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Green v. Carlson

decided: August 13, 1987.

MARIA GREEN, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF JOSEPH JONES, JR. (A/K/A ROSCOE SIMMONS), AND NEXT TO KIN OF JOSEPH JONES, JR., PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
NORMAN CARLSON, ROBERT L. BRUTSCHE, M.D., AND BENJAMIN DEGRACIAS, M.D., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Terre Haute Division, No. 76 C 93, Gene E. Brooks, Judge.

Flaum and Manion, Circuit Judges, and Gordon, Senior District Judge.*fn* Gordon, Senior District Judge, dissenting.

Author: Flaum

FLAUM, Circuit Judge.

Eleven years ago, Maria Green brought this suit, contending that her son's death in the infirmary of the United States Penitentiary at Terre Haute was due to the defendants' deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. At the close of discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment on grounds of qualified immunity. The district court, without reference to the specific facts of the case, held that the Eighth Amendment right at issue was clearly established at the time of the defendants' alleged misconduct, and therefore ruled that the defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity. We hold that the district court should have reviewed the entire record and considered the qualified immunity issue in light of all the undisputed facts. We therefore vacate the district court's judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.

I.

On August 14, 1975, Joseph Jones, Jr., a prisoner at the United States Penitentiary at Terre Haute, died of asthma in the prison infirmary. Jones' mother, Maria Green, as the administrator of her son's estate, subsequently brought a Bivens action under the Eighth Amendment against, among others, Norman Carlson, the director of the Bureau of Prisons; Robert Brutsche, the medical director of the Bureau of Prisons; and Benjamin DeGracias, the prison doctor. The complaint alleged that Jones' death was caused by the defendants' deliberate indifference to Jones' serious medical needs. On January 10, 1977, the district court dismissed the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, on the ground that the federal claim could not survive Jones' death. This court reversed, holding that a federal common law right of survivorship existed for Bivens actions. See Green v. Carlson, 581 F.2d 669 (7th Cir. 1978). The Supreme Court affirmed. See Carlson v. Green, 446 U.S. 14, 64 L. Ed. 2d 15, 100 S. Ct. 1468 (1980).

On remand, after extensive discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment based on a number of grounds, including qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion. Eighteen months later, after the collapse of a proposed settlement agreement, the defendants again moved for summary judgment, repeating their assertion that they were entitled to qualified immunity. The court denied this motion as well. See Green v. Carlson, No. 76 C 93, at 10 (S.D.Ind. June 2, 1986). The defendants now appeal from the district court's denial of qualified immunity.

II.

A.

Under the doctrine of qualified immunity, government officials performing discretionary functions are shielded from liability for civil damages unless their conduct violated "clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known," Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 73 L. Ed. 2d 396, 102 S. Ct. 2727, 2738 (1982). The Supreme Court has stated that this inquiry is a question of law. See Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 528, 86 L. Ed. 2d 411, 105 S. Ct. 2806 (1985). However, in order to determine whether the law was clearly established at the time of the defendant's alleged violation, a court cannot look at the legal norm at issue in the abstract. Rather, the test for qualified immunity is "whether the law was clear in relation to the specific facts confronting the public official when [he or she] acted." Colaizzi v. Walker, 812 F.2d 304, 308 (7th Cir. 1987); see Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 107 S. Ct. 3034, 3039 & n.2, 97 L. Ed. 2d 523 (1987).

In this case, the district court's analysis of the qualified immunity issue made no reference to the evidence in the record. Rather, the court simply framed the question before it as "whether the constitutional right at issue -- that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to the decedent's medical needs -- was clearly established as of August 1975." Green v. Carlson, No. 76 C 93, at 10 (S.D. Ind. June 2, 1986). The district court therefore erred in not considering the specific facts of this case. See Anderson, 107 S. Ct. at 3039.*fn1

Both sides in this case agree that the court should have examined evidence beyond the plaintiff's allegations. The parties disagree, however, about what evidence the court should have looked to in determining the "specific facts." The appellants contend that the court should have examined all the undisputed facts, read in the light most favorable to Green; Green argues that the court was limited to "the plaintiff's facts." Whether a district court should consider evidence beyond the allegations in the plaintiff's complaint in determining whether the defendant is entitled to qualified immunity is technically an open question in our circuit, see Scott v. Lacy, 811 F.2d 1153, 1154 (7th Cir. 1987), although we have implicitly approved the practice, see, e.g., Kompare v. Stein, 801 F.2d 883, 889 (7th Cir. 1986). We conclude that when considering the qualified immunity issue on a motion for summary judgment, a district court should consider all of the undisputed evidence in the record, read in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Because the district court in this case did not follow this procedure, we vacate its judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.

B.

The circuits are divided on the issue of whether a district court considering a qualified immunity claim after discovery has begun should examine only the plaintiff's allegations, or whether the court should consider all undisputed evidence in the record in establishing the specific facts necessary to frame the qualified immunity analysis. In Bonitz v. Fair, 804 F.2d 164 (1st Cir. 1986), the First Circuit concluded that a district court faced with a claim of qualified immunity must "accept[] at face value the facts as presented by one party and limit[] the immunity inquiry to the clarity of the right violated," ...


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