ORTIZ v. CITY OF CHICAGO (August 25, 2011)

Acting pursuant to a confidential tip, the Chicago Police raided May Molina's apartment. They placed Molina under arrest. Molina happens to be a local civil rights activist and a harsh critic of police practices. Molina also suffers from diabetes, hypertension, and a thyroid condition. She takes medications for those conditions. Pursuant to department policy, she was not allowed to take her medication into the lockup. Molina died after approximately 27 hours of confinement. Her estate brought suit against a number of police officers involved in her detention pursuant to § 1983, alleging constitutionally inadequate medical care and an unreasonable delay in providing her a probable cause hearing. Judge Grady (N.D. Ill.) excluded the estate's expert witness and granted summary judgment to the defendants on both claims. The estate appeals.

In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Judges Rovner, Wood, and Evans (who, as a result of his death, took no part in the decision) affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part. The Court first addressed the inadequate medical care count. It pointed out that, since Molina had not yet had a probable cause hearing, her estate’s claim was governed by the Fourth Amendment reasonableness standard and not the Eight Amendment deliberate indifference standard. Since the defendants did not argue burdensomeness or police interest, the only reasonableness factors at issue are whether each individual defendant was on notice of a serious medical condition and causation. With respect to notice, the Court identified the allegations with respect to each individual defendant and concluded, in each case, that the allegations created genuine issues of fact. Considering the evidence in the light most favorable to Molina, each individual defendants either heard her ask for medical attention, heard her cry for help, were told by her lawyer that she needed to be hospitalized, or received numerous telephone calls from friends and relatives advising that she needed her medication. Therefore, the Court concluded that each was on notice of her serious medical condition. With respect to causation, the question is whether, had the defendants responded and taken her to the hospital, she would not have died or suffered pain and suffering. The district court applied too narrow a test when it required the estate to prove that it was the failure to provide her medication that caused her death. Because the defendants' expert testified that she died from an overdose of drugs she ingested at the time of the police raid, and because the district court excluded the estate’s expert testimony that she died because she was not giving her medication, the district court concluded that the estate failed to prove causation. But the estate did not need to prove that it was the lack of medication -- it only needed to prove that it was the failure to take her to the hospital. The Court therefore concluded that the expert testimony was not even required on that point. There was enough lay testimony in the record to establish causation. The Court also found the district court improperly excluded the expert testimony because of its misunderstanding of the factual record. With respect to the defendants' qualified immunity claim, the Court had no difficulty concluding that failing to provide medical care to a prisoner with a serious health risk satisfied the estate’s burden (without deciding whether it should apply the deliberate indifference or objectively unreasonable standard). On the unreasonable delay count, the Court agreed with the district court. The Supreme Court adopted a 48-hour burden shifting rule in Gerstein. Therefore, this 27-hour detention is presumptively reasonable. The estate failed to overcome the presumption.