Hardin v. Hayes, 90-7818

Citation957 F.2d 845
Decision Date09 April 1992
Docket NumberNo. 90-7818,90-7818
PartiesJosephine HARDIN, individually and as administratrix of the Estate of Edie L. Houseal, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. James HAYES, Sheriff of Etowah County; John Raley; John Morris, Defendants-Appellants, Marion T. Smith; Billy Ray McKee, Commissioner of Etowah County; Jesse F. Burns, Commissioner of Etowah County; W.A. Lutes, Commissioner of Etowah County; Lawrence Presley; Billy Ray Williams; City of Gadsden, a Municipal Corporation, Defendants.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)

Julius F. Parker, Jennifer Parker LaVia, Parker, Skelding, Labasky & Corry, Tallahassee, Fla., Roger W. Kirby, City Atty., Gadsden, Ala., for Morris.

Don G. DeCoudres, Birmingham, Ala., for Hayes & Raley.

Robert M. Shipman, Earl D. McNeal, Huntsville, Ala., for plaintiff-appellee.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

Before ANDERSON and DUBINA, Circuit Judges and ESCHBACH *, Senior Circuit Judge.

DUBINA, Circuit Judge:

The appellants in this case appeal the district court's order denying their motions for summary judgment based upon the doctrine of qualified immunity. This action was brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 1 by Josephine Hardin ("Hardin"), the personal representative of the estate of Edie L. Houseal (the "Decedent"), an Alabama prison inmate who died while incarcerated. Hardin alleges the appellants' deliberate indifference to the Decedent's psychological well-being, in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. 2 Hardin also alleges a pendant state wrongful death claim. The district court denied the appellants' motions for summary judgment. We reverse.

I. STATEMENT OF THE CASE
A. Background Facts

The Decedent was arrested on May 29, 1989, in Gadsden, Alabama, (the "City") by City police, after calling the police and claiming that her life was in danger. The Decedent was charged with public intoxication, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. On the way to the City jail, the Decedent kicked and dented the right, rear door of the police car. Upon her arrival at the jail, the Decedent tried to escape by running away. Officers recaptured her after a short scuffle in which she received a small cut above her right eye. Officers took the Decedent, partially disrobed, into the jail's booking area. Because the Decedent was disruptive, she was taken immediately to a jail cell. Paramedics were called. When they arrived, the Decedent refused treatment. The paramedics examined her visually from outside the cell, found her injury to be minor, and left without entering the cell.

Due to remodeling work at the City jail, certain prisoners--including the Decedent--were sent to the Etowah County (the "County") jail during the daytime and returned to the City jail at night.

On May 30, the Decedent was taken to the County jail where she beat her forehead against the bars of her cell. When jail officials came to assist, the Decedent grabbed a ballpoint pen from a jail matron's pocket and stabbed the matron in the hand. She then stabbed herself in the neck with the pen. Paramedics were again summoned, and the Decedent was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital for treatment of her forehead and neck injuries. 3 Thereafter, City police officers returned the Decedent to the City jail for the evening.

The next morning, May 31, the Decedent was taken to the County jail. No incidents were reported. However, when City police officers arrived to return the Decedent to the City jail, she resisted, and had to be restrained with handcuffs and leg irons.

On June 1, the Decedent was again taken to the County jail where, at the request of City officials, social worker William E. Owens ("Owens") of the Cherokee/Etowah/DeKalb Mental Health Center interviewed the Decedent in her cell. The Decedent refused to answer any questions, except to say "No" when asked if she had ever been in a mental hospital. The Decedent also said "No" when asked if she would agree to commit herself voluntarily to a mental hospital. Owens then left to begin the paperwork necessary for involuntary commitment.

Later that morning, the Decedent flooded her cell by running water into a stopped-up sink. The water to her cell was cut off. At about 10:00 a.m., County Sheriff James Hayes ("Sheriff Hayes") and County Chief Correctional Officer John Raley ("Chief Raley") observed the Decedent pacing amid a quarter inch of standing water in her cell. Excrement lay on the floor. Sheriff Hayes ordered Chief Raley to call the City and tell its officers to remove the Decedent from the County jail; Chief Raley made the call. However, shortly before City officers and fire medics arrived, the Decedent collapsed in her cell. When reached by the fire medics, she was unconscious. Despite attempts at cardiopulmonary resuscitation and other medical procedures, the fire medics could not establish an airway. The Decedent was pronounced dead at the hospital within one hour.

