United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division
REBECCA LOPEZ, as administratrix of the estate of Carl J. Smith, deceased PLAINTIFF
HART COUNTY, KENTUCKY, et al. DEFENDANTS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
N. Stivers, Judge United States District Court
matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motions for
Summary Judgment (DN 41, 42, 43). The motions have been fully
briefed by the parties and are ripe for adjudication. For the
reasons outlined below, the motions are GRANTED.
STATEMENT OF FACTS AND CLAIMS
9, 2015, Carl J. Smith (“Smith”) was booked at
the Hart County Jail on charges of driving while under the
influence, and fleeing and evading police after an automobile
accident on July 7, 2015. (Compl. ¶ 24, DN 1). During
the intake process, Smith was administered a set of standard
medical questions by Monica Arnett (“Arnett”) to
identify any serious health or mental issues that needed to
be addressed by the jail. (Compl. ¶ 25; Bergenson Dep.
15:5-16, 17:6-15, Sept. 6, 2017, DN 41-3). Smith disclosed an
attempted suicide in 2009, which did not fall within the
five-year lookback period covered in the questionnaire.
(Bergenson Dep. 18:14-20). Smith disclosed a closed-head
injury in 2014 and that he was a “slow learner”
which could have affected his ability to understand the
instructions of jail personnel. (Compl. ¶ 26). Because
Smith's reported suicide attempt was more than five years
old, he was placed with the jail's general population.
(Compl. ¶ 26; Bergenson Dep. 18:14-22).
16, 2015, Smith had a verbal altercation with another inmate.
Surveillance footage from the incident captured Smith banging
his own head against a metal table. (Compl. ¶ 29;
Bergenson Dep. 20:9-19). According to Jailer Israel Bergenson
(“Bergenson”), Smith “slammed his head
against the table once, just to act like he was a bully, how
big and bad he was.” (Bergenson Dep. 20:9-14).
Following the incident, jail personnel placed Smith in
administrative segregation (“isolation”) for ten
days as a disciplinary measure. (Compl. ¶¶ 30-31,
Bergenson Dep. 26:19-25, 27:8-15; Mabe Dep. 27:2-20, Sept. 6,
2017, DN 42-3). According to the Hart County Jail Policies
and Procedures, deputies are required to perform hourly
safety checks on the jail's general population and every
twenty minutes for prisoners in isolation. (Pl.'s Resp.
Mots. Summ. J Ex. 1, DN 46-1). Testimony indicated, however,
that deputies routinely performed twenty-minute checks only
for inmates on suicide watch, but that other inmates in
isolation were checked on the same hourly schedule as the
general population. (Bergenson Dep. 28:23-30:1, 54:24; Mabe
7:00 p.m. July 17, 2015, to 7:00 a.m. July 18, 2015, Deputy
Jailer Arnold Mabe (“Mabe”) was the floor deputy
responsible for the safety checks of the isolation section.
(Compl. ¶ 33; Bergenson Dep. 56:18-57:24). On a normal
shift, floor deputies perform cell checks, book inmates, do
laundry, complete inmate request forms for books or other
items, and perform various other duties. (Mabe Dep.
10:20-11:7, 14:2-15:13). During this shift, sometime between
12:10 a.m. and 2:40 a.m., Mabe discovered Smith's body
hanging lifelessly from a bedsheet attached to the cell's
air conditioning vent. (Compl. ¶¶ 11-12, 32, 34,
36; Mabe Dep. 7:6-8, 36:24-37:13). According to the daily
log, the isolation safety checks were not completed during
that shift on a regular twenty-minute basis. (Pl.'s Resp.
Mots. Summ. J. Ex. 6, DN 46-6). From 8:30 a.m. on July 17,
2015, until Smith's body was found, he was checked
roughly 15 times, but was not checked in the 2½ hours
immediately preceding the discovery of Smith's suicide.
(Compl. ¶¶ 11, 32-33).
the incident, Bergenson conducted an investigation of the
safety check logs and the jail's video surveillance
footage and discovered “a problem with people not
checking on inmates [in isolation] every twenty
minutes.” (Bergenson Dep. 42:11-16, 58:20-59:10).
Instead of conducting these safety checks, Bergenson
testified that Mabe was simply “[h]anging around the
booking desk.” (Bergenson Dep. 57:25-58:13). Mabe
claims that he received a call about an inmate being
transported for booking and was thus required to remain at
the booking desk while the inmate was brought in. (Mabe Ans.
Interrog. 13, DN 42-2). During the time in question,
Thompson, who was assigned to another area of the jail, had
come over to the isolation area and allegedly helped Mabe
conduct the last entries in the nightly log, which was a
common occurrence. (Bergenson Dep. 56:18-57:19).
regard to conducting safety checks on prisoners in isolation,
Mabe stated that those inmates were not considered
“special inmates” unless they were on suicide
watch, that inmates in isolation were checked on the same
hourly basis as the rest of the jail, and that no one in a
supervisory role had ever told him that inmates in isolation
should be checked every twenty minutes. (Mabe Dep. 13:14-23,
20:14-19, 22:11-24:8, 33:15-34:7). Thompson agreed that he
was never trained or told to check on inmates in isolation on
twenty-minute intervals. (Thompson Dep. 14:18-15:8, Sept. 6,
2017, DN 46-4). Conversely, Bergenson testified that jail
deputies were all given copies of the policies and
procedures, they signed paperwork indicating their
understanding of the policies, and jail staff were
consistently reminded to follow the jail's policies,
including the twenty-minute checks on inmates in isolation.
