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Van Orden v. Caribou County

United States District Court, D. Idaho

October 13, 2014

ALAN K. VAN ORDEN, Personal Representative of the Estate of Crystal Rhea Bannister; ROBERT BANNISTER, legal heir of Crystal R. Bannister; and MICHELLE WALESKE, legal heir of Crystal R. Bannister, Plaintiffs,
CARIBOU COUNTY, a political subdivision of the State of Idaho; CARIBOU COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, an Office Controlled and Directed by Caribou County; RIC L. ANDERSON, Sheriff of Caribou County; MICHAEL HADERLIE, an individual; BROCK LOPEZ, an individual; HEATH S. DOWNS, an individual; JUDY PROBART LONG, an individual, BRANDI BREDEHOFT, an individual, JODI SUTER, an individual; BRETT SMITH, an individual; and JOHN DOES 1 through 10, Defendants.


B. LYNN WINMILL, Chief District Judge.


This case arises out of the death of Crystal R. Bannister, following her suicide while in custody as a detainee in the Caribou County Jail. Alan Van Orden, as representative of Crystal's estate, Robert Bannister, Crystal's father, and Michelle Waleske, Crystal's mother, brought suit against Caribou County, the Caribou County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Ric Anderson (collectively, "the County") and several sheriff's deputies and dispatchers who were on duty at the jail on the night of Crystal's death.

Previously, the Court granted summary judgment to all the defendants because, in the Court's opinion, there was no evidence the individual defendants were subjectively aware that Crystal posed a heightened risk of suicide. The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that (1) summary judgment was inappropriate as to Deputy Heath Downs and Dispatcher Judy Long, (2) the County may be liable independent of the liability of the individual defendants, and (3) the plaintiffs stated a state-law wrongful-death claim. Before the Court on remand are the defendants' motions for reconsideration and summary judgment and the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment regarding defendants' various affirmative defenses. For the following reasons, the Court will deny the defendants' motion for reconsideration; grant in part and deny in part the defendants' motion for summary judgment; and grant in part and deny in part plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment.


For an understanding of the events surrounding Crystal's death and the individual defendants' interactions with Crystal, the Court directs the reader to the statement of facts from the Court's previous Memorandum Decision and Order. Dkt. 154, at 2-5. However, to understand this decision, it is necessary to point out, consistent with the Ninth Circuit's memorandum disposition, that there is sufficient evidence in the record to allow a jury to conclude that Deputy Downs and Dispatcher Long were subjectively aware that Crystal was at imminent risk of suicide. Van Orden v. Caribou Cnty., 546 F.Appx. 647 (9th Cir. 2013). It is also necessary to describe the County's policies governing the administration of the Caribou County Jail that are at issue in this case.

1. The Jail's Staffing Policy

At the time of these events, the jail was routinely staffed with one detention deputy and one dispatcher. Pls.' Stmt. of Facts, dkt 134, ¶26. The deputy was largely responsible for supervising the inmates and attending to their needs. As assistance for the deputy, the dispatcher was to monitor the inmates via television monitors and could respond to inmates using the jail's intercom system. Id. ¶34. If an issue arose, the dispatcher could alert the deputy. Id. The dispatcher's monitoring duties were complicated by the fact that the monitors were located approximately sixteen feet to the left and behind where the dispatcher sat. Anderson Aff., dkt. 93-3, ¶4. Additionally, the dispatcher had several other duties unrelated to inmate supervision. Pls.' Stmt. of Facts, dkt. 134, ¶34. These duties made it more difficult for the dispatcher to perform her monitoring duties in a timely manner. Id.

In a series of letters dating from 2006 to 2009, the Idaho Sheriff's Association ("ISA") warned that staffing the jail with one deputy and one dispatcher created "a perilous position should there be an incident in the jail." Ex. 58, dkt. 135-1, at 2. In accordance with ISA standards, the letters recommended that the jail be staffed with two deputies assigned to the floor. The last of these letters, dated February 2009, cautioned that "[f]acilities that use a detention officer and a dispatcher to meet the staff component as required in the standard are setting themselves up for potential disaster. If an emergency occurs in the jail, the dispatcher cannot leave his or her post and the detention deputy will not have immediate assistance available." Ex. 60, dkt. 135-1, at 2 (internal quotation mark and emphasis omitted).

