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OWENS v. CITY OF PHILADELPHIA

May 13, 1998

MARY ELLEN OWENS, et al.
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: POLLAK

OPINION

 Pollak, J.

 May 13, 1998

 This is an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and two Pennsylvania statutes for damages stemming from the suicide of Patrick Gaudreau on August 14, 1992 in the Philadelphia Detention Center. The plaintiffs are the administratrix of Gaudreau's estate and the decedent's surviving children. The defendants are the City of Philadelphia, several Philadelphia Prison System officials, and a number of correctional officers from the Philadelphia Detention Center. Currently before the court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment.

 Background

 After extensive discovery, the parties have developed a considerable record. Following is a summary of the background thus revealed.

 On July 17, 1992, Gaudreau was incarcerated at the Philadelphia Detention Center ("the Detention Center") after he allegedly violated a state-court protective order prohibiting him from abusing, harassing, or threatening his parents. On July 22, 1992 Gaudreau was transferred, pursuant to an involuntary mental health petition, to the Hahnemann Correctional Mental Health Services Unit ("Hahnemann Unit"). *fn1" The basis for the petition was a report that Gaudreau had set a fire in his cell and was kicking the cell's window.

 Upon admission to the Hahnemann Unit, Gaudreau was examined by Dr. Mahmood Dadvand. Dadvand diagnosed Gaudreau as "bipolar manic with psychosis." In his examination report, Dadvand found Gaudreau to be "hostile, verbally abusive toward the doctor and correctional officers" and to have "anger outbursts, antisocial attitudes and assaultive ideas." Dadvand checked the box denoting: "The patient is severely mentally disabled and in need of treatment." Gaudreau's treatment consisted of admission to the Hahnemann Unit as an inpatient, with assault and fire precautions, and a course of antidepressant medication.

 The next day, July 23, 1992, Municipal Court Judge Thomas Dempsey ordered Gaudreau to undergo a mental health evaluation to determine whether he should be committed. He was then remanded to the Philadelphia Prison System to be assigned for the evaluation. Between July 23 and July 25, 1992, Gaudreau was again incarcerated at the Philadelphia Detention Center. On July 25, he was readmitted to the Hahnemann Unit. The admission summary, signed by Dadvand, indicated a host of psychiatric symptoms, including: excessive and pressured speech, angry outbursts; hostility and agitation; inappropriate, demanding, and threatening interview behavior; flight of ideas; delusions and assaultive ideas; and homicidal threats. Dadvand reiterated his earlier diagnosis and recommended hospitalization with antipsychotic medication and precautions against fire and assault.

 Gaudreau was hospitalized in the Hahnemann Unit from July 25 to August 4, 1992. He was treated by Dr. Sharon Wainwright, who noted that Gaudreau had a prior history of psychiatric hospitalization. During this period, Gaudreau was placed in restraints twice and there was initially some difficulty in getting Gaudreau to take his medication. On August 4, 1992, Gaudreau was discharged as an inpatient and returned to the cell block, where he was treated as a Hahnemann outpatient. Gaudreau was assigned to A Block, a unit housing other Hahnemann Unit outpatients. On August 11, Gaudreau was interviewed by Hahnemann social worker Emil Matula, who noted that Gaudreau "still sometimes has passing thoughts of hurting self or doing something to himself." Gaudreau remained at the Detention Center until his suicide on August 14, 1992.

 On that day, defendants Sean Murphy and Preston McDaniels were the correctional officers assigned to A Block from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. At approximately 1:30 p.m., Gaudreau approached Murphy. At his deposition, Murphy testified that Gaudreau "stated that he felt schizy and he was going to hurt himself." Murphy then telephoned the Hahnemann Unit and spoke with Wainwright, the psychiatrist who had most recently treated and discharged Gaudreau. Murphy informed Wainwright of Gaudreau's statements. Murphy testified that Wainwright responded by saying "that she was extremely busy at that time" but would issue a pass for Gaudreau to be released to the Hahnemann Unit at 3:00 p.m. Murphy also stated that Wainwright opined that "this sounds like someone who just wants to get off the block." Wainwright testified that she wrote a pass for Gaudreau at 2:00 p.m. authorizing Gaudreau to come to the Hahnemann Unit between 3:00 and 3:15 p.m. *fn2"

