Simmons v. Navajo County

Decision Date23 June 2010
Docket NumberNo. 08-15522.,08-15522.
Citation609 F.3d 1011
PartiesWesley SIMMONS, husband; Sharon Simmons, wife, Plaintiffs-Appellants,v.NAVAJO COUNTY, State of ARIZONA; Navajo County Board of Supervisors, governing board of Navajo County, Arizona; Gary Butler, Sheriff of Navajo County; David Burke, Jail Commander, Navajo County; Reynolds, Lieutenant; A. Warren, Sergeant; Deborah Jones, nurse and staff; Kartchner, Dr. and staff; Genie Greason, nurse, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

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John Trebon, John Trebon, P.C., Flagstaff, AZ, argued the cause for the appellants and filed the briefs.

James M. Jellison, Jellison Law Offices, PLLC, Phoenix, AZ, argued the cause for the appellees and filed a brief.

David L. Abney, Law Offices of Charles M. Brewer, Ltd., Phoenix, AZ, filed a brief in support of the appellants on behalf of amicus curiae Arizona Trial Lawyers Association.

Eileen Dennis GilBride, Jones, Skelton & Hochuli, P.L.C., Phoenix, AZ, filed a brief in support of the appellees on behalf of amici curiae Apache, Cochise, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Mohave, Pinal, Santa Cruz and Yavapai Counties.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, David G. Campbell, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-00701-DGC.

Before J. CLIFFORD WALLACE, DIARMUID F. O'SCANNLAIN and ANDREW J. KLEINFELD, Circuit Judges.

O'SCANNLAIN, Circuit Judge:

We must decide, among other issues, whether local jail personnel, their supervisors, and their county employer violated the Fourteenth Amendment due process rights of a pretrial detainee who committed suicide while in their custody.

I
A

After allegedly molesting a ten-year-old girl at an elementary school playground, Jasper Simmons (Jasper) was arrested by the Pinetop-Lakeside Police Department and charged in Arizona Superior Court with sexual conduct with a minor under fifteen years old. Jasper was only seventeen years old at the time, but because of the nature of the crime, he was charged as an adult and ordered into adult detention at Navajo County Jail in Holbrook, Arizona. Navajo County Jail very rarely housed juveniles, who are required by Arizona law to be physically segregated from adults with no sight or sound contact between the juvenile and any charged or convicted adult. Jasper was assigned to a special two-room cell (“I-pod”), the only one in the jail that provided the required sight-and-sound segregation.

On May 21, 2005, he underwent an initial inmate assessment, in which he denied receiving mental health counseling, having suicidal thoughts, or having a family history of suicide. A week later, however, Jasper informed a detention officer that he had tried to kill himself by cutting his left wrist with a razor. Jasper was taken to the nurses' station, where Nurse Genie Greason cleaned and dressed his wounds, which she described on his chart as “superficial cuts + scrapes + abrasions.”

Nurse Greason ordered Jasper to be placed on Suicide Watch Level I, which is designated for inmates who are imminently suicidal. Level I required constant observation and documentation of the inmate's behavior every fifteen minutes, a face-to-face evaluation by medical staff at least once a day, and additional evaluation by the Community Counseling Center if warranted. Under Level I, an inmate was required to wear a special smock that could not be used as a suicide implement, and any potentially dangerous items were removed from the inmate's cell. Moreover, the inmate could not participate in any programs or activities.

The jail's medical staff saw Jasper every day from May 28 to June 3. His treatment chart indicates that his wounds were regularly cleaned and dressed, and that he denied having suicidal thoughts. Nurse Debra Jones referred Jasper to see Maggie Lange, a licensed clinical social worker at the Community Counseling Center who visited the jail weekly. On June 3, Lange evaluated Jasper, who again denied having suicidal thoughts. Lange noted that Jasper had a history of taking antidepressants and had recently attempted suicide. She recommended that he see Ellen Morse, a nurse practitioner specializing in mental health issues, and that he remain on suicide watch.

On June 8, Nurse Jones decided to downgrade Jasper to Suicide Watch Level II, which is designated for inmates whose behavior indicates emotional instability. Like Level I, Level II required documented checks every fifteen minutes and daily face-to-face evaluations by medical staff. Level II inmates could wear regular clothing, but the items in their cell were still restricted, and they were still prohibited from participating in programs and activities.