In 2006, at the sheriff's invitation, Rocky Mountain Corrections, Inc. ("RMC") sent a team of inspectors to audit the jail. The purpose of the audit was to identify issues that could be corrected to improve the jail's operations and reduce the County's and officers' potential liability. RMC Depo., dkt. 191-6, at 12-13; Malm Depo., dkt. 189-5, at 16. Following the audit, the team prepared a needs assessment, which contained certain recommendations. The RMC Needs Assessment warned against the jail's staffing policy: "In a facility [of the jail's] size, there should always be a minimum of two people on shift for safety and security.... If an inmate attempts suicide, the attempt may be successful before staff can respond because of being busy elsewhere in the facility and not having any assistance." RMC Needs Assessment, ex. 61, dkt. 135, at 2. Additionally, the needs assessment suggested that the equipment in dispatch be moved "so that the dispatcher can safely monitor everyone that she is responsible for." Id. at 19. RMC sent the needs assessment to Sheriff Van Vleet. RMC Depo., dkt. 191-6, at 17. (At the time of Crystal's detention, Sheriff Anderson had succeeded Sheriff Van Vleet).

In addition to the written needs assessment, one of the auditors, Cindy Malm, met with Sheriff Van Vleet to discuss the audit results. Malm Depo., dkt. 189-5, at 11. The purpose of the meeting was to advise Sheriff Van Vleet of what was going to be in the report, including staffing and the location of the dispatcher's monitors. Id. However, Malm admitted at her deposition that she could not "remember exactly what [she and Sheriff Van Vleet had] discussed, but... [she felt she] would have brought up at least the majority" of the important issues the audit identified. Id. at 16.

2. The Jail's Suicide Prevention Policy

The jail has written procedures to identify and manage suicidal detainees. When a detainee is brought to the jail, she is asked a series of questions to determine if she is suicidal. Jail Policy Manual, dkt. 135, ex. 45, at 40. If jail staff feels that the inmate is "potentially suicidal, " the policy mandates a series of actions be taken in response. Id. at 6, 40. This includes placing the detainee in a holding cell, visually checking on the inmate at least every fifteen minutes, and arranging for the detainee to be evaluated by mental health professionals. Id. at 6. Although the policy is not perfectly clear, it also seems to require that the detainee be transferred to a mental health facility. Id.


1. Motion to Reconsider

Previously, this Court held that Crystal's estate could bring its 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims despite the common law rule, applied in Idaho, that a tort victim's claim abates at death. March 4, 2011 Memo. Decision & Order, dkt. 47. Allowing claims to abate, the Court reasoned, impermissibly undermines § 1983's ability to deter unconstitutional conduct that results in the tort victim's death. The defendants ask the Court to reconsider this ruling in light of contrary opinions from the Idaho Supreme Court, Hoagland v. Ada County, 303 P.3d 587 (Idaho 2013), and this Court, Bach v. Idaho State Board of Medicine, 2012 WL 175417 (D. Idaho Jan. 20, 2012). The Court is convinced that its prior ruling in this case was, and remains, correct. See S.E.C. v. Platforms Wireless Int'l Corp., 617 F.3d 1072, 1100 (9th Cir. 2010) (requiring, inter alia, clear error before a motion for reconsideration will be granted).

In Hoagland, the Idaho Supreme Court considered whether the estate of a detainee who committed suicide while in the Ada County Jail could bring a deliberate indifference claim under § 1983 in the absence of a Idaho statute authorizing survivorship actions. 303 P.3d at 595. The court held that the estate could not because, under Idaho common law, the detainee's "§ 1983 claim abated with his death." Id. In so holding, the court rejected the argument that there should be a different result in cases where the constitutional violation caused the tort victim's death, as opposed to cases where it did not. Id. at 596. According to the Idaho Supreme Court, "[n]either Idaho nor federal law makes this distinction." Id. The Ninth Circuit has since held that this distinction exists, and it is "crucial." Chaudhry v. City of Los Angeles, 751 F.3d 1096, 1104 (9th Cir. 2014).

The issue in Chaudhry was whether a California statute that limits recovery in a survivorship action to exclude pain and suffering damages applied in a § 1983 suit where death was caused by a constitutional violation. The court held that the California statute did not control. That conclusion advanced "[o]ne of Congress's primary goals in enacting § 1983"-"provid[ing] a remedy for killings unconstitutionally caused or acquiesced in by state governments, " id. at 1103-by avoiding the "perverse effect of making it more economically advantageous for a defendant to kill rather than injure his victim, " id. at 1104. Chaudhry 's reasoning supports the Court's prior conclusion that Idaho's rule of abatement conflicts with § 1983.

The defendants argue that Chaudhry is distinguishable because it dealt with a statute and not a common law rule. This argument is unpersuasive. First, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, by its very terms, displaces both the common law and state statutes if either is "inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States." Second, it was the statute's effect that concerned the Ninth Circuit. The source of the law is immaterial where the result is "tantamount to a prohibition" on recovery. Chaudhry, 751 F.3d at 1104.

Bach did not expressly address the distinction between cases in which constitutional torts cause death and those that do not. The parties had not raised this specific issue, and the Court applied the Idaho rule without discussion or analysis. 2012 WL 175417, at *6. In any event, the Court is now persuaded that Bach was wrongly decided on that point and should not be followed in light of Chaudhry. Therefore, ...

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