 After this phone conversation, Murphy spoke to Gaudreau, informing the detainee about the pass that would issue. Gaudreau then walked away in the direction of the prison's gym. At approximately 2:20 p.m., Gaudreau asked Officer McDaniels if there was a pass for him to see the doctor. At approximately 2:40 p.m., Wainwright noticed that the pass had not been delivered. At approximately 2:45 p.m., Gaudreau returned from the gym and Murphy locked Gaudreau in his cell alone. Murphy made no entry regarding any of these events in the officers' log. When he was relieved at 3:00 p.m. by officers Eric Lewis and Wayne Robinson, Murphy did not inform the incoming officers of Gaudreau's statement or the fact that a pass was going to be issued. Nothing in the record suggests that the pass was ever delivered.

 Lewis and Robinson were assigned to A Block from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Lewis began an inspection tour of A Block at the commencement of the shift. Lewis testified that when he looked into Gaudreau's cell, he saw the detainee lying on his cot. Robinson testified that, while at the control booth at approximately 3:35 p.m., he received a phone call from Wainwright, who stated that she had a pass for Gaudreau and asked why Gaudreau had not shown up for his appointment. Robinson asked an "inmate worker" to see if Gaudreau was in his cell. The inmate worker shouted to Robinson that Gaudreau had hanged himself. Robinson testified that he ran toward the cell, but could not reach it or see inside because 15-16 inmates were there. He then returned to the control booth and informed Wainwright that Gaudreau appeared to be hanging in his cell. Lewis testified that he then went to the cell for the first time and observed Gaudreau hanging (but he never actually entered the cell).

 After returning to the control booth, Robinson called Sergeant Gail Morris at Center Control. Morris informed Lieutenant William Russell who, with Correctional Officer Nicole Brown, went to Gaudreau's cell. Neither brought anything with which to cut Gaudreau down. When they arrived at approximately 3:40, Robinson was in the control booth and Lewis was at the threshold of the cell. Russell and Brown observed Gaudreau hanging by a bed sheet which was tied to a clothes hook, which was approximately five feet from the floor. According to the investigative report of the Philadelphia Prison System's Internal Affairs Division ("IAD report") and the photographs of the scene, Gaudreau was hanging in a sitting position. Russell directed Brown to find an instrument with which to cut the body down. Brown was unable to find any such instrument. It is uncontested that none of the officers on the scene attempted to untie or remove the sheet. Russell testified that he attempted to lift Gaudreau, but was unable because the body was too heavy. The conclusions embodied in the IAD report, however, are in some tension with Russell's testimony. The IAD report states:

 
Contrary to Lieutenant Russell's statement that he attempted to lift the inmate so that he could be cut down, eyewitness accounts place him outside of Patrick Gaudreau's cell, and that [sic ] neither he nor any other staff member made an attempt to cut the inmate down.

 Accordingly, there appears to be a conflict in the evidence with respect to Lieutenant Russell's actions. *fn3"

 Shortly after the arrival of Russell and Brown, two prison nurses arrived. They were followed by Dr. Wainwright, who in turn was followed by Dr. Caucci, who pronounced Gaudreau dead at approximately 3:50 p.m.

 I. Federal Civil Rights Claims

 A. Governing Legal Principles

 Plaintiffs assert civil rights claims against various individual correctional officers, the City, and two prison officials (the two officials are sued in both their individual and official capacities). All of the federal claims are governed by the standard that the Supreme Court first articulated for Eighth Amendment medical maltreatment claims in Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 50 L. Ed. 2d 251, 97 S. Ct. 285 (1976)--"deliberate indifference." *fn4" However, what "deliberate indifference" signifies, in the context of this case, varies somewhat as the concept is applied to different sets of defendants. Accordingly, before analyzing the claims against each of the defendants in turn, I will briefly survey the permutations of "deliberate indifference" as those permutations come into play with respect to the different sets of defendants.

