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Rita Hoagland v. Ada County

May 16, 2013


Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, Ada County. Hon. Ronald J. Wilper, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: W. Jones, Justice

2013 Opinion No. 58

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

The decision of the district court is affirmed in dismissing Appellant's § 1983 claim; reversed in finding that Appellant had a § 1983 cause of action for violation of her own constitutional rights; partially affirmed in its award of costs as a matter of right; reversed in its award of discretionary costs; and, affirmed in denying attorney fees below. This case is remanded for reconsideration and entry of express findings regarding award of discretionary costs and entry of a judgment consistent with this Opinion. Costs on appeal are awarded to Respondent.


This is an appeal and cross-appeal from summary judgment dismissing claims against Defendants (Ada County, Deputy Wroblewski, Kate Pape, and James Johnson) in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights action brought by Rita Hoagland, ("Hoagland") on behalf of herself and the estate of her deceased son, Bradley Munroe ("Munroe"), claiming a violation of a Fourteenth Amendment right to medical care and safety while Munroe was detained at Ada County Jail where he committed suicide.


Munroe had a history of incarceration at Ada County Jail ("ACJ"). He was incarcerated for two days in October 2007; three days in July 2008; twenty-eight days in August 2008; and from September 12-26, 2008. During the evening of September 28, 2008, Munroe was again arrested and charged with the armed robbery of a convenience store. Munroe was intoxicated and uncooperative. Officers transported Munroe to St. Alphonsus for medical clearance before continuing the booking process because he was exhibiting very odd behavior. At St. Alphonsus, Munroe said he would commit suicide if released, but qualified that he had no plans to commit suicide that night. St. Alphonsus cleared Munroe for booking at ACJ. During booking, Munroe was screaming, being rowdy, and not making sense when he spoke. Munroe also took a string and wrapped it around his neck. Because of his bizarre behavior throughout the night, Munroe was placed in a holding cell for observation until he was sober. While in the holding cell, a well- being check was made every fifteen minutes throughout the night. The booking process was postponed until the next morning.

The next morning at 8:00 a.m., the booking process continued, conducted by Deputy Jeremy Wroblewski ("Wroblewski"), who was in his final week of on-the-job training. As required by ACJ booking policies, Wroblewski administered a suicide risk questionnaire to Munroe. ACJ policy requires that if any of the suicide questions are answered affirmatively, the deputy must contact the jail's Health Services Unit (HSU) for further evaluation. However, because of Munroe's behavior the night before, Wroblewski's superior, Deputy Daniel Lawson, had already contacted HSU. ACJ's Psychiatric Social Worker, James Johnson ("Johnson"), arrived in the booking area at 8:01 a.m. to assess Munroe.

For his assessment of Munroe, Johnson reviewed Munroe's file from prior incarcerations, reviewed Munroe's medical history, and observed Munroe's interactions with Wroblewski and others in the booking area. During this assessment, Johnson asked Munroe whether he was currently contemplating suicide. Johnson made the determination that Munroe's risk level was not sufficient to warrant admission to HSU or single cell housing. At 8:05 a.m., the booking process continued and Munroe was fingerprinted. At 8:26 a.m., Munroe was asked suicide risk questions by Wroblewski. Munroe answered some suicide questions affirmatively. However, Wroblewski did not contact HSU because HSU was already contacted earlier that day and had already assessed Munroe for suicide risk. Additionally, Wroblewski witnessed Johnson's assessment of Munroe and heard Johnson question Munroe about his suicidal tendencies, but nonetheless relied on the fact that Munroe was not found to be a suicide risk by Johnson.

Shortly after 9:00 a.m., Munroe told officers that he was "into a lot of stuff" and that people in the jail wanted to kill him. Munroe requested protective custody. Consequently, Munroe was placed in a cell by himself and a well-being check was scheduled to occur every thirty minutes. At the same time, Hoagland--Munroe's mother--called an administrative assistant at ACJ to express her concern that Munroe was suicidal. The administrative assistant conveyed Hoagland's concerns to Johnson, who did not change his assessment. At the 8:35 p.m. well-being check, the performing deputy found Munroe hanging from his top bunk by a bed sheet. Munroe was pronounced dead later that evening.

On November 17, 2008, the Estate of Bradley Munroe filed a Notice of Tort Claim.*fn1 On January 23, 2009, Hoagland filed a complaint ("First Complaint") in her personal capacity and as representative of Munroe's estate. This complaint named numerous parties, including Ada County, HSU supervisors, and several deputies, and the complaint alleged that deputies were watching football instead of watching detainees. The First Complaint included a § 1983 claim by Munroe's estate against Defendants, a state tort claim for the wrongful death of Munroe, and a state action for intentional infliction of emotional distress by Hoagland against the supervisor of HSU. On May 28, 2010, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. Hoagland ultimately elected to withdraw all of her state law claims and proceed entirely under her § 1983 claim. Hoagland filed an Amended Complaint on July 12, 2010. Hoagland then sought leave to file a Second Amended Complaint on August 12, 2010, to add two parties. On August 13, 2010, Hoagland sought leave to file her Third Amended Complaint ("Third Complaint") to add a claim for punitive damages.

