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Miller v. Madison County Jail

April 14, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, Chief Judge


I. Introduction

On April 5, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued an order (Doc. 59) remanding this case for the limited purpose of requesting that the district court provide a statement of reasons for granting Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (see Docs. 39, 43 & 44). The Seventh Circuit's order arises from Plaintiff's pro se Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis ("IFP") on Appeal,*fn1 as Plaintiff intends to appeal the Court's entry of summary judgment against him.

Plaintiff James E. Miller, Jr., acting pro se, filed suit against defendants Madison County Jail,*fn2 Robert Hertz and Joe Gulash for civil rights violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, specifically asserting a substantive due process claim under the Fourteenth Amendment that the conditions of his confinement as a pretrial detainee amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Plaintiff alleged that Defendants unnecessarily kept him on suicide watch for the two years he was housed at Madison County Jail awaiting trial, as a doctor and social worker had declared that Plaintiff was no longer suicidal. Plaintiff alleges Defendants further added to his injury by refusing to allow him a mattress in his cell for an entire year, forcing him to sleep on the concrete cell floor, as well as denying him other small comforts to which he believes he was entitled, all because of being kept on suicide watch. In support of summary judgment, Defendants argued that the evidence showed they did not act with the requisite deliberate indifference and that Plaintiff had also failed to show defendant Hertz's personal involvement necessary for individual § 1983 liability or to demonstrate the existence of an official policy or widespread custom for official liability.

On August 3, 2009, the Court conducted a hearing on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Counsel was present for defendants Hertz and Gulash. Plaintiff, acting pro se, was present via the Court's video teleconferencing system from Menard Correctional Center, where he is currently housed.After reviewing the summary judgment motion, Plaintiff's Response, and Defendant's Reply thereto, along with the attached exhibits and deposition transcripts, and after taking into account the Parties' oral arguments, at the end of the motion hearing the Court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants Hertz and Gulash, finding that there was no existing question of material fact as to the issue of whether Defendants acted with deliberate indifference. This ruling was made on the record. However, because a transcript of the hearing was not requested by the Parties and therefore, not available as part of the record for the Seventh Circuit's review, the Court now memorializes its ruling herein, in this Statement of Reasons, as ordered by the Seventh Circuit.

II. Legal Standard

Upon hearing arguments from both sides, the Court began its determination of the issues by reciting the applicable legal standard for summary judgment motions. Summary judgment is appropriate where "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 judgment as a matter of law." FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Spath v. Hayes Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir. 2000).In determining the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact, the Court construes all facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Spath, 211 F.3d at 396.If the moving party meets its burden, the nonmoving party has the burden "to go beyond the pleadings and affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual allegations, that there is a genuine issue of material fact which requires trial." Borello v. Allison, 446 F.3d 742, 748 (7th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-26; Johnson v. City of Fort Wayne, 91 F.3d 922, 931 (7th Cir. 1996).

The Court next discussed the requisite legal standard for Plaintiff to prevail on his Section 1983 claims. Pretrial detainees are protected by the Fourteenth Amendment's (substantive) due process clause, rather than the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, which applies to convicted persons.Collignon v. Milwaukee County, 163 F.3d 982 986-87 (7th Cir. 1999); see also Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 (1979). Still, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has noted that, as a practical matter, there is little difference between the applicable standards for liability. Collignon, 163 F.3d at 988-89. The "deliberate indifference" standard associated with the Eighth Amendment is used to analyze the conduct of prison officials for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment -- specifically with respect to medical and segregation decisions of the type presented in this case. Id. In Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994), the Supreme Court described "deliberate indifference" as a subjective standard greater than negligence, the equivalent of recklessness in the criminal law sense-- ignoring a known risk. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837.

The due process clause protects against unlawful restraint. Collignon, 163 F.3d at 987. Pretrial detainees "are entitled to more considerate treatment and conditions of confinement than criminals whose conditions of confinement are designed to punish." Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 321-22 (1982); see also Zarnes v. Rhodes, 64 F.3d 285, 289 (7th Cir. 1995). In either situation, certain restrictions may still be placed on the rights of pretrial detainees because government officials have legitimate interests in managing the facility where an individual is detained. As long as these measures are reasonably related to the effective management of the confinement facility, they are not considered punishment for a crime the detainee is suspected of committing. Rapier v. Harris, 172 F.3d 999, 1002-03 (7th Cir. 1999).

The appellate court has recognized that prison officials cannot punish pretrial detainees, but at the same time they are obligated to keep detainees safe and to provide adequate medical care. See Collignon, 163 F.3d at 987-88; Sullivan v. Bornemann, 384 F.3d 372, 377 (7th Cir. 2004); Estate of Cole v. Fromm, 94 F.3d 254, 259 (7th Cir. 1996). In the Eighth Amendment context, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has specifically stated: "Suicide is a 'serious harm' and prison officials must take reasonable preventive steps when they are aware that there is a substantial risk that an inmate may attempt to take his own life." Estate of Novackv. County of Wood, 226 F.3d 525, 529 (7th Cir. 2000).

III. Findings of Fact

1. On May 14, 2003, Plaintiff was housed in the Madison County Jail, on two counts of murder, facing a life sentence or possibly even the death penalty.

2. On August 5, 2003, Plaintiff attempted to commit suicide by hanging himself using a braided rope. He also tied his cell door shut so rescuers would have a difficult time trying to reach him.

3. On that same date, Dr. Kenneth Gilbert evaluated Plaintiff after his suicide attempt. He diagnosed Plaintiff as having severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things. Standard suicide precautions were then ordered. Dr. Gilbert questioned whether the suicide was due to depression or was a "rational suicide," so called based on an assessment of Plaintiff's ...

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