Taylor v. City of Milford

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
Citation10 F.4th 800
Docket NumberNo. 20-1109,20-1109
Parties Gloria TAYLOR, individually and as Independent Administrator of the Estate of Steven Taylor, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF MILFORD, a municipal corporation, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Decision Date19 August 2021

10 F.4th 800

Gloria TAYLOR, individually and as Independent Administrator of the Estate of Steven Taylor, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant,
CITY OF MILFORD, a municipal corporation, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 20-1109

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

Argued April 22, 2021
Decided August 19, 2021

Bhavani Raveendran, Attorney, Romanucci & Blandin, LLC, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

K. Austin Zimmer, Attorney, Del Galdo Law Group, LLC, Berwyn, IL, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before Wood, Brennan, and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.

St. Eve, Circuit Judge.

In 2016, Gloria Taylor called 911 seeking medical care for her husband, Steven, who was experiencing a diabetic emergency at their home in Milford, Illinois. Officer Joseph Garrett responded to the call and restrained Steven in a prone position, face down on his bed, for several minutes. Steven vomited and lost consciousness, and he did not regain consciousness before passing away in the hospital ten days after the incident at sixty-one years old. After the district court granted summary judgment to the Defendants, Plaintiff appealed the district court's judgment with respect to whether Defendant Garrett was entitled to qualified immunity based on his conduct within the Taylor home. As we explain below, the district court erred in granting qualified immunity to Garrett at the summary judgment stage.

I. Background

On August 17, 2016, Gloria called 911 for an ambulance for her husband, a diabetic, whose blood sugar had dropped dangerously low.1 Gloria reported that Steven had dropped a plate and told her that "he was having a sugar spell."

In addition to suffering from diabetes, Steven had experienced several cardiac events in the last several years. He suffered a heart attack in 2008 and underwent triple bypass surgery. He then received arterial stenting in 2012, 2013, and 2015, and suffered a second heart attack in 2016. He was released from the hospital from treatment for his heart attack on August

10 F.4th 804

10, 2016, just one week prior to the diabetes incident that led to this case.

Following Gloria's 911 call, the county dispatcher requested an ambulance to respond to a person experiencing a diabetic emergency. There are no full-time firefighters or EMS personnel in the small village of Milford, so two volunteer EMTs, Frank and Fred Hines, responded to the dispatcher's request. As the Hineses drove to the fire station to collect an ambulance to respond to Gloria's call, they passed by Defendant Garrett, who indicated that he would also respond to the call, since he was already close to the Taylor residence. Garrett is Milford's only full-time police officer. He had previously volunteered as an EMT for a different city, and he earned his certification to serve as a paramedic from the State of Illinois in 2004.

The parties’ accounts differ regarding what transpired in the time between Garrett's arrival at the Taylors’ home and the ambulance's departure from the home with Steven. It is undisputed that Garrett entered the home, confronted Steven in his bedroom, and placed Steven in a prone restraint on the bed. Steven then vomited and lost consciousness sometime before or shortly after the EMTs arrived, who then took Steven to the hospital by ambulance. Steven did not regain consciousness and died in the hospital ten days later.

According to the Taylors, Steven was confused in his hypoglycemic state when Garrett appeared in his bedroom. Steven asked Garrett why he was there, and asked for some orange juice, which his niece Serena offered. Garrett ordered Serena to step back and did not allow her to give Steven the orange juice. Serena also explained to Garrett that Steven had a bad heart and suggested that Garrett should speak calmly to her uncle. Despite Serena's warning, Garrett proceeded to force Steven face down onto his bed. Garrett used his own weight to hold Steven down, restrained Steven's right hand behind his back, and pressed Steven's lower back into the bed using his elbow. Garett also used his left hand to apply pressure behind Steven's ears in order to inflict pain on Steven to keep him in this position. With Steven's knees on the ground, Garrett's restraint position forced Steven's face into the blankets on his bed. Steven protested that he could not breathe, but Garrett continued to use his weight to keep Steven in this prone position. The Taylors pleaded with Garrett to let up, but he refused. While Garrett held Steven in this restraint on the bed, Steven vomited, further obstructing his breathing. EMT Fred Hines testified that Steven "coded" when the ambulance arrived, and doctors told the Taylors that Steven had not been breathing for around twenty-five minutes by the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital.