An autopsy determined the cause of death to be asphyxia due to a small bar of soap lodged in the Decedent's hypopharynx. A bar of soap was also found in the Decedent's stomach. The Alabama State Medical Examiner concluded that the Decedent's death was accidental.

B. Procedural History

Hardin sued City and County officials in their official and individual capacities under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging deliberate indifference to the Decedent's mental needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The defendants included the City, Police Chief John Morris ("Chief Morris"), Sheriff Hayes, Chief Raley and the County Commissioners for Etowah County (the "Commissioners").

The defendants filed two motions for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, one on behalf of the City defendants, the other on behalf of the County defendants. The district court granted summary judgment as to the Commissioners in their individual and official capacities and Sheriff Hayes and Chief Raley in their official capacities.

Without explanation, the district court denied summary judgment as to Sheriff Hayes and Chief Raley individually, and Chief Morris officially and individually. This interlocutory appeal followed. 4

II. ANALYSIS

A district court's denial of qualified immunity is an appealable "final decision" within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1291. 5 Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 530, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 2817, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985); Green v. Brantley, 941 F.2d 1146, 1148 (11th Cir.1991) (en banc); Waldrop v. Evans, 871 F.2d 1030, 1032 n. 1 (11th Cir.1989). As a question of law, it is reviewed de novo. James v. Douglas, 941 F.2d 1539, 1542 (11th Cir.1991); Rich v. Dollar, 841 F.2d 1558, 1563 (11th Cir.1988). Moreover, when a defendant moves for summary judgment based on the doctrine of qualified immunity, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Stewart v. Baldwin County Bd. of Educ., 908 F.2d 1499, 1503 (11th Cir.1990).

Qualified immunity shields government officials performing discretionary functions from civil damages "insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2738, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982). 6 Qualified immunity is available to government officials whose "actions could reasonably have been thought consistent with the rights they are alleged to have violated." Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 638, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 3038, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987). The rights at stake must have been clearly established in light of pre-existing law so that "a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right." Anderson, 483 U.S. at 640, 107 S.Ct. at 3039. The focus, therefore, is on the "objective legal reasonableness" of the officials' actions. Id. at 639, 107 S.Ct. at 3038. Specifically, we look to whether a reasonable official could have believed his or her conduct to be lawful in light of clearly established law and the information possessed by the official at the time the conduct occurred. 7 Anderson, 483 U.S. at 641, 107 S.Ct. at 3039; Stewart, 908 F.2d at 1503; Waldrop, 871 F.2d at 1033; Clark v. Evans, 840 F.2d 876, 881 (11th Cir.1988).

We begin by observing that the right to be free from deliberate indifference to psychological needs was clearly established at the time of the Decedent's incarceration. Waldrop, 871 F.2d at 1033; Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104, 97 S.Ct. 285, 291, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976) (prison officials who show deliberate indifference to an inmate's serious medical needs violate the Eighth Amendment's proscription against unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain).

We then turn to the question of whether Hardin has adduced evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendants violated those rights. Stewart, 908 F.2d at 1503.

Hardin alleges that the Decedent's rights were violated almost from the moment of her arrest. She alleges that the first violation occurred when the Decedent was pushed frontally naked and then beaten in the City jail's booking area. 8 Hardin also alleges that the City's failure to implement a federal consent decree requiring certain procedures for the health care of City prisoners raises a fact question of deliberate indifference as to the Decedent. Finally, Hardin alleges that the Decedent's bizarre behavior--which included beating her head against the bars of her cell, stabbing a jail matron in the hand and herself in the throat with a pen, defecating on the floor of her cell, eating her own waste and choking to death on a bar of soap--raises factual questions as to the appellants' deliberate indifference. We have examined the tragic facts of this case closely, and while they may raise questions of deliberate indifference as to the conduct of other parties, we cannot conclude that the actions of the appellants be...

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