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Hunter v. Amin

October 1, 2009


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 3:07-cv-00296-DRH-PMF-David R. Herndon, Chief Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lawrence, District Judge

ARGUED MAY 5, 2009

Before RIPPLE and SYKES, Circuit Judges, and LAWRENCE,*fn1 District Judge.

Elisha Hunter filed this action on her own behalf and as personal representative of the estate of her deceased brother, Stanley Bell, against numerous defendants whom she alleged were liable for Bell's death in the St. Clair County, Illinois, jail. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of all of the defendants on all of Hunter's claims; Hunter now appeals portions of that ruling. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm in part and reverse and remand in part the judgment of the district court.


A. Facts

When Stanley Bell arrived at the St. Clair County, Illinois, jail on April 13, 2005, as a federal pretrial detainee, he was taking three prescription medications: amitriptyline, an antidepressant that was prescribed as a sleep aid; Prozac, an antidepressant; and hydroxyzine, an antihista-mine that is used to treat anxiety. Because amitriptyline was barred at the jail pursuant to an Illinois Department of Corrections policy, Dr. Hetal Amin, a psychiatrist who was under contract with the jail, was consulted by jail personnel the day after Bell's arrival regarding his prescription for the drug. Dr. Amin prescribed a different sleep aid, trazodone, in place of amitriptyline.

On April 21, 2005, during his regular weekly visit to the jail, Dr. Amin met with Bell to conduct a psychiatric examination. Bell, who suffered from bipolar affective disorder, became highly agitated and refused to talk with Dr. Amin in the presence of a jail officer, insisting that he was entitled to a private consultation with the doctor. It was the jail's policy-consistent with a state regulation-that a correctional officer be present during all inmate medical examinations. In the case of Bell, Dr. Amin felt it was especially important for his own safety to have an officer present because Bell's file indicated that he had attacked an officer at another institution. A standoff ensued, with Bell growing increasingly belligerent and refusing to participate in an examination until the jail officer left the room and Dr. Amin refusing to conduct the examination without the jail officer being present.

Dr. Amin explained to Bell that his medications would be discontinued unless he was able to conduct an examination; Bell still refused to submit to an exam in the presence of a jail officer. Dr. Amin then determined that Bell was refusing treatment and asked Bell to sign a "Release of Responsibility" form so indicating. Bell refused to sign the form, instead wadding it up and throwing it. Dr. Amin believed that Bell was experiencing a manic episode, which he attributed to the fact that Bell was taking an antidepressant (Prozac) which can cause manic episodes in individuals with bipolar disorders. Therefore, Dr. Amin decided that the best course of action would be to discontinue Bell's antidepressant, which he believed would bring him down from his manic episode. Dr. Amin also suspected that Bell should be taking a mood stabilizer, but he could not make that determination without conducting an examination. Because Bell refused to consent to an examination, Dr. Amin discontinued all of Bell's medications and planned to try to examine him again the following week when he returned to the jail. Unfortunately, Bell committed suicide on April 23, 2005, leaving behind a note that said, among other things, that St. Clair County was responsible for his death because it had taken away his medication.

B. Proceedings Below

Hunter's complaint asserted a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Dr. Amin, St. Clair County Sheriff Mearl Justice, and St. Clair County, as well as two counts of medical malpractice (one alleging loss of chance of survival and the other alleging wrongful death) against those defendants plus two unnamed employees of the jail. The district court dismissed the medical malpractice claims against Sheriff Justice early in the case; that ruling has not been appealed. The defendants later moved for summary judgment on the remaining claims; those motions were granted in their entirety and the district court entered judgment in favor of all of the defendants.*fn2


Hunter filed a timely appeal in which she addresses two aspects of the district court's ruling. First, she appeals*fn3 the court's ruling that the County's policy of requiring a corrections officer to be present during psychiatric examinations at the jail did not violate Bell's constitutional right to adequate mental health treatment. Second, she appeals the court's determination that, as a result of Bell's refusal of treatment, Dr. Amin had no duty toward him and therefore cannot be liable for medical malpractice.

We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the admissible evidence presented by the non-moving party must be believed and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the non-movant's favor. Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009). However, "[a] party who bears the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest on its pleadings, but must ...

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