houston, Tex., for City of Houston and Houston Police.

D. Reid Walker, Houston, Tex., for Morris.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Before WISDOM, RANDALL and JOLLY, Circuit Judges.

WISDOM, Circuit Judge:

The plaintiffs/appellants, Ralph and Betty Partridge, assert a claim under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 arising from the suicide of their son, Michael, while he was a pretrial detainee in a municipal jail in Houston, Texas. 1 We withdrew our initial opinion, 2 and now substitute this opinion restating our reasons for reversing and remanding this case to the district court.

The district court erred in dismissing the complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. We read the complaint as amended as alleging that the defendants had deliberately adopted a policy that constituted indifference to the medical needs of detained persons and, pursuant to policy, failed to render reasonable medical aid to Michael Partridge and to persons similarly subject to suicidal tendencies; that this failure was not the result of an individual act of negligence but was the result of systematic indifference to the serious medical needs of pretrial detainees and of a "deliberate pattern of conduct", that is, of a custom or policy. Those allegations go beyond negligence and amount to the kind of arbitrariness and abuse of power that is preserved as a component of the due process clause in Bell v. Wolfish, 3 a decision underscored in Daniels v. Williams, 4 Davidson v. Cannon, 5 and Whitley v. Albers. 6

We reverse the holding of the district court that the complaint should be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6), except as to the dismissal of the suit against Officer James Morris who was guilty of an isolated act of simple negligence. We grant the plaintiffs leave to amend, because arguably the allegations against the City of Houston do not satisfy the requirements established in

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Bennett v. City of Slidell, 7 and Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati. 8

I. Facts and Proceedings Below

The pleadings allege the following facts. In February 1980 a Houston police officer arrested Michael Partridge on suspicion of burglary and theft. While being questioned, "due to his fragile emotional disposition, he became hysterical". His father was at the scene of the arrest. A sergeant asked Partridge's father if the boy had any "mental problems". Partridge's father told the officer that the boy had suffered a nervous breakdown and directed his attention to two bracelets Michael wore on his wrists. One bracelet read, "Medical Warning. See Wallet Card"; the other read "Heart Patient". One of the officers "removed the two bracelets and, dangling them in front of the father, told him that if he would obtain a letter from the boy's psychiatrist, attesting to the boy's condition and to the danger of his being confined that the boy would in all likelihood be released." The boy was then forced into the car. He became agitated and violent, and attempted to kick the doors and windows out of the car. The officer, who was working alone at the time, requested a two-man unit to transport Partridge to the Houston jail. When the back-up unit arrived, Partridge was still kicking at the doors and windows.

The two transporting officers, one of whom was Morris, handcuffed Partridge and drove him to the jail. On the way to the jail, Partridge intentionally struck his head at least once against the plexiglass divider between the front and back seats. Morris was able to calm Partridge and by the time they arrived at the jail he seemed composed. Neither of the two officers called anyone's attention to Partridge's aberrant behavior. Partridge was placed in solitary confinement. The complaint stated that the "[d]ecedent was known at the police department to be a mental patient". The particular officers handling his booking, however, were unaware that Partridge's clinical record within the jail showed that Partridge had attempted suicide during an earlier confinement. The records were kept four doors away from the booking desk. The officers did see Partridge's two medical alert bracelets, and noted on Partridge's booking card "heart and mental". Three hours later Michael Partridge hanged himself with a pair of socks tied around the upper bars of his cell.

The original complaint stated: "the deprivation of decedent's rights ... was part of a deliberate pattern of conduct or policy of the Houston Police Department"; "Decedent's death was caused by negligence of both of two unknown officers and the custom or policy in effect at the Houston Police Department". The defendants in the complaint were two unknown Houston police officers and the Houston Police Department. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that (1) the Houston Police Department is immune from suit; (2) the complaint fails to state a cause of action; and (3) the plaintiffs rely on a theory of respondeat superior, a rejected theory in the situation here presented. The plaintiffs filed an answer to the motion asserting that the death of their son "was the result of the systematic policy of the Houston Texas Police Department". They also filed a supplemental complaint stating:

That in addition to the already pleaded causes of action, the following acts of negligence both of omission and commission be pleaded.

(1) Failure to adequately train the jail personnel to handle arrested citizens with known mental problems.

(2) Failure to provide a policy or method for ascertaining citizens in custody whose mental condition constitutes a danger to themselves or others.

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(3) Failure to provide a policy to provide safe custodial containment for citizens whose known mental condition constitutes a danger to their safety.

(4) Failure of the police to follow any procedure to protect Michael Partridge from self-harm or self-destruction.

Later they filed a "First Amended Original Complaint" alleging violations of their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The named defendants in the amended complaint were the City of Houston, the Houston Police Department, and four individuals: B.K. Johnson, Chief of Police in 1980, Lee Brown, Chief of Police in 1983, K.L. McBurnett, Chief of the Jail Division in 1983, and James Morris, a field training officer. The complaint stated that the plaintiffs "will show that the Defendants ... engaged in a deliberate pattern of conduct which constituted the policy of the Houston City Police Department's jail policy for the handling of detained citizens which policy was familiar to the City of Houston".

The complaint as amended rests the claim squarely on the detention center's systemic lack of adequate care for detainees:

Suicide is a known risk of detainees in any detention center; there is no special training given to those police officers at the city jail; there is no written policy or procedure manual; the police personnel have no access to the jail clinic personnel records ... The city jail was inadequately staffed, there were no television monitors; there were no regular cell-checking procedures; and no one on the jail staff was informed of Michael Wayne Partridge's hysterical (and thus bizarre) behavior at the arrest scene and during the drive to jail....

Almost in passing, the plaintiffs alleged that in addition the defendants were negligent. In its brief unpublished order dismissing the complaint the district court did not discuss the plaintiffs' main theory of the case, that is, that Michael's death was caused by the detention center's custom or policy of allowing jail procedures that are callous to the point of deliberate indifference to detainees, especially detainees in need of protection from injuring themselves or others.

The district court held that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim under the "deliberate indifference" standard of Estelle v. Gamble, 9 an Eighth Amendment case. Aside from a general reference to that case, the court cited one case in support of its holding:

In light of considerations established by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Woodall v. Forti [sic], 648 F.2d 268 (5th Cir.1981), to determine whether the alleged denial amounts to deliberate indifference to the decedent's medical needs, it is the opinion of the Court that the plaintiffs' claim is insufficient to state a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. 1983 (1976).

It is difficult to understand why the court relied on Woodall v. Foti. In that case, the trial judge had denied a prisoner leave to proceed in forma pauperis, holding that the lawsuit was frivolous and that the complaint failed to state a claim. This Court in a per curiam opinion vacated the district court's judgment and remanded the case for proceedings on the merits. The prisoner had alleged that he had been denied medically necessary psychiatric care in derogation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment.

II. Motion for Dismissal Based on Rule 12(b)(6)

The district court styled its action as a dismissal under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In reviewing such a dismissal, we may not go outside the pleadings. We accept all well-pleaded facts as true and view them in the

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light most favorable to the plaintiff. 10 We cannot uphold the dismissal "unless it appears...

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