On June 10, Jasper saw Lange again and asked for antidepressants, but he denied suicidal ideation. He reported feeling better now that he was allowed to have books but also reported having difficulty sleeping. On June 15, he saw Morse, who recorded his history of taking antidepressants and his suicide attempt but noted that he denied suicidal ideation. She diagnosed him with depression and prescribed an antidepressant. She arranged for a two-week follow-up visit.

At his next weekly visit with Lange on June 17, Jasper reported that he was “doing better,” and she noted that he appeared “less depressed.” He told her that he talked to his parents every day. The following week, on June 24, he again reported that he was doing better and could “tell the medicine is working.” Lange noted that his mood had improved and that he appeared stable. Nevertheless, on June 27, Nurse Jones decided to keep Jasper on Level II watch as a precaution until his case management conference on July 19.

On June 29, Morse conducted another psychiatric interview. She noted that Jasper was “doing better overall” and reported being in a “better mood.” Although Jasper reported feeling isolated and lonely and still had trouble sleeping, he was seeing his family weekly and reading more. Morse observed that Jasper seemed “more relaxed and talkative” and “less depressed.” On July 1, Nurse Greason documented that Jasper seemed “cheerful” and was “looking forward to seeing [his] parents.” At that time, he denied suicidal ideation yet again.

On Saturday, July 2, Sergeant Albert Warren was the officer in charge of Navajo County Jail. That day, three detention officers were out sick, and there were at least nine inmates on suicide watch, which was a record high for the jail. It was also an extremely busy day at the jail, given that it was a visitation day during the Fourth of July weekend. That afternoon, Jasper visited with his family from about 1:30 to 2:40 p.m. His father reported that Jasper was in “pretty good spirits,” and his mother recalled that he was in a good mood.” Neither of his parents suspected that he would attempt suicide later that day.

Sergeant Warren took Jasper back to his cell around 2:50 p.m. but did not notice anything amiss in terms of Jasper's demeanor. Sergeant Warren checked in on Jasper again at 4:35 p.m. when he delivered a dinner tray. At 5:20 p.m., while retrieving dinner trays from the inmates, Sergeant Warren responded to a security breach in the medical pod where all of the medications for the inmates were stored. Afterward, he proceeded to booking, where he briefed Officer Tim Robinson, Jr., who was relieving him of duty that evening, on the security breach.

At 5:46 p.m., an hour and eleven minutes after Sergeant Warren last checked on Jasper, Officer Randall Ratcliff visited Jasper's cell to collect his dinner tray. At that time, he discovered Jasper “hanging from the top slide lock of his cell door by what appeared to be some type of home made rope.” The rope was fabricated from medical gauze, presumably his old wrist wound dressings. Jasper was pronounced dead at 6:50 p.m.

B

Jasper's parents, Wesley and Sharon Simmons (“the Simmonses”), filed a complaint against various jail personnel, their supervisors, and Navajo County (collectively, Navajo County) 1 in the Navajo County Superior Court. The Simmonses asserted claims under state tort law, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12132 (“ADA”). Navajo County removed the case to the United States District Court for the District of Arizona pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441(b) and 1446. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the district court granted Navajo County's motion and denied the Simmonses' motion. The Simmonses timely appealed from the district court's summary judgment to Navajo County.

II

As a preliminary matter, we address the Simmonses' argument that the district court's grant of summary judgment to Navajo County “was not procedurally justified.” They contend that the district court improperly dismissed their case as a sanction for violating the District of Arizona's Local Rule of Practice 56.1(e).

Rule 56.1(e) provides that [m]emoranda of law filed ... in opposition to a motion for summary judgment ... shall include citations to the specific paragraph in the statement of facts that supports factual assertions made in the memoranda.” The district court held that the Simmonses' memorandum in opposition to Navajo County's motion for summary judgment violated Rule 56.1(e) because it “cite[d] often to their entire statement of facts and their entire opposition to [Navajo County's] statement of facts, a collection of documents spanning 98 pages and 630 numbered paragraphs” with “some 12 inches of related exhibits.” Nevertheless, the district court still “made its best effort to identify the relevant evidence from [their] voluminous filings” and ruled on the merits of the Simmonses' claims. The court's evaluation of the merits makes clear that it did not, as the Simmonses contend, dismiss their case as a sanction.

Although the Simmonses' argument fails, we pause here to explain, yet again, the importance of following a district court's...

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