Shook v. El Paso County, 03-1397.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
Citation386 F.3d 963
Docket NumberNo. 03-1397.,03-1397.
PartiesMark SHOOK; and Dennis Jones, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellants, Shirlen Mosby; and James Vaughan, Plaintiffs-Intervenors-Appellants, v. EL PASO COUNTY, Board of County Commissioners of El Paso County, and John Wesley Anderson, in his capacity as Sheriff of El Paso County, Defendants-Appellees.
Decision Date18 October 2004

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Colorado, Richard P. Matsch, Senior District Judge.

David C. Fathi, American Civil Liberties Union, Washington, D.C. (with Mark Silverstein, A.C.L.U. Foundation of Colorado, and Thomas S. Nichols, Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP, Denver, CO, on briefs) for Plaintiffs-Appellants and Plaintiffs-Intervenors-Appellants.

Gordon L. Vaughan, Vaughan & DeMuro, Colorado Springs, CO (with Sara Ludke Cook, Vaughan & DeMuro, Colorado Springs, CO, and Jay A. Lauer, Assistant County Attorney, El Paso County, CO, on the brief) for Defendants-Appellees.

Before TACHA, BARRETT, and TYMKOVICH, Circuit Judges.

TYMKOVICH, Circuit Judge.

This case involves the unsuccessful effort by four former state prisoners to certify a class action challenging their lack of access to mental health care while incarcerated in the El Paso County, Colorado Jail. The district court denied them class certification and dismissed the suit based on its conclusion that under the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act the relief the plaintiffs sought was "beyond the competence and the jurisdiction of [the] court." Shook v. Bd. of County Comm'rs of County of El Paso, 216 F.R.D. 644, 648 (D.Colo.2003).

The plaintiffs now appeal, arguing that the district court applied the wrong standard in denying class certification. We take jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (2000) and, agreeing with the prisoners reverse and remand for further proceedings.

A. The Jail

The El Paso County Jail is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Jail houses both men and women, including recent arrestees, persons awaiting trial, and persons convicted and sentenced to terms of two years or less under state law. Each of the four named plaintiffs1 in this suit was incarcerated in the Jail sometime between 2001 and 2002, either as a pretrial detainee or as an inmate.

B. The Class Action Complaint

On April 2, 2002, the prisoners filed a class action complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking injunctive and declaratory relief against the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners and the Sheriff of El Paso County in his official capacity. They sought to certify a class of "all persons with serious mental health needs who are now, or in the future will be, confined in the El Paso County Jail." App. at 13.

In their complaint, the named plaintiffs allege that Jail officials have violated the prisoners' constitutional rights by acting with deliberate indifference to their mental health needs contrary to the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and the Fourteenth Amendment's prohibition against punishment of pretrial detainees. In particular, the plaintiffs allege that Jail personnel subjected them to (1) inadequate housing and overcrowding; (2) inadequate inpatient care; (3) inadequate mental health facilities for women inmates; (4) improper treatment through the use of special detention cells, restraints, and pepper spray; (5) inadequate supervision to prevent self-harm or suicide; (6) inadequate methods of distributing medication; and (7) inadequate mental health staffing. They also assert that El Paso's management of the Jail has created a substantial risk of future harm to class members.

The individual plaintiffs each assert slightly different factual allegations to support their claims of deliberate indifference. The first, Mark Shook, maintains that he has been receiving psychiatric care since childhood for his conditions of Asperberger's Syndrome (a form of autism) and bipolar disorder. Before he came to the Jail in fall 2001, he regularly took anti-psychotic drugs prescribed by his psychiatrist to control his symptoms. He alleges that after his arrival at the Jail, he had no access to doctors or medications for three weeks. When Jail officials finally allowed him to see a doctor, the doctor refused to prescribe his regular medications because they were not on the Jail's list of approved medications.

Plaintiff Dennis Jones asserts that he is bipolar, suffers from depression and anxiety, and has considered suicide. Prior to entering the Jail in September 2001 he claims a prescription of a combination of various drugs successfully controlled his symptoms. Jones claims that Jail officials denied him access to any medications for nearly a month after his incarceration, and when he finally obtained a prescription, he received only an insufficient dose of one of the drugs he needed. In addition, he alleges that Jail staff who monitored the levels of his medication through blood sample testing took the samples too soon or too long after he received his medication for the tests to be accurate.

