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Estate of Manuel v. Gish

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 20, 2018

THE ESTATE OF MICHAEL SCOT MANUEL, Deceased, by and through Julie Christine Skaggs-Manuel, Personal Representative, and JULIE CHRISTINE SKAGGS-MANUEL, individually, Plaintiffs,
HEATHER GISH, individually and in her capacity as a Deputy for the Grand County Sheriff's Department, MARLAN ANDERSON, individually and in his capacity as a Deputy for the Grand County Sheriff's Department, SUSAN JAMES, individually and in her capacity as a Deputy for the Grand County Sheriff's Department, JACOB FISHER, individually and in his capacity as a Corporal for the Grand County Sheriff's Department, and KYNDRA GORE, individually and in her capacity as a Lieutenant for the Grand County Sheriff's Department, Defendants.


          Robert E. Blackburn United States District Judge.

         The matter before me is the Grand County Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Brief In Support of Same [#79], [1] filed June 15. 2018. I grant the motion in part and deny it without prejudice in part, dismiss plaintiffs' federal constitutional claims, and decline supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims.


         I have jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 (federal question) and 1367 (supplemental jurisdiction).


         Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). A dispute is “genuine” if the issue could be resolved in favor of either party. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Farthing v. City of Shawnee, 39 F.3d 1131, 1135 (10th Cir. 1994). A fact is “material” if it might reasonably affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Farthing, 39 F.3d at 1134.

         A party who does not have the burden of proof at trial must show the absence of a genuine fact issue. Concrete Works, Inc. v. City & County of Denver, 36 F.3d 1513, 1517 (10th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 115 S.Ct. 1315 (1995). Once the motion has been properly supported, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to show, by tendering depositions, affidavits, and other competent evidence, that summary judgment is not proper. Id. at 1518. All the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Simms v. Oklahoma ex rel. Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, 165 F.3d 1321, 1326 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 120 S.Ct. 53 (1999).

         III. ANALYSIS

         This facts of this matter are well-known to the parties and need not be discussed in detail. In precis, Michael Scot Manuel, while being detained in the Grand County Jail and under suicide watch, hung himself with a metal cord which was attached to a communication kiosk in his cell. On behalf of the estate and on her own behalf, Mr. Manuel's wife, plaintiff Julie Skaggs-Manuel, has sued defendants, all members of the Grand County Sheriff's department, for alleged deliberate indifference to Mr. Manuel's Fourteenth Amendment right to adequate medical care while in custody. She also has asserted a claims of negligence and wrongful death under Colorado law. Defendants now move for summary judgment, claiming qualified immunity from the federal constitutional claims and government immunity from the state law claims under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (“CGIA”), § 24-10-118(2), C.R.S.

         Under federal law, a state official is immune from civil liability unless her actions violate “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2738, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982); see also Herring v. Keenan, 218 F.3d 1171, 1175 (10thCir. 2000), cert. denied, 122 S.Ct. 96 (2001). To overcome this immunity, plaintiffs must establish both that defendants violated Mr. Manuel's rights under federal law and that such rights were clearly established at the time of the violation. Greene v. Barrett, 174 F.3d 1136, 1142 (10th Cir. 1999). A reviewing court may “exercise [its] sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the particular case at hand.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236, 129 S.Ct. 808, 818, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009). See also Herrera v. City of Albuquerque, 589 F.3d 1064, 1070 (10th Cir. 2009). Here, I find and conclude that, under either prong of this test, defendants are entitled to qualified immunity as to the federal constitutional claims.

         “Under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, pretrial detainees are entitled to the same degree of protection against denial of medical care as that afforded to convicted inmates under the Eighth Amendment.” Barrie v. Grand County, Utah, 119 F.3d 862, 868 (10th Cir. 1997). Claims that jail officials failed to take adequate steps to prevent a detainee's suicide are considered a denial of that right. Id. at 866. To state a violation of their constitutional rights, therefore, plaintiffs must establish that defendants were deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk that Mr. Manuel would commit suicide. Id. at 868-69.

         To satisfy the subjective component of this claim, [2] plaintiff must demonstrate each defendant knew of and disregarded an excessive risk that Mr. Manuel would commit suicide. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837-38, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 1979, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994); Barrie, 119 F.3d at 869. This standard is equivalent to “criminal recklessness, which makes a person liable when she consciously disregards a substantial risk of harm.” Beauclair v. Graves, 227 Fed.Appx. 773, 776 (10th Cir. May 22, 2007) (quoting Mata v. Saiz, 427 F.3d 745, 752 (10th Cir. 2005)). Stated differently, a plaintiff will satisfy this element only where she shows a defendant both was “aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and . . . also dr[e]w the inference.” Farmer, 114 S.Ct. at1979.

         It is plain defendants did much to attempt to identify and mitigate the potential risk that Mr. Manuel might commit suicide: they undertook a suicide screening, placed Mr. Manuel on suicide watch, required him to wear a suicide smock, placed him in a room near the booking area which permitted quicker and more frequent access, and checked on him frequently. Plaintiffs, with the benefit of hindsight, identify a number of different, allegedly more reasonable, actions which could have been undertaken to better ensure Mr. Manuel's safety.[3]

         That, however, is not the standard. “[I]it is not enough for a plaintiff to argue that the constitutionally cognizable injury would not have occurred if the [defendant] had done more than he or she did.” Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1118 (3rd Cir. 1989). Jail officials are not liable for failing to “absolutely guarantee the safety of their prisoners, ” and are required only to take “reasonable steps” to ensure their safety. Cox v. Glanz, 800 F.3d 1231, 1247 (10th Cir. 2015) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). So long as defendants respond reasonably to known risks, they cannot be found deliberately ...

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