(Bergenson Dep. 40:12-17, 41:6-25). Bergenson stated that
supervisors do not regularly review the handwritten logs to
check the frequency of the safety checks performed by the
jail deputies, but that the logs are reviewed occasionally.
(Bergenson Dep. 53:2-54:16). Thompson, however, testified
that he was not aware of any system in place to check the
daily logs for compliance, and never himself checked another
deputy's log entries. (Thompson Dep. 15:9-20, 41:11-17).
filed this case on April 22, 2016, alleging three separate 42
U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988 claims under the Fourteenth
Amendment as well as state law tort actions for negligence
per se, gross negligence per se, negligence, gross
negligence, and three theories of vicarious liability.
Besides naming Hart County, Kentucky, as a defendant,
Plaintiff asserted claims against, inter alia, Bergenson,
Mabe, and Thompson in both their individual and official
Court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §
1331 because a federal question is presented and has
supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state-law
claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) because the
state-law claims arise from the same case or controversy.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must
determine whether there is any genuine issue of material fact
that would preclude entry of judgment for the moving party as
a matter of law. See Fed. R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party
bears the initial burden of stating the basis for the motion
and identifying evidence in the record that demonstrates the
absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). If
the moving party satisfies its burden, the non-moving party
must then produce specific evidence proving the existence of
a genuine dispute of fact for trial. See Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).
the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable
to the non-moving party, the non-moving party must do more
than merely show the existence of some “metaphysical
doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586
(1986) (citation omitted). Rather, the non-moving party must
present specific facts proving that a genuine factual dispute
exists by “citing to particular parts of the materials
in the record” or by “showing that the materials
cited do not establish the absence . . . of a genuine dispute
. . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). “The mere
existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the
[non-moving party's] position will be insufficient”
to overcome summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.
Section 1983 and 1988 Claim Against Hart County for Municipal
Hart County seeks summary judgment on Plaintiff's Section
1983 and 1988 claims for municipal liability. (Defs.'
Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 16-22, DN 41-1 [hereinafter
Bergenson & Hart Cty. Mot.]). In Plaintiff's response
to the pending motions, Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed,
inter alia, Counts I and II in which she asserted claims
against various individual Defendants in both their
individual and official capacities, and Counts I through III
as to Bergenson. (Pl.'s Resp. Mots. Summ. J. 7, DN 46).
Accordingly, the Court will grant summary judgment on those
claims for the respective Defendants.
Plaintiff has dismissed those claims, Hart County contends
that it cannot be liable. (Defs.' Reply Mot. Summ. J. 2,
DN 49). As the Sixth Court has held, “[i]f no
constitutional violation by the individual defendants is
established, the municipal defendants cannot be held liable
under § 1983.” Watkins v. City of Battle
Creek, 273 F.3d 682, 687 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing City of
Los Angeles v. Heller, 475 U.S. 796, 799 (1986)).
Because other courts have nevertheless still considered the
merits of such a claim, the Court will do so, and as outlined
below, Count III still fails. See Crocker v. Cty. of
Macomb, 119 Fed.Appx. 718, 724 (6th Cir. 2005); see also
Gray v. City of Detroit, 399 F.3d 612, 617 (6th Cir.
2005) (“It is arguable . . . that the District Court
erred in its conclusion that ‘[i]f no constitutional
violation by the individual defendants is established, the
municipal defendants cannot be held liable under §
1983.' Assuming for the sake of argument that this
Circuit permits a municipality to be held liable in the
absence of any employee's committing a constitutional
violation, the remaining question for us then is whether the
City's policy makers' decisions regarding suicide
prevention were themselves constitutional violations, as
establish liability under Section 1983, a plaintiff must
prove that a policy or custom of the municipality caused the
alleged constitutional violation. See Monell v. Dep't
of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978) (“[I]t is
when execution of a government's policy or custom,
whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or
acts may fairly be said to represent official policy,
inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is
responsible under § 1983.”). In this case,
Plaintiff has alleged:
Defendant HART COUNTY is the municipality for which the above
referenced individual Defendants work, and HART COUNTY
exhibited deliberate indifference to SMITH's 14th
Amendment rights when it allowed a custom or practice with
the force of law to develop that allowed civil rights
violations to occur and had actual or constructive knowledge
of same, and/or exhibited deliberate indifference when they
failed to train, supervise, and/or discipline the individual
defendants despite the obvious need to train, supervise
and/or discipline them and/or is liable as the official final
policymaker, BERGENSON participated in, acquiesced to, and/or
allowed the above mentioned constitutional violations to
(Compl. ¶ 67). Thus, Plaintiff has asserted claims
relating to training, supervision, ...