NICHOLE SANCHEZ; CASY SIMPSON; EDWARD LAROY SIMPSON, II, Individually and as the Representative of the Estate of Diana Lynn Simpson, Plaintiffs-Appellants
YOUNG COUNTY, TEXAS; YOUNG COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, Defendants-Appellees
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Texas
JONES, BARKSDALE, and COSTA, Circuit Judges.
the family of Diana Simpson, challenge the district
court's summary judgment dismissing their § 1983
lawsuit claiming that Young County violated Mrs.
Simpson's constitutional rights when she died in the
county jail from a probable suicide-caused drug overdose the
evening after she was arrested for public intoxication. The
family asserts that the County is liable for the acts and
omissions of its personnel who arrested and jailed Mrs.
Simpson. The family also asserts that unconstitutional
conditions of pretrial confinement, arising from the
County's policies and procedures, caused Mrs.
Simpson's death. For the following reasons, the judgment
of the district court is AFFIRMED regarding the claim that
the jailers' acts and omissions caused Mrs. Simpson's
death and render the County liable; the judgment is VACATED
and REMANDED for further proceedings as to whether there is a
genuine issue of material fact that the County's policies
created unconstitutional conditions of confinement that
caused the decedent's death.
Simpson struggled with depression and a year before her death
had attempted suicide. In the weeks leading up to her death,
she told her husband, Edward Simpson, that if she were to
attempt suicide again, she would withdraw cash from the ATM,
use the cash to check into a motel so that her presence would
not be traceable, and then would overdose on pills.
18, 2015, Mr. Simpson noticed a cash withdrawal when
reviewing his bank account online. The night before, Mrs.
Simpson had worked the nightshift at Stephens Memorial
Hospital, where she often slept after her shift because her
home was 75 miles away. After calling his wife and failing to
get an answer, Mr. Simpson called the hospital to inquire if
his wife was sleeping there and learned that she had left
after her shift. Mr. Simpson called numerous local law
enforcement agencies to report his wife missing and at risk
for suicide. He placed a photo of his wife's vehicle on
Facebook asking anyone who saw it to contact the authorities.
by a woman who saw the Facebook plea and recognized Mrs.
Simpson's vehicle parked on a roadside in Graham, Texas,
police officer Kyle Ford found Mrs. Simpson asleep in the
driver's seat about 5 p.m. on May 19. In questioning her,
Ford's arrest documents state that he observed that Mrs.
Simpson's speech was slurred, she responded slowly, and
she had a hard time keeping her eyes open when speaking. He
asked Mrs. Simpson whether she had consumed alcohol or taken
any medication. She replied that she had a drink the night
before to help her sleep but at that point denied ingesting
medicine. Mrs. Simpson also denied having diabetes or other
medical conditions. Officer Moody, who assisted Ford,
corroborated her intoxicated behavior.
called Young County medics to evaluate Mrs. Simpson. After an
examination, medic Jared Cook found a slightly elevated blood
pressure and slightly low pulse. Mrs. Simpson confirmed to
him that "she normally has high blood pressure and a low
pulse." Her blood sugar level was normal, and there were
no symptoms of heat stroke or dehydration. A medic asked her
whether she was depressed or wanted to hurt herself; Mrs.
Simpson replied "no" to both questions. Cook
described Mrs. Simpson as "impaired but not
a pill bottle on the passenger floorboard of Mrs.
Simpson's car, Ford obtained her consent to search the
vehicle, and she walked unsteadily toward the ambulance to
await the search. She stated, however, that her hip had
arthritis. She then told Cook that she had taken two Benadryl
earlier in the day to help her sleep. Mrs. Simpson dozed off
while Cook attempted to conduct a horizontal gaze nystagmus
test. Simpson told Cook she did not want to be
taken to the hospital.
in her purse, Ford found a substantial number of partially
empty blister packs of medication and showed them to a medic.
Several open beer cans littered the back seat. Ford took
photographs, collected, and inventoried the evidence. When
Ford asked Mrs. Simpson again how much of the medication she
had taken, Mrs. Simpson replied that she took all that was
missing from the packages that morning. She also confided
that she had drunk alcohol the previous night "to help
her sleep." Ford then asked her if she was trying to
hurt herself but she responded that she was not. She declined
his offer to go to the hospital.
arrested Mrs. Simpson for public intoxication shortly after 6
p.m. and took her to the Young County Jail.