Plaintiff-intervenor Shirlen Mosby alleges that she is bipolar and has experienced numerous attacks of anxiety, depression, feelings of hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts. She asserts that after her incarceration began in April 2002, Jail officials improperly placed her in special detention cells and Jail staff belittled her condition. She also maintains that because of inadequate supervision she was able to attempt suicide three times while housed in the Jail.

Finally, plaintiff-intervenor James Vaughan asserts that he is bipolar and has nearly continuous depression and anxiety. He claims that he had inadequate access to psychiatrists during his incarceration as a pretrial detainee beginning in May 2002. He also claims that he was deprived of medication for several days after he arrived at the Jail and never received the blood tests necessary to monitor the medication he finally did receive.

The plaintiffs allege that their lack of access to adequate mental health care is life-threatening. For example, they claim that the Jail officials' deliberate indifference to prisoners' mental health needs has led to the deaths of at least four prisoners and resulted in injuries to others.

C. The Procedural History

El Paso moved to dismiss the class action complaint, arguing that each class member was required to fully exhaust his or her administrative remedies under the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) (2000) ("PLRA"). El Paso asserted that because only the class representatives had exhausted their remedies, the class could not be certified. On its own motion, the district court requested supplemental briefing from both parties regarding the impact of the PLRA's remedial provisions on the issue of certifying a class seeking prospective relief. App. at 62 (citing 18 U.S.C. § 3626 (2000)).

After oral argument, the district court issued an order denying both the defendants' motion for dismissal and the plaintiffs' motion for class certification. Although the district court noted that the plaintiffs had each alleged facts sufficient to show that El Paso was deliberately indifferent to their mental health needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment, see Shook, 216 F.R.D. at 646 (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976)), the court ultimately concluded that the PLRA precluded class certification because the "breadth [of relief sought made] the proposed class action not manageable with [the] court's limited jurisdiction." Id. at 648.

In light of its ruling, the court granted the plaintiffs thirty days in which to file an amended complaint for individual relief. Id. at 649. By this time, however, none of the plaintiffs remained in the Jail and therefore they no longer had standing to seek individual relief. The district court accordingly dismissed the action. App. at 140-41.

The prisoners now appeal the district court's denial of class certification.

A. Standard of Review

Whether the district court applied the correct legal standard in its decision to grant or deny class certification is reviewed de novo. Thiessen v. General Electric Capital Corp., 267 F.3d 1095, 1105 (10th Cir.2001). "When the district court has applied the proper standard in deciding whether to certify a class, we may reverse that decision only for abuse of discretion." Adamson v. Bowen, 855 F.2d 668, 675 (10th Cir.1988). However, "that discretion must be exercised within the framework of rule 23." Stirman v. Exxon Corp., 280 F.3d 554, 561 (5th Cir.2002). An abuse of discretion occurs where the district court misapplies the Rule 23 factors in deciding whether class certification is appropriate. See id.; see also J.B. v. Valdez, 186 F.3d 1280, 1287 (10th Cir.1999) ("There is no abuse of discretion when the trial court applies the correct criteria [under Rule 23] to the facts of the case.") (citations omitted). We review de novo whether the district court correctly determined that the PLRA applied to the Rule 23 class certification analysis. See Dang v. UNUM Life Ins. Co. of Am., 175 F.3d 1186, 1189 (10th Cir.1999) ("We review the district court's decisions on questions of law . . . de novo.").

Although the party seeking to certify a class bears the burden of proving that all the requirements of Rule 23 are met, see Reed v. Bowen, 849 F.2d 1307, 1309 (10th Cir.1988), the district court must engage in its own "rigorous analysis" of whether "the prerequisites of Rule 23(a) have been satisfied." Gen. Tel. Co. of the S.W. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 161, 102 S.Ct. 2364, 72 L.Ed.2d 740 (1982). In doing so, the court must accept the substantive allegations of the complaint as true, J.B., 186 F.3d at 1290 n. 7; see also Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, 417 U.S. 156, 178, 94 S.Ct. 2140, 40 L.Ed.2d 732 (1974), although it "need not blindly rely on...

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