The opinion of the court was delivered by: D. BROOKS SMITH
On the afternoon of November 1, 1989, Lawrence Gourley Herman (the "decedent") committed suicide while incarcerated at the Clearfield County Prison. Plaintiff Cathy L. Herman ("Herman"), Administratrix of the decedent's estate, brought this action on October 31, 1991, alleging that the various defendants acted recklessly and with deliberate indifference toward the well-being of prisoners in their custody. Plaintiff avers that the defendants failed to identify and treat the decedent's obvious suicidal intent, and that the defendant municipality consciously followed a policy or custom of failing to train prison corrections officers in proper methods of detecting suicidal tendencies in prisoners, and proper methods of suicidal prisoners. This gross negligence on the part of defendants allegedly caused and resulted in the deprivation of decedents's life and liberty, and constituted cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of his rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, and unspecified laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This matter is currently before the Court on defendants' motion for summary judgment.
The facts giving rise to this case are not in dispute. Lawrence and Cathy Herman were married in New York state in November 1987, and shortly thereafter moved to Clearfield, Pennsylvania where the decedent worked as a long-haul truck driver. Herman Transcript at 33. Decedent had a long history both of alcohol abuse, and of physically assaulting his wife. In 1980 or 1981, well before the Hermans were married, Cathy obtained court protection against the decedent. By 1989, the decedent was drinking very heavily and neglecting his employment responsibilities. The Hermans' marriage had severely deteriorated, and Cathy Herman obtained two separate protection from abuse orders against her husband prior to October 1989. Id. at 48, 60. On or about October 20, 1989, Cathy Herman separated from her husband and moved in with Bill Davis, who lived on the same street as the Hermans. Herman Deposition at 60, 78.
On October 25, 1989 and again on October 27, 1989, Clearfield Borough Police officers were asked to locate decedent because he had not reported for work. On both occasions police found decedent in his home under the influence of alcohol. After the second incident, Officer Titus of the Clearfield Borough Police contacted Jennifer Himes Bush, a crisis intervention specialist at the Clearfield-Jefferson Community Mental Health/Mental Retardation Center, requesting that decedent be evaluated for involuntary commitment to a mental health facility because he had made threats against Mr. Davis,
and because it would not be safe for him to operate his tractor-trailer rig. Clearfield Borough Police Incident Report dated 10/27/89; Bush Deposition at 18, 20.
During her October 27, 1989 evaluation of the decedent, Ms. Bush noticed that he was experiencing "shakes" or "tremors", symptoms often associated with alcohol withdrawal. Bush Deposition at 26. She also discussed with the decedent whether he had actively considered suicide, "and Mr. Herman definitely said that he had not considered anything like that." Id. at 28. Following the evaluation, Ms. Bush concluded that the decedent "had significant drug and alcohol problems and marital problems and emotional stressors and that we should assist him in getting into some type of outpatient drug and alcohol therapy or possibly, depending on future evaluations, maybe even an inpatient drug and alcohol [program]." Id. at 32. Ms. Bush then accompanied the decedent to the Clearfield Hospital emergency room where he was prescribed 25 milligrams of Librium to help control delirium tremens.
Id. at 26.
At approximately 6:00 p.m. on October 31, 1989, the decedent telephoned Clearfield Borough Police Officer Gregory S. Neeper, saying he wanted to talk with a police officer. When Clearfield police officers arrived at decedent's residence, decedent told them that he "was going to get Bill Davis", and "that the police would have to kill him if he" went to Bill Davis' house. Neeper Affidavit at 3. Officer Neeper tried unsuccessfully to persuade decedent to voluntarily admit himself to the Clearfield-Jefferson Community Mental Health Center.
At approximately 11:45 p.m. on October 31, 1989, Clearfield Borough Police arrested the decedent after he chased Cathy Herman out of Bill Davis' house with a baseball bat, in violation of a protection from abuse order. The decedent was transported to the Clearfield County Prison, where booking officer Mark Kramer interviewed him while completing a commitment form and a "forensic screen" form. Kramer described the decedent as "nervous" and "shaky". Kramer Deposition at 12. The decedent answered "No" to the forensic screen questions, "Have you or any family members ever attempted suicide" and "Have you recently thought of suicide", Exhibit 8 to Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition to Defendants' Clearfield-Jefferson MH/MR Program and Raymond Navarro's Motion for Summary Judgment, and he appeared calm by the end of the interview. Kramer Deposition at 16. Nevertheless, Officer Kramer recommended that the decedent be professionally evaluated by Raymond Navarro, the prison's full-time mental health consultant. Based upon Officer Kramer's recommendation, and the decedent's representation that he did not want to get into a fight with other inmates and so did not want to be around them, the decedent was placed in an isolation cell. Lombardo Deposition at 26-27.
The decedent slept uneventfully through his first night at the prison and was monitored regularly during the morning of November 1, 1989. At approximately 12:30 p.m. on November 1, 1989, the decedent was taken to the prison's booking area where he met with defendant Navarro at approximately 1:00 p.m. for a complete forensic consultation. Huber Deposition at 53; Navarro Deposition at 109.
Navarro's interview with the decedent lasted until approximately 1:30 p.m., at which time Navarro spoke with Jennifer Himes Bush, the crisis intervention specialist at the Clearfield-Jefferson Community Mental Health/Mental Retardation Center who had interviewed the decedent a few days earlier, who "advised they did have contact with [the decedent] there but that there were no suicidal statements made. . . ." Navarro Consultation Findings. Navarro then arranged for the decedent to continue receiving his Librium prescription and for a doctor's visit to continue monitoring for possible delirium tremens. Navarro Deposition at 92, 156.
Sometime between 1:30 p.m. and 2:00 p.m., Navarro placed the decedent's name on the prison's "special supervision list" with two asterisks next to the name, indicating that prison guards should give the decedent extra supervision and personal contact. Navarro Deposition at 180. Navarro decided to place the decedent's name on the special supervision list because of the decedent's medical symptoms, and the possibility that the decedent would experience delirium tremens. Navarro Deposition at 163-64. Navarro did not place the decedent's name on a "suicide risk alert" list because following the consultation he did not believe the decedent was imminently suicidal. Navarro Deposition at 34, 158-59.
The decedent was returned to his cell at approximately 2:05 p.m. He was found hanging from the cell bars by a noose made from his blanket at 2:30 p.m. Taylor Deposition at 49. The coroner set his time of death as 2:15 p.m. Clearfield Jefferson MH/MR Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment at 8.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) requires the entry of summary judgment ". . . 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 judgment as a matter of law." "The requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986) (emphasis in original). An issue of fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury might return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257; Equimark Commercial Finance Co. v. C.I.T. Financial Services Corp., 812 F.2d 141, 144 (3d Cir. 1987). In determining whether an issue of material fact does exist, ...