In Garrett's telling, he only restrained Steven because it was clear that Steven was a danger to himself. As the district court summarized, Garrett "testified that he started to restrain Steven after Steven head-butted the wall and hit the closet with his fist, causing Garrett to believe Steven was going to harm himself more and needed to be restrained for his own safety." Garrett further testified that "Mr. Taylor was showing signs where he could potentially be dangerous. He was starting [to] get in an aggressive stance. He was not making sense. He was confused, incoherent speaking." As a result, Garrett called for backup from the county, so that "if I had to go hands-on with him, ... more people [would be] there." Garrett testified that he told Steven that the ambulance was on its way, and that Steven stumbled and fell onto the bed before Garrett had put his hands on him. Steven hit the closet with "his whole upper body" and

10 F.4th 805

hit his head. Garrett maintains that he did not feel threatened by Steven, but he decided to use "pressure points and hand control tactics to place him on the bed." He then forced Steven into a position where his upper body was on the bed and his legs were on the floor. According to Garrett, Steven kept "trying to push up ... to turn over one way or the other ... kept trying to kick me with his feet ... [and] he was grabbing my duty belt, my shirt right around my duty belt and my vest." So he used "pressure points behind the ear to keep him – to get [Steven] back down when he started lifting me up off the bed." When Serena offered orange juice, Garrett was unsure that Steven would drink it, but he denies stopping Serena from giving Steven the juice. Garrett testified that although he saw vomit on Steven's face once the EMTs placed him on the stretcher to be taken to the hospital, Garrett did not see vomit on his face in the bedroom and he did not know when Steven had vomited. Additionally, Garrett testified that Steven had not lost consciousness before the EMTs arrived, because he "was still thrashing about," but that he did lose consciousness at some point, "[w]hen he stopped thrashing about and just stood still or laid still."

Serena and Shannon agreed that Steven was stumbling and mumbling when Garrett arrived at the Taylor home. Serena insists, however, that Steven was not behaving violently. She did not see her uncle headbutt the wall, but she did testify that he accidentally hit a lamp and the closet door while stumbling around the bedroom. Their description of Steven's hypoglycemia symptoms is consistent with the testimony of one of Steven's treating physician's, Dr. Zasada, who explained that hypoglycemic patients may act confused, "tired[,] sluggish, lethargic," and possibly "rowdy defensively because they don't understand what's going on, but not aggressive." Both Serena and Shannon testified that their uncle requested orange juice in Garrett's presence, but Garrett did not allow them to give it to him.

Once at the scene, the EMTs initiated CPR, but Steven never regained consciousness. He died on August 28, 2016 when life support was withdrawn. One of his treating physicians, Dr. Brian Field, testified that the primary causes of Steven's death were poor oxygenation of the brain, acute hypoxic respiratory failure, and cardiac arrest, though an autopsy was not performed. During his time in the hospital,2 he also contracted pneumonia and suffered respiratory failure.

After Steven's passing, Gloria, both individually and as the administrator of Steven's estate, sued Officer Garrett and the City of Milford under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Monell v. Department of Social Services , 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978), the Illinois Wrongful Death Act, and the Illinois Survival Act. At summary judgment, the district court found in Officer Garrett and the City of Milford's favor on all counts and entered judgment in favor of Defendants. On appeal, Gloria has not challenged the district court's rulings on her Monell and state law claims, and only challenges the district court's finding that Garrett was entitled to qualified immunity. In response, Garrett urges us to affirm the district court's qualified immunity analysis, or in the alternative, to find that he is still entitled to summary judgment based on the plaintiff's failure to establish causation.

10 F.4th 806

II. Analysis

We review the district court's grant of summary judgment and Officer Garrett's...

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