The Third Complaint was filed in the district court on September 14, 2010. On September 20, 2010, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the Third Complaint. Defendants claimed that Munroe's estate was not a proper § 1983 plaintiff. On November 2, 2010, the district court entered an order granting Defendant's motion in part. The district court found that Munroe's estate was not a valid plaintiff, but found that Hoagland had standing to continue her lawsuit. Defendants filed a Restated Motion for Summary Judgment on November 12, 2010. On January 20, 2011, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of Ada County, all defendants in their official capacities, and every defendant in their personal capacities, except for Johnson. Both Hoagland and Defendants moved for reconsideration. Hoagland submitted numerous affidavits in support of her motion for reconsideration. Defendants objected to Hoagland's affidavits. Defendants also sought reconsideration, claiming that Johnson was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court granted both parties' respective Motions for Reconsideration, denied Hoagland's claims, and granted summary judgment in favor of Johnson based upon qualified immunity on March 28, 2011. On May 4, 2011, Hoagland filed her Notice of Appeal. Final Judgment was entered on May 25, 2011. On July 1, 2011, Defendants' filed their Notice of Cross-Appeal. On October 15, 2011, the district court denied Defendants' request for attorney fees but granted their request for costs. The Judgment for Costs was entered on October 24, 2011. Hoagland filed an Amended Notice of Appeal on October 29, 2011.


1. Whether in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating a constitutional deprivation underlying his or her claim in order to survive summary judgment.

2. Whether a decedent's estate may assert a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 cause of action for alleged violations of decedent's constitutional rights.

3. Whether a parent has standing to pursue a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 cause of action for the suicide death of his or her adult child while incarcerated in jail.

4. Whether the district court erred when it awarded $93,253 in costs to Defendants.

5. Whether the district court erred when it failed to award Defendants' attorney fees.

6. Whether either the Plaintiffs or Defendants are entitled to attorney fees on appeal.


This Court exercises free review over a district court's conclusions of law. Maresh v. State Dep't of Health & Welfare, 132 Idaho 221, 224, 970 P.2d 14, 17 (1998). An appeal of an order granting summary judgment is reviewed under the same standard a district court uses when granting a motion for summary judgment. A & J Const. Co., Inc. v. Wood, 141 Idaho 682, 684, 116 P.3d 12, 14 (2005). Under Rule 56(c) of the Idaho Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper if "the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." If the evidence reveals no disputed issues of material fact, then summary judgment should be granted. Smith v. Meridian Joint Sch. Dist. No. 2, 128 Idaho 714, 718-19, 918 P.2d 583, 587-88 (1996). In making this determination, "all disputed facts are liberally construed in favor of the non-moving party." McCoy v. Lyons, 120 Idaho 765, 769, 820 P.2d 360, 364 (1991). Circumstantial evidence can create a genuine issue of material fact. Id. Inferences that can reasonably be made from the record are made in favor of the non-moving party. Id. However, the non-moving party may not rest on a mere scintilla of evidence. Id. Summary judgment proceedings are decided on the basis of admissible evidence. Heinze v. Bauer, 145 Idaho 232, 236, 178 P.3d 597, 601 (2008).

Awards of costs and attorney fees are reviewed for an abuse of discretion. To determine whether the trial court abused its discretion, this Court must consider whether the trial court: (1) correctly perceived that the issue is one of discretion; (2) acted within the outer boundaries of its discretion and consistent with the legal standards applicable to the specific choices available to it; and (3) reached its decision by an exercise of reason. Bailey v. Sanford, 139 Idaho 744, 748, 86 P.3d 458, 462 (2004).


A. The District Court Applied the Proper Summary Judgment Standard.

In deciding the various motions for summary judgment before it, the district court ruled that "[s]ummary judgment of § 1983 cases involves an additional element of analysis. In § 1983 cases, plaintiff bears the burden of proof on the [c]onstitutional deprivation that underlies the claim, and must come forward with sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact to avoid summary judgment." Hoagland maintains that the district court erred in applying this added element to the summary judgment standard. She argues that at all times the burden is on the moving party.

Extensive federal jurisprudence supports the district court's summary judgment standard. In order for the plaintiff to survive summary judgment on his or her § 1983 claim, he or she must demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact as to (1) whether there was a deprivation of a constitutional right; and (2) that the deprivation was caused under the color of law. Parker v. Fayette Cnty. Pub. Sch., 332 F. App'x 229, 231 (6th Cir. 2009); McAllister v. Price, 615 F.3d 877, 881 (7th Cir. 2010) ("In a § 1983 case, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof on the constitutional deprivation that underlies the claim"); see also Butler v. City of Norman, 992 F.2d 1053, 1055 (10th Cir. 1993) (holding that to survive summary judgment on a § 1983 claim, "plaintiff [ ] has a further burden. [The Defendant] is not liable under § 1983 unless an 'affirmative link' exists between the constitutional deprivation [and the action of the defendant]"); Ward v. Oliver, 19 F.3d 1436, 1439 (7th Cir. 1994) (finding the plaintiff failed to raise sufficient facts to indicate that the denial of access to cigarettes and soda amounted to a constitutional deprivation); Lindstedt v. Mo. Libertarian Party, 160 F.3d 1197, 1198 (8th Cir. 1998) (affirming grant of summary judgment because plaintiff "had to show" that the action complained of was taken under the color of law, and that action resulted in a deprivation of a constitutional right); Lawson v. Des Moines Indep. Sch. Dist., 356 F. App'x 885, 886 (8th Cir. 2009) (holding "summary judgment was proper because [plaintiff] failed to demonstrate the denial of a constitutional right").

We therefore hold that in a § 1983 action, on a motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating a constitutional deprivation underlying his or her claim.

B. Munroe's Estate is Not a Permissible § 1983 Plaintiff.

Hoagland argues that the trial court erred when it ruled that she did not have standing as the personal representative of Munroe's estate to pursue a § 1983 cause of action for alleged violations of Munroe's constitutional rights while at ACJ. Hoagland argues that Idaho's Probate Code gives her standing to bring a survivorship and wrongful death claim under § 1983. She argues that Count I of her complaint did not abate upon the death of Munroe because the inquiry is whether Munroe's death was caused by the alleged constitutional violations. Hoagland argues that if the death was ...

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