BLAINE COUNTY and HILL COUNTY, Petitioners, Appellees and Cross-Appellants,
SUMMER STRICKER, Personal Representative of the Estate of ALLEN J. LONGSOLDIER, JR., Respondent and Appellant, and Cross-Appellee, and The MONTANA HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION, Respondent.
Submitted on Briefs: February 15, 2017
From District Court of the First Judicial District, In and
For the County of Lewis And Clark, Cause No. BDV 13-574
Honorable Jeffrey M. Sherlock, Presiding Judge
Appellant: Patrick F. Flaherty, Daniel J. Flaherty, Paul
Gallardo, Attorneys at Law, Great Falls, Montana Steven T.
Potts, Steven T. Potts, PLLC, Great Falls, Montana.
Appellees: Maureen H. Lennnon, Gregory L. Bonilla, MACo
Defense Services, Helena, Montana Mark F. Higgins, Ugrin,
Alexander, Zadick & Higgins, P.C., Great Falls, Montana.
Respondent Montana Human Rights Commission: Scott M. Stearns,
Boone Karlberg, Missoula, Montana Timothy Little, Special
Assistant Attorney General, Department of Labor, Helena,
Allen Longsoldier, Jr.-an eighteen-year-old Native
American-died tragically from delirium tremens, a result of
alcohol withdrawal, while in custody at the Hill County
Detention Center following his arrest by Blaine County
authorities. Longsoldier's Estate, represented by Summer
Stricker, brought this case before the Montana Human Rights
Bureau alleging that Hill County and Blaine County
discriminated against Longsoldier on the basis of race and
disability. The Hearing Officer concluded that the Counties
had not discriminated against Longsoldier. The Estate
appealed to the Human Rights Commission, which found clear
error in the Hearing Officer's findings and concluded
that the Counties had discriminated against Longsoldier.
The Counties petitioned the First Judicial District Court to
review the Commission's final agency decision. Presiding
Judge Jeffrey Sherlock reversed and vacated the
Commission's decision and reinstated the Hearing
Officer's order as the final agency decision. On the
Estate's motion to alter or amend, Judge James
Reynolds-who had assumed jurisdiction of the case following
Judge Sherlock's retirement-concluded that Judge Sherlock
had, as a matter of law, fashioned an improper remedy.
Both parties appeal, raising multiple issues. We find the
following issues dispositive:
1. Whether Judge Sherlock correctly concluded that the
Commission improperly modified the Hearing Officer's
2. Whether Judge Reynolds correctly concluded that Judge
Sherlock erred as a matter of law by reinstating the Hearing
Officer's decision as the final agency decision.
We affirm Judge Sherlock's order and reverse Judge
AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Longsoldier was an intelligent and talented young man who
struggled with alcoholism and depression. He excelled at
basketball and was trying to get into college at the time of
his death. His alcohol abuse resulted in a number of juvenile
court proceedings, which led to supervision by a deputy
juvenile probation officer.
In the fall of 2009, Longsoldier's probation officer
tried to contact him in order to close his file. The
probation officer was unable to get in touch with Longsoldier
and eventually requested a "pick up and hold." A
Blaine County sheriff's deputy arrested Longsoldier early
on the morning of November 19, 2009. The deputy transported
Longsoldier to the Hill County Detention Center, where Blaine
County's adult prisoners are held pursuant to an
agreement between the Counties.
Longsoldier had been drinking heavily for several days prior
to his arrest. He had not, however, been drinking immediately
before his arrest and showed no signs of intoxication when he
was brought to the detention center. Longsoldier did not
receive a medical screening when booked into the detention
center, contrary to the detention center's admissions
policy. The detention center's daily log book indicates
that Longsoldier appeared to have no issues-aside from not
sleeping-for the first twenty-four hours of his
incarceration. At 3:28 a.m. on November 20, 2009, however,
the log book indicates that Longsoldier complained that he
could not hold down water and that he asked to go to the
hospital. Shortly after that, a fellow inmate observed
Longsoldier exhibit behavior that suggested he was
hallucinating. Longsoldier's condition continued to
deteriorate. Various entries in the log book demonstrate that
detention center officers recognized that Longsoldier was
experiencing symptoms associated with "detoxing" or
alcohol withdrawal. Witnesses testified that such symptoms
are common among inmates who enter the detention center
intoxicated and remain while their bodies process alcohol
from their systems.
During the late afternoon of November 21, 2009, Longsoldier
began pounding on the door of his cell and acting
increasingly violent. By this point he had not slept for
nearly three days. At around 7:00 that evening, Longsoldier
was taken to Northern Montana Hospital by a Blaine County
sheriff's deputy. A doctor examined him and gave him
several medications. The doctor did not diagnose Longsoldier
with alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Longsoldier's condition
improved to the point that he could hold down water. The
doctor ordered that Longsoldier be discharged with six Ativan
tablets, prescribed for anxiety. The Hospital discharged
Longsoldier with prescriptions for Cymbalta and Ativan, but
did not provide the six Ativan tablets the doctor had
ordered. The prescriptions were never filled. The daily log
indicates that Longsoldier was back at the detention center
around 9:00 p.m.
Longsoldier's condition worsened shortly after he
returned to the detention center. The log book reveals that
over the course of the next several hours officers observed
Longsoldier hallucinating, talking to himself, gagging, dry
heaving, sweating, and pleading for help. By around 2:30 a.m.
on November 22, 2009, Longsoldier's condition had
deteriorated so substantially that a detention center officer
called Blaine County authorities and informed them that they
may need to take Longsoldier back to the Hospital. The Blaine
County dispatcher then called the Hospital and spoke with a
nurse. The nurse told the dispatcher that Longsoldier just
needed to drink fluids and that he was "playing
them." The nurse advised the dispatcher that Longsoldier
was not physically ill and "just doesn't like being
there." The Blaine County dispatcher relayed this
information to the officer at the detention center, and told
the officer that the Hospital said "there's nothing
they could do for him."
The log book entries for the next several hours indicate that
Longsoldier continued to suffer from hallucinations, talk to
himself, not eat, and not drink any water. An entry at 10:44
p.m. indicates that Longsoldier was shivering and
non-responsive. Shortly thereafter, a detention center
officer called an ambulance. The ambulance picked up
Longsoldier just before midnight on November 22. Longsoldier
died at the Hospital from delirium tremens at approximately
2:00 a.m. on November 23, 2009.
In May 2010, the Estate filed a claim against the Counties
and the Hospital with the Human Rights Bureau. The complaint
alleged that the Counties and the Hospital discriminated
against Longsoldier because of his race-Native American-and
because of his disability-alcoholism. The Hospital settled
with the Estate shortly before the contested case hearing.
The Hearing Officer heard the claims against the Counties
during a four-day hearing in September 2011. In April 2012,
the Hearing Officer issued a thorough thirty-page decision.
The Hearing Officer found:
There is no evidence that [the Counties'] action or
inactions, or the lack of either better information about
alcohol withdrawal or any training or information about
delirium tremens before November 2009, were the result of any
discriminatory animus on the part of [the Counties] . . .
toward either alcoholics or Native Americans.
Hearing Officer concluded that the Counties did not illegally
discriminate against ...