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October 27, 2016
  Castro v. County of Los Angeles
Headline: The Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, upholds a jury verdict under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 finding individual and municipal entity defendants liable for violating pretrial detainee's fundamental due process right to be protected from harm at the hands of another inmate.

Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Fourteenth Amendment, Due Process Clause, Pretrial Detainees

Issues Presented: (1)Whether the evidence supported the jury finding that defendant jail employees knew of the substantial risk of serious harm and thus were liable for plaintiff's injuries resulting from a beating by another inmate; and (2) whether the evidence supported the jury finding that the entity defendants had notice that their customs and policies posed a substantial risk to persons detained in a sobering cell and were deliberately indifferent to that risk.

Brief Summary: The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in an action brought against individual defendants Christopher Solomon and David Valentine and entity defendants County of Los Angeles and Los Angeles Sheriff's Department under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by Plaintiff Jonathan Michael Castro. Castro, a pretrial detainee, alleged his due process right to be protected from harm was violated when he was severely beaten and injured in his cell by another inmate. The jury returned a verdict for Castro and the district court denied defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law. A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit affirmed the judgment as to Solomon and Valentine but reversed as to the County and the Sheriff's Department. A majority of active non-recused judges voted to rehear the case en banc.

Relying on Kingsley v. Henrickson, 135 S. Ct. 2466 (2015), the Ninth Circuit concluded that the evidence supported the jury's findings that Solomon and Valentine were responsible for Castro's injuries. It held that a pretrial detainee must prove the following in a Fourteenth Amendment failure-to-protect claim against an individual officer: (1) The defendant made an intentional decision with respect to the conditions under which the plaintiff was confined; (2) those conditions put the plaintiff at substantial risk of suffering serious harm; (3) the defendant did not take reasonable available measures to abate that risk, even though a reasonable officer under the circumstances would have appreciated the high degree of risk involved - making the consequences of the defendant's conduct obvious; and (4) by not taking such measures the defendant caused plaintiff's injuries.

The Ninth Circuit also held that the entity defendants had notice that their customs or policies posed a substantial risk of serious harm to persons detained in the sobering cell and were deliberately indifferent to that risk. The Court found that the custom or policy to use a sobering cell that lacked adequate surveillance caused Castro's injury, and that substantial evidence supported the jury's finding that the entity defendants knew the customs and policies could lead to a constitutional violation.
Significance: The Ninth Circuit announced the standards to analyze Fourteenth Amendment failure-to-protect claims brought by pretrial detainees against individual and entity defendants.
Extended Summary: Plaintiff-Appellee Castro ("Castro") was detained by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and put in a sobering cell in the West Hollywood police station. Several hours later, authorities placed John Gonzales ("Gonzales") in the same cell. Gonzales had been arrested on a felony charge and was enraged and combative. Castro banged on the cell's window to try and attract attention but no officials responded. An unpaid community volunteer walked by the cell about 20 minutes after Castro had sought help and noticed that Gonzales was inappropriately touching Castro's thigh while Castro appeared to be asleep. The volunteer did not enter the cell to investigate. Six minutes later Solomon, the station's supervising officer, arrived at the cell and discovered Gonzales stomping on Castro's head and found Castro lying unconscious in a pool of blood. Castro was hospitalized for four days and transferred to a long-term care facility where he remained for four years.

Castro filed a complaint against Solomon and Solomon's supervisor, Valentine ("individual defendants"), and the County of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department ("entity defendants") claiming that Castro's constitutional rights were violated as a result of being housed in the sobering cell with Gonzales without appropriate supervision.

After Castro presented his case at trial, defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law on the grounds that: (1) there was insufficient evidence that the design of a jail cell constitutes a policy, practice, or custom by the County of Los Angeles that resulted in a constitutional violation; (2) there was insufficient evidence that a reasonable officer would have known that housing Castro and Gonzales together was a violation of Castro's constitutional rights; and (3) there was insufficient evidence for the jury to award punitive damages. The district court denied the motion. The jury returned a verdict for Castro and awarded him over $2 million in damages. Defendants renewed their motion for judgment as a matter of law, but the district court denied it. Defendants timely appealed.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court as to the individual defendants, but reversed as to the entity defendants. Castro v. County of Los Angeles, 797 F.3d 654 (9th Cir. 2015). A majority of active non-recused judges thereafter voted to rehear the case en banc. Castro v. County of Los Angeles, 809 F.3d 536 (9th Cir. 2015).

Claim against the individual defendants: The first issue addressed in the en banc opinion is the claim against the individual defendants. They maintained that they are entitled to qualified immunity and that Castro failed to show that they were deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of serious harm. In determining whether an officer is entitled to qualified immunity, a court must evaluate two independent questions: (1) whether the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right, and (2) whether that right was clearly established at the time of the incident. See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009).

Here, the Ninth Circuit recognized Castro's due process right, as a pretrial detainee who had not been convicted of any crime, to be free from violence from other inmates. The Ninth Circuit noted that a right is clearly established when the "contours of the right [are] sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right." Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987). The "contours" of Castro's rights were his right to be free from violence at the hands of other inmates. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 833 (1994). The Ninth Circuit determined that these "contours" are clearly established. They require only that individual defendants take reasonable measures to mitigate the substantial risk to Castro. Thus, qualified immunity does not bar the claim against the individual defendants.

In order for a pretrial detainee to sue prison officials under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause for failure to protect or for the use of excessive force, the plaintiff must show that the prison officials acted with "deliberate indifference." Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 (1979). The standard to prove "deliberate indifference" under the Eighth Amendment is well established. An "official must demonstrate a subjective awareness of the risk of harm" in order to find an individual deliberately indifferent under the Eighth Amendment. Conn v. City of Reno, 591 F.3d 1081 (9th Cir. 2010).

