ESTATE OF RICE v. CORRECTIONAL MEDICAL SERVICES (March 20, 2012)

Nicholas Rice was arrested for auto theft in March 2003 and taken to the Berrien County, Michigan Jail. He remained in custody until August, although most the time was spent in the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital as a result of his schizophrenia. By the time he was released from the hospital, however, there was a warrant for his arrest stemming from an attempted bank robbery in Indiana. Rice was transferred to the Elkhart County Jail in September of 2003. The jail had a contract with Correctional Medical Services to provide healthcare services to jail inmates. CMS contracted with Oaklawn Psychiatric Center for psychiatric services. Over the course of the next 15 months, Rice a) was committed multiple times to a mental health facility on the petition of a CMS physician because of his behavior and was released on each occasion, b) exhibited inappropriate behavior, c) was pepper-sprayed and restrained after he struck a cellmate in the eye, d) generally did not cooperate with jail staff in keeping himself and his cell clean and taking his medication, e) was frequently showered or cleaned up my jail personnel, and f) was kept in administrative segregation for several months. In December of 2004, Rice died as a result of excessive consumption of water. His estate brought suit under Section 1983 against the jail, CMS, Oaklawn, and a number of individuals. The suit alleged inhumane conditions, excessive force, institutional indifference, deliberate indifference, and state law wrongful death claims. Judge Miller (N.D. Ind.) granted summary judgment to the defendants on the federal claims and dismissed the state claims. After the state claims were refiled under the court's diversity jurisdiction, Judge Lozano (N.D. Ind.) dismissed them on the grounds that Judge Miller's earlier findings precluded recovery. The estate appeals.

In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Judges Flaum, Rovner, and Evans (who, as a result of his death, took no part in the decision). The Court first addressed the conditions of confinement claim. The gist of that claim is that Rice lived in very unsanitary conditions, mostly of his own cause. He refused to bathe himself or attend to the most basic of hygiene necessities. Jail personnel intervened on occasion, sometimes even having to forcibly remove him from his cell to shower him. On other occasions, however, they turned their back on the unsanitary conditions. Under the due process clause, a pretrial detainee has a right to be kept under humane conditions. The test is whether the conditions deprive the prisoner of minimal necessities and whether jail officials were deliberately indifferent. The Court disagreed with the district court's conclusion that the estate could not recover on this claim because the conditions were created by Rice himself. It found that fact to be relevant but not dispositive of the claim and concluded that material disputes of fact required a trial. The Court also concluded that the "minimal necessities" inquiry also presented disputed questions of fact. The Court then: a) affirmed the district court's conclusion that the estate failed to carry its burden on the administrative segregation claim, b) affirmed the district court's conclusion that the excessive force claim based on the pepper spray and restraints failed because the force was not excessive, was applied in good faith, and caused no injury, and c) affirmed the district court's disposition of the failure to act claim since the record did not show that jail officials failed to respond to a substantial risk of injury. The Court next addressed the question of whether Rice's treating physician at Oaklawn was a state actor in his role as an employee of a facility contractually obligated to provide psychiatric services to inmates. The Court found it unnecessary to resolve the issue but expressed its doubts over the district court's conclusion that the position was not a state actor because there was a court-ordered commitment. On the "laundry list" of policy or custom claims, the Court agreed with the district court that the estate presented insufficient evidence of a policy or custom that caused any harm to Rice. On the deliberate indifference claims against the jail guards and supervisors, the Court concluded that the defendants, although possibly exhibiting a general recklessness with respect to the inmates' safety, were not subjectively aware of the risk that Rice would engage in the excessive water drinking. On the deliberate indifference claims relating to the CMS employees, the Court again noted the fact that Rice died as a result of a compulsion to drink large amounts of water, a risk that no one was aware of. On the deliberate indifference claims relating to the CMS physician, the Court concluded that it was a closer case but that the estate had, at best, made out a negligence case. Finally, the Court addressed the state law claims which had been dismissed on collateral estoppel grounds. The district court had concluded that foreseeability of an injury was an element of the wrongful death claim and that Judge Miller had concluded that the death as a result of compulsive water drinking was not foreseeable. The Court disagreed and reversed. Under federal common law, an issue will not be given preclusive effect unless it was actually and necessarily decided in the prior action. In the estate's federal claims, it was only necessary to show that the defendants disregarded a known risk, not a foreseeable one. Therefore, the ruling on the federal claims do not preclude the state law claims.