 (1) Plaintiffs' claims against Detention Center correctional officers Murphy and McDaniels (as well as their individual-capacity claims against Philadelphia Prison System officials Warden Wilhelmina Speach and Deputy Commissioner Thomas Costello) concern these defendants' conduct before the suicide. It has been established within this circuit that § 1983 can provide a remedy for a pretrial detainee's suicide. The Third Circuit first articulated the standard for this species of § 1983 liability in Colburn v. Upper Darby Township, 838 F.2d 663 (3d Cir. 1988)("Colburn I "), and elaborated upon it in Colburn v. Upper Darby Township, 946 F.2d 1017 (3d Cir. 1991) ("Colburn II ").

 Drawing on Supreme Court cases analyzing issues of medical maltreatment in prison ( Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 50 L. Ed. 2d 251, 97 S. Ct. 285 (1976)) and personal security of inmates while in custody ( Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344, 88 L. Ed. 2d 677, 106 S. Ct. 668 (1986)), the Third Circuit fashioned a standard for § 1983 liability in detainee suicide cases based on "reckless indifference." Colburn I, 838 F.2d at 669. According to this standard, as restated in Colburn II, prison officers can be found liable if "(1) the detainee had a 'particular vulnerability to suicide,' (2) the custodial officer or officers knew or should have known of that vulnerability, and (3) those officers acted with 'reckless indifference' to the detainee's particular vulnerability." Colburn II, 946 F.2d at 1023 (quoting Colburn I, 838 F.2d at 669).

 The second element in this test, that concerning the extent to which a defendant was aware of the risk of suicide, was further explained in Colburn II. Noting that an intervening case ( Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458 (3d Cir. 1989)) employed the term "deliberate indifference," the court declined to distinguish between "reckless" or "deliberate" indifference. 946 F.2d at 1024. The court did, however, state that the phrase "should have known," as employed in the second prong of the Colburn I standard, signifies "something more than a negligent failure to appreciate the risk . . . though something less than subjective appreciation of the risk." Id. at 1025.

 Thus clarified, the Colburn I standard arguably requires further reexamination in light of the Supreme Court's opinion in Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 128 L. Ed. 2d 811, 114 S. Ct. 1970 (1994). Farmer was an Eighth Amendment case concerning prison officials' duty to protect (convicted) inmates from harm. Justice Souter, writing for the Court, clarified the meaning of "deliberate indifference" in Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. The Court considered two alternatives with respect to the mental state required for an Eighth Amendment violation: (1) a "civil recklessness" standard, requiring that liability is predicated on a substantial risk of harm, of which the defendant knew or should have known, or (2) a "criminal recklessness" standard under which an officer may not be held liable unless he or she subjectively knew of the risk. The Court concluded that the "criminal recklessness" standard comports with both the text and interpretations of the cruel and unusual punishments clause. Id. at 839-40. Hence, the Court held that the culpability of defendant officers under the "deliberate indifference" standard is determined by a subjective test:

 
[A] prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.

 Id. at 837. Thus for Eighth Amendment claims to succeed after Farmer, the plaintiff must demonstrate actual subjective knowledge on the part of the individual defendant.

 The Third Circuit has yet to revisit its Colburn I doctrine (as clarified in Colburn II) in the light of the Supreme Court's decision in Farmer. Defendants urge that Farmer mandates that the second prong of the standard be modified to state a subjective standard of knowledge. However, because Farmer is a case interpreting the requirements of the Eighth Amendment with respect to convicted prisoners, it is not directly controlling on the subject of the due process clause's protection of those who are detained pending trial. See Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 326, 89 L. Ed. 2d 251, 106 S. Ct. 1078 (1986); supra note 4.

 Thus whether, or to what extent, pretrial detainees in the instant context are entitled to greater protection than the Eighth Amendment provides to convicts is an open question. Some courts of appeals have decided that the Eighth Amendment standard of deliberate indifference, with a subjective knowledge component, applies to pretrial detainees' claims of inadequate medical assistance and inadequate protection against suicide. See, e.g., Hare v. City of Corinth, 74 F.3d 633, 648-49 (5th Cir. 1996)(en banc)(suicide prevention); Salazar v. City of Chicago, 940 F.2d 233, 237 (7th Cir. 1991)(medical assistance). Additionally, one district court within this circuit has ruled that the Colburn test must be modified to be consistent with Farmer. Swan v. Daniels, 923 F. Supp. 626, 631 (D. Del. 1995). Indeed, although the Eighth Amendment is not technically the basis for plaintiffs' claims, the Estelle opinion provides one of the principal "theoretical underpinnings" for the Colburn standard. Colburn II, 946 F.2d at 1017. Accordingly, the Supreme Court's interpretation of Estelle in Farmer, if not flatly controlling, could be said to evidence at least an indication of the Court's view of how Fourteenth Amendment doctrines that derive from Estelle should be analyzed.