Simpson arrived at the jail about 6:30 p.m. Jailer Rich
filled out but did not complete Mrs. Simpson's intake
medical screening form. She checked a box
"negative" for any behavior or conditions
indicative of suicide. In a sworn declaration, Ms. Rich
testified that Mrs. Simpson was "responsive, talking
coherently and providing satisfactory answers" to her
questions during the intake. Mrs. Simpson also indicated, in
response to screening form questions, that she was not
depressed, not thinking about killing herself, and had never
attempted suicide. Mrs. Simpson walked unassisted to a female
holding cell to sleep before finishing the booking process.
the book-in process, no County employee ran a Continuity of
Care Query (CCQ), a Texas law enforcement information-sharing
service that provides real-time identification of individuals
who have received State-funded mental health services within
the past several years.
frequently jail staff checked on Mrs. Simpson in the holding
cell is disputed. There is nevertheless evidence that another
female detainee was placed in Mrs. Simpson's cell during
the evening. And around midnight, when Officer Post arrived
at the jail, Deputy Wacaster walked Officer Post to a holding
cell and told him to look through the cell window. Officer
Post saw Mrs. Simpson lying on the floor, wearing nothing but
meantime, after learning that his wife had been arrested, Mr.
Simpson called the Graham police station and requested that
they take his wife to the hospital. He told the officer she
was a suicide risk, but he did not say that she might have
taken drugs or overdosed because he did not know that. He was
informed that she had been evaluated by medical personnel and
refused to go to the hospital. He called the jail once before
Mrs. Simpson arrived there and was told that an ambulance was
there at the scene, and he related that she had a BOLO
("be on the lookout") report for the safety of her
life. In a later call to the jail, he says he
"begged" them to take his wife to the hospital.
Finally, in a call to the jail about 8 p.m., Mr. Simpson
requested that the Texas Department of Mental Health and
Mental Retardation ("MHMR") assist his wife, but
was told that MHMR would not see her until she was sober. The
jail employee who took this call stated that Mrs. Simpson was
just drunk and needed to sleep it off.
2:40 a.m., Ms. Rich entered the holding cell to finish the
book-in process and found Mrs. Simpson unresponsive.
Paramedics took her to the hospital where she was pronounced
dead. An autopsy identified the cause of death as mixed drug
intoxication, and the manner of death was found to be
consistent with and highly suspicious of suicide.
Simpson's husband and children (collectively,
"plaintiffs"), sued individually and as
representatives of the estate of Diana Simpson, contending
that Young County violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the
Texas Tort Claims Act. The district court granted the
defendant's motion for summary judgment, dismissing all
claims. Plaintiffs appeal only the dismissal of their §
court reviews a district court's grant of summary
judgment de novo. Kemp v. Holder, 610 F.3d 231, 234
(5th Cir. 2010). Summary judgment is granted when "there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). The "burden of
production at trial ultimately rests on the nonmovant"
and the movant must merely show an "absence of
evidentiary support in the record for the nonmovant's
case." Cuadra v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 626
F.3d 808, 812 (5th Cir. 2010). The nonmoving party must then
come forward with specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial. Id. And though we draw
justifiable inferences in favor of the nonmovant, the
nonmovant must put forward sufficient evidence to enable us
to draw this inference. State Farm Life Ins. Co. v.
Gutterman, 896 F.2d 116, 118 (5th Cir. 1990). There is
"no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence
favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict
for that party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511 (1986).
This court may affirm a grant of summary judgment on any
grounds supported by the record and argued in the district
court. Campbell v. Lamar Inst. of Tech., 842 F.3d
375, 378 (5th Cir. 2016).
§ 1983 case invokes alternative theories for the
County's liability for the death of Mrs. Simpson: the
unconstitutional "conditions of confinement" at the
Young County Jail, or the "episodic acts and
omissions" of jailers. Hare v. City of Corinth,
Miss., 74 F.3d 633, 644-45 (5th Cir. 1996) (en banc). We
accept plaintiffs' characterization of the case as
concerning whether Mrs. Simpson exhibited serious medical
needs, not simply whether she was suicidal upon admission to
the jail. The "unconstitutional
conditions" theory rests on the idea that the County has
imposed what amounts to punishment in advance of trial on
pretrial detainees, and it requires no showing of specific
intent on the part of the County. The "episodic acts and
omissions" theory, in contrast, requires a finding that
particular jailers acted or failed to act with deliberate
indifference to the detainee's needs. Normally, episodic
acts liability falls not on the County as employer, but on
the individual employees for their particular acts. See
Shepherd v. Dallas Cty., 591 F.3d 445, 452 (5th Cir.