The standard for deliberate indifference under the Fourteenth Amendment is less clear. In Clouthier v. County of Contra Costa, 591 F.3d 1232 (9th Cir. 2010), the Ninth Circuit held the subjective test applied in Fourteenth Amendment cases. The Supreme Court, however, cast doubt on that holding in Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S. Ct. 2466 (2015). Kingsley involved the use of excessive force against a pretrial detainee. The Supreme Court held the detainee must show only that the forced used against him was objectively unreasonable. Id. at 2473-74.

In the instant case, the Ninth Circuit applied the Kingsley objective standard to failure-to-protect claims and overruled the portions of Clouthier requiring a plaintiff to prove subjective intent to punish. The court recognized that an excessive force claim requires an affirmative act while a failure-to-protect claim usually involves inaction. The first question in a failure-to-act case is whether the officer's conduct was intentional. The second question involves the objective standard: whether a substantial risk of harm could have been eliminated through reasonable and available measures that the officer did not take.

Putting these principles together, the Ninth Circuit held the elements of a pretrial detainee's Fourteenth Amendment failure-to-protect claim against an individual officer are: (1) that the defendant made an intentional decision with respect to the conditions under which the plaintiff was confined; (2) that those conditions put the plaintiff at substantial risk of suffering serious harm; (3) that the defendant did not take reasonable measures to abate the risk, even though a reasonable officer in the circumstances would have appreciated the high degree of risk involved; and (4) that by not taking such measures, the defendant caused the plaintiff's injuries.

Here, the individual defendants did not argue that their conduct was unintentional. The Ninth Circuit held there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find the individual defendants knew of the substantial risk of serious harm to Castro and that a reasonable officer would have appreciated the risk. On that basis, the Ninth Circuit found the evidence sufficient to sustain the judgment in favor of Castro.

Claim against the entity defendants: The second issue addressed on appeal was the claim against the entity defendants. Pursuant to the Supreme Court holding in Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978), in order to establish municipal entity liability, a plaintiff must show that a "policy or custom" led to the plaintiff's injury. In City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 392 (1989), the Court further held that the plaintiff must demonstrate that the policy "reflects deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of its inhabitants."

The Ninth Circuit addressed whether the entity defendants had a policy or custom that caused Castro's injury. The entity defendants argued that the architecture of the West Hollywood police station's sobering cell cannot be a policy, custom, or practice. The Ninth Circuit avoided deciding this question by holding that inadequate audio monitoring of the sobering cell and the policy to check on inmates only every 30 minutes amounted to a "custom or policy" under the standard. Had the entity defendants provided consistent monitoring or had they required Castro and Gonzales to be housed in different cells, the attack could have been averted. Therefore, the entity defendants' custom or policy caused Castro's injury.

Next, the court addressed whether the custom or policy reflected deliberate indifference on the part of the entity defendants. In City of Canton, the Supreme Court articulated a standard for permitting liability on a showing of "actual or constructive notice that the particular omission is substantially certain to result in the violation of the constitutional rights of their citizens." 489 U.S. at 396. In determining whether a policy or custom is adhered to with deliberate indifference, the Court established that an objective standard applies. See Gibson v. County of Washoe, 290 F.3d 1175, 1195 (9th Cir. 2002). The Ninth Circuit found that the West Hollywood police station's manual mandates that a sobering cell allow for maximum visual supervision of prisoner by staff, but the cell was non-compliant in this regard. The manual provision was aimed at mitigating the risk of serious injury to individuals housed in sobering cells. This conclusively showed that the entity defendants knew of the risk of the very type of harm that befell Castro. For these reasons, judgment against the entity defendants was affirmed.


To read the full opinion, please visit:

https://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2016/08/15/12-56829.pdf
Panel (en banc): Sidney R. Thomas, Chief Judge, and Susan P. Graber, Ronald M. Gould, Richard A. Paez, Consuelo M. Callahan, Carlos T. Bea, Milan D. Smith, Jr., Sandra S. Ikuta, Paul J. Watford, John B. Owens, and Michelle T. Friedland, Circuit Judges
Argument Date: March 22, 2016

Date of Issued Opinion: August 15, 2016

Docket Number: 12-56829

Decided: Affirmed.

Case Alert Author: Brandon Homan
Counsel: Melinda Cantrall (argued) and Thomas C. Hurrell, Hurrell Cantrall LLP, Los Angeles, California, for Defendants-Appellants
John Burton (argued), Law Offices of John Burton, Pasadena, California; Maria Cavalluzzi, Cavalluzzi & Cavalluzzi, Los Angeles, California; and M. Lawrence Lallande, Lallande Law PLC, Long Beach, California, for Plaintiff-Appellee
David M. Shapiro (argued), Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, Northwestern University School of Law, Chicago, Illinois; Paul W. Hughes, Mayer Brown LLP, Washington, D.C.; David C. Fathi, ACLU National Prison Project, Washington, D.C.; Peter Eliasberg, ACLU Foundation of Southern California, Los Angeles, California; for Amici Curiae ACLU of Southern California, American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Defense Center, National Police Accountability Project, and Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center
Author of Opinion: Circuit Judge Susan P. Graber

Dissent: Circuit Judge Consuelo M. Callahan dissented in part, joined by Judges Carlos T. Bea and Sandra S. Ikuta. Judge Callahan agreed with the judgment against the individual defendants but disagreed as to the entity defendants.

Dissent: Circuit Judge Sandra S. Ikuta dissented, joined by Judges Consuelo M. Callahan and Carlos T. Bea, to express disagreement with in the majority's interpretation of Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S. Ct. 2466 (2015).

Case Alert Supervisor: Philip L. Merkel

    Posted By: Glenn Koppel @ 10/27/2016 03:36 PM     9th Circuit  

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