Barbara Bays v. Montmorency County, Mich., et al., Nos. 16-2761/17-1215 (SUTTON, Clay, Rogers).
The parents of a man who killed himself in jail after describing symptoms of a mental illness to a jail nurse filed a § 1983 suit against Montmorency County officials, alleging violations of the man’s Fourteenth Amendment right to sufficient treatment for a serious medical problem. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the district court granted summary judgment to the County, and denied the plaintiffs’ motion, but also denied qualified immunity to the nurse. The parties all appealed.
The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of qualified immunity because the detainee’s mental illness was objectively serious, evidenced by his repeated complaints of severe psychological symptoms, which got more severe leading up to his suicide. In addition, the nurse subjectively understood the detainee’s plight, as she was a trained medical professional, indicated that he should be referred to mental health specialists, and tried to expedite his being seen by a mental-health professional. She also admitted in her deposition testimony that the care she provided fell short of what the detainee needed. The Court found that the nurse not only committed malpractice, but was deliberately indifferent, because she scheduled an appointment weeks in the future despite symptoms that she agrees required immediate or near-immediate care. And even when she realized that he should have been seen sooner, she only made two phone calls and left one message trying to expedite his appointment.
Importantly, the Court affirmed that the right at issue is the detainee’s right to have a serious psychological illness treated seriously, which is clearly established. The Court declined to define the right as an inmate’s right to the proper implementation of suicide prevention procedures, which the Supreme Court has held is not clearly established.