 For the purposes of this motion, however, it is not necessary to provide an ultimate answer to this question, since the outcome of this motion would be the same whether the standard requires subjective knowledge or not. As the discussion below will make clear, the individual defendants fall into one of two camps: (1) defendants with respect to whom there is evidence from which subjective knowledge of the risk of suicide can be inferred (which evidence would also support a finding of liability under an objective standard), or (2) defendants with respect to whom the evidence suggests neither knowledge nor facts suggesting that they should have known. Since the defendants in camp (1) are not entitled to summary judgment under the subjective standard (criminal recklessness), and the defendants in camp (2) would be entitled to summary judgment even under an objective standard (civil recklessness), it is not necessary to decide which standard is the appropriate one. *fn5" See Boswell v. County of Sherburne, 849 F.2d 1117, 1120 & n.4 (8th Cir. 1988)(affirming denial of summary judgment in medical maltreatment case while declining to decide whether a standard other than Estelle should apply, given that the result would be no different under a different standard). Accordingly, this opinion will assume, without deciding, that subjective knowledge is required when deciding to deny summary judgment, further noting that defendants as to whom summary judgment is granted would be entitled to summary judgment even on the objective standard.

 (2) The claims against correctional officers Lewis and Robinson, as well as those against Lieutenant Russell, involve alleged acts and omissions that occurred after Gaudreau was found hanging. There are no allegations, and there is no record evidence suggesting, that these defendants had either actual or constructive knowledge of Gaudreau's suicidal propensity. Because these claims do not present any issues of preventive measures, they will be analyzed as medical maltreatment claims, for which I will assume (for the reasons set forth above) that the Eighth Amendment standard set forth in Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 50 L. Ed. 2d 251, 97 S. Ct. 285 (1976), supplies the relevant analytic principles. In that case, the Court held that the Eighth Amendment is violated when prison officials display "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners." Id. at 104. Accordingly, I will examine these claims on the assumption that they are governed by Estelle, as further elaborated in Farmer (while reserving the question of whether a more protective standard may apply to pretrial detainees). See Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 188 & n.10 (3d Cir. 1993). *fn6"

 (3) Finally, the claims against the City and the official-capacity claims against Warden Wilhelmina Speach and Deputy Commissioner Thomas Costello are governed by another variation on the "deliberate indifference" theme. Farmer requires that Eighth Amendment claims against prison officials in their individual capacities meet a subjective state of mind requirement. The test is otherwise for claims against entities such as the City (as well as the official capacity claims that are essentially identical to those claims). These claims rest on allegations of a policy and practice of deliberate indifference to suicidal detainees through the failure to train prison staff on inmate suicide precautions. As the Court noted in Farmer, the test for deliberate indifference with respect to a municipality is, of necessity, an objective one given that "considerable conceptual difficulty would attend any search for the subjective state of mind of a governmental entity." 511 U.S. at 841. Therefore, with respect to the claims against the City and its officials, liability can follow from imputed knowledge if,

 
in light of the duties assigned to the specific officers or employees the need for more or different training is so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the policymakers of the city can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need.

 Id. at 840 (quoting Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 390, 103 L. Ed. 2d 412, 109 S. Ct. 1197 (1989)).

 Attention now turns to the application of the foregoing principles to the defendants in this case. Because the defendants' summary judgment motion is before the court, the record will be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine issue of material fact such that a reasonable fact-finder could find for the non-moving party. Fed R. Civ. P. 56(c); Reliance Ins. Co. v. Moessner, 121 F.3d 895, 900 (3d Cir. 1997). For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

 B. Individual Corrections Officers

 At the outset, it must be noted that plaintiffs do not oppose summary judgment in favor of corrections officers Brown, Clark, and Morris, as well as Deputy Commissioner Joseph Gallagher and Deputy Commissioner John Daughen. Accordingly, defendants' summary judgment will be granted in toto as to these defendants. Attention therefore turns to the claims against the ...


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