2009). In this case, plaintiffs are attempting to create
genuine issues of material fact concerning both
unconstitutional conditions of confinement and episodic acts
or omissions that allegedly flowed from the County's
unconstitutional policies or lack of policies.
the district court focused only on the plaintiffs' claim
that episodic acts and omissions of the jail personnel could
be imputed to the County, it did not analyze their
unconstitutional conditions of confinement claim at all. In
deference to the trial court's responsibility to review
the record in the first instance, we vacate and remand for
its consideration whether there is any genuine issue of
material fact that Mrs. Simpson was subjected to the
County's unconstitutional conditions of confinement.
plaintiffs' theory of episodic acts and omissions, on the
other hand, was squarely rejected by the district court on
summary judgment and is poised for appellate review.
government entity may incur Section 1983 liability for
episodic acts and omissions injurious to a pretrial detainee
if plaintiffs first prove that County officials, acting with
subjective deliberate indifference, violated her
constitutional rights; and plaintiffs then establish that the
County employees' acts resulted from a municipal policy
or custom adopted with objective indifference to the
detainee's constitutional rights. Hare, 74 F.3d
at 649 n.4; Lawson v. Dallas Cty., 286 F.3d 257 (5th
Cir. 2002) (jail medics' treatment of paraplegic inmate,
leading to decubitus ulcers, was subjectively deliberately
indifferent, and County was liable for multiple policies
indicating objective indifference to serious medical needs).
claim fails on several fronts. First, the principal evidence
of the alleged "policy or custom" arises from the
treatment of Mrs. Simpson, that is, from this single case. To
be unconstitutional, however, a municipal entity's policy
that derives from custom or practice must be "so common
and well settled as to constitute a custom that fairly
represents municipal policy." Webster v. City of
Houston, 735 F.2d 838, 841 (5th Cir. 1984) (en banc).
Further, "[a] municipality is almost never liable for an
isolated unconstitutional action on the part of an
employee." Peterson v. City of Fort Worth, 588
F.3d 838, 847 (5th Cir. 2009). Plaintiffs offered no evidence
about the alleged maltreatment of any other detainees at
Young County's jail.
regardless whether there was sufficient evidence to create a
genuine, material fact issue that the failure of jailers to
"complete" Mrs. Simpson's intake screening
questionnaire and to request a CCQ reflected County
"policies or customs, " these are matters of file
documentation. There is no proof that any such alleged
deficiencies in jail procedures were causally linked to Mrs.
Simpson's death under the circumstances of this case. The
intake questionnaire was substantially completed, in any
event, and there is no evidence that Mrs. Simpson's name
would have appeared on a CCQ inquiry.
her treatment by the employees of the County did not indicate
subjective deliberate indifference. Deliberate indifference
is an extremely high standard to meet. Stewart v.
Murphy, 174 F.3d 530, 534 (5th Cir. 1999). To
demonstrate deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must show
that public officers were aware of facts from which an
inference of a substantial risk of serious harm to an
individual could be drawn; that they actually drew the
inference; and that their response indicates subjective
intention that the harm occur. See Thompson v. Upshur
County, 245 F.3d 447, 458-59 (5th Cir. 2001). Here, Mrs.
Simpson was questioned extensively about potential suicidal
tendencies; she never admitted overdosing; the medics
examined her and found normal vital signs and, essentially,
no medical emergency; she underwent intake screening with
only an indication of intoxication. The officers and jail
personnel had information about Mrs. Simpson from several
sources: the EMTs, Mrs. Simpson herself (repeatedly denying
the need to go to the hospital or desire to kill herself to
two arresting officers, two EMTs, and Officer Rich); their
own observations; and her husband. Their individual actions
may have amounted to negligence, even gross negligence, but
that is not sufficient to create a genuine issue of material
fact concerning deliberate indifference as to any one of
them, much less a systemic failure attributable to the
liability cannot be imposed on the County for any failures by
Sheriff Walls in this case, because he was not involved in
and had no knowledge of Mrs. Simpson's situation until
after her death. Supervisors cannot be held liable for
constitutional violations committed within the jail if they
had no personal involvement. Thompkins v. Belt, 828
F.2d 298, 303 (5th Cir. 1987). And notwithstanding his status
as a County policymaker, the County could not be liable
absent the Sheriff's direct participation.
to plaintiffs' theory, a plaintiff cannot bootstrap
government entity liability from the individual failures of
employees because there is no respondeat superior liability
under Section 1983. Monell v. Dep't of Soc.
