Prisoner Gets Arm Amputated, 10th Circuit Rules Against Her

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By Betty Wang, JD on June 06, 2013 4:32 PM

There are very stringent standards when it comes to municipal liability. Unfortunately for Plaintiff Amanda Bailey, a former detainee at the Pittsburg County jail, this is all she learned when attempting to sue Sheriff Kerns. In the end, a summary judgment was granted for Kerns, and all Bailey was left with was one arm.

Initially, Bailey brought a civil action for deprivation of rights under 42 U.S.C. §1983, in district court asserting deliberate-indifference claims against several individual defendants — mostly jail medical staff and personnel. In a nutshell, most of these claims were dismissed except for a claim against Sheriff Kerns, which is then what the Tenth Circuit was left with.

Bailey was arrested and brought to the jail on a Sunday night, and a series of events including a deteriorating condition of her right arm, which was in a splint. Bailey received a series of treatments including pain medication prescriptions, and a determination that her condition was not life-threatening, thus the nurse on duty had determined that no trip to the emergency room was necessary. Unfortunately, her condition only worsened and resulted in an amputation later on the next week.

Because she is bringing an action under 42 U.S.C. §1983, this meant that she was suing Kerns in his official-capacity against him as a government official. Therefore, the district court had determined that, even under the assumption that the care provided to Bailey was so deliberately indifferent, she couldn't succeed on an official capacity claim against Kerns.

An official capacity claim requires a constitutional violation proceeding from a jail policy, custom, or practice, or from training or supervising staff inadequately that results in the deliberate indifference to the detainees under Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs v. Brown.

The district court had assessed all the episodes leading up to the amputation and ultimately determined that if there was any deliberate indifference or medical negligence involved, they were results of "lapses in judgment by skilled employees," rather than from the policies, customs, or practices themselves.

The jail also had required proper training for medical staff that was in place at the time. Therefore, there was really nothing that would have alerted Sheriff Kerns and thus put him on notice that the training or any other practices were inadequate.

Bottom line: if you're going to be bringing forth a claim against someone in an official capacity, it needs to state a constitutional violation in the policy itself, and evidence of negligent acts on the staff's own volition may not be enough.

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