Servs. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 691, 98
S.Ct. 2018, 2036 (1978); Hicks-Fields v. Harris Cty.,
Texas, No. 16-20003, 2017 WL 2729081, at *4 (5th Cir.
June 26, 2017). This court's decision in
Shepherd is distinguishable because his claim was
not based on failures of individuals but implicated "the
jail's system of providing medical care to inmates with
chronic illness." 591 F.3d at 453 ("Shepherd's
claim, by contrast, does not implicate the acts or omissions
of individuals but the jail's system of providing medical
care to inmates with chronic illness").
Constitution does not require that officers always take
arrestees suspected to be under the influence of drugs or
alcohol, or reported by relatives to be at risk, to a
hospital against their wishes. Grayson v. Peed, 195
F.3d 692, 696 (4th Cir. 1999). Mrs. Simpson's decision to
take her own life is tragic. The County, however, cannot be
held responsible for fatal decisions she made that were,
under all the circumstances, not obvious to government
judgment is AFFIRMED to the extent it rejected
plaintiffs' episodic acts and omissions claim; VACATED
and REMANDED for consideration in the first instance of
plaintiffs' unconstitutional conditions of confinement
HAWKINS BARKSDALE, Circuit Judge, concurring in part and
dissenting in part:
I concur in remanding the claim for unconstitutional
conditions of confinement (UCC), in order for the district
court to rule on it in the first instance, I must
respectfully dissent from affirming the summary judgment
against the claim for episodic acts or omissions (EA/O).
Regarding the EA/O claim, I disagree with the majority's
factual analysis, the standard to be applied, and the
instance, such disagreement among reasonable jurists over a
summary judgment highlights a strong likelihood a reasonable
juror could find for the non-movant plaintiffs-the standard
for denying summary judgment. Given the genuine disputes of
material fact, discussed infra, summary judgment was
improperly granted for the EA/O claim; it should be remanded
for trial, following the district court's decision on the
UCC claim and a possible appeal from that decision.
more than well-established that, in reviewing a summary
judgment, the standard of review is de novo,
applying the same standard as the district court.
E.g., Uptown Grill, L.L.C. v. Shwartz, 817
F.3d 251, 255 (5th Cir. 2016). And, "[i]n reviewing a
summary judgment motion, the court must 'refrain from
making credibility determinations or weighing the
evidence' and must view the facts in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable
inferences in its favor". Devon Enters., L.L.C. v.
Arlington Indep. Sch. Dist., 541 F.App'x 439, 441
(5th Cir. 2013) (reversing summary judgment) (quoting
EEOC v. WC&M Enters., 496 F.3d 393, 398 (5th
Cir. 2007)); see also Starnes v. Wallace, 849 F.3d
627, 630 n.1 (5th Cir. 2017) (reversing summary judgment)
("Because of the summary judgment stance, this
recitation takes facts in the light most favorable to [the
non-movant]."); Cannon v. Jacobs Field Serv's.
N. Am., Inc., 813 F.3d 586, 588 n.1 (5th Cir. 2016)
(reversing summary judgment) ("Given the summary
judgment posture, this section construes the evidence in the
light most favorable to [the non-movant].").
Devon Enterprises, our court vacated a summary
judgment. 541 F.App'x at 440-41. There, the non-movant
"produced some, albeit weak, evidence" in support
of its claim. Id. at 442. Nonetheless, "[w]e do
not pass on the credibility of the evidence; rather, we
conclude only that a genuine [dispute] of material fact
exists to survive summary judgment". Id. at
of discovery notwithstanding, the summary-judgment standard
only requires the non-movant's producing sufficient
evidence such that a reasonable juror could return a
favorable verdict for the non-movant on the issue.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
248-49 (1986). A mere "scintilla" is
insufficient-but the plaintiffs in this instance do not need
to prove their EA/O claim through discovery alone. State
Farm Life Ins. Co. v. Gutterman, 896 F.2d 116, 118 (5th
Cir. 1990). Plaintiffs in Montano (a UCC claim), for
example, exposed ...