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Horton v. City Of Santa Maria

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

February 1, 2019

Shane Horton, by his Guardian Ad Litem Yvonne Horton, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
City of Santa Maria; Santa Maria Police Department; Andrew Brice, Defendants-Appellants.

          Argued and Submitted February 15, 2018 Pasadena, California

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California S. James Otero, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 2:14-cv-06135-SJO-PJW

          Timothy T. Coates (argued) and Jonathan H. Eisenman, Greines Martin Stein & Richland LLP, Los Angeles, California; Kristine L. Mollenkopf, Assistant City Attorney, Santa Maria, California; Bruce D. Praet, Ferguson Praet & Sherman, Santa Ana, California; for Defendants-Appellants.

          Martin N. Buchanan (argued), Law Offices of Martin N. Buchanan, San Diego, California; Rafael Gonzalez and Jared M. Katz, Mack Staton Mullen & Henzel LLP, Santa Barbara, California; Joseph Robert Finnerty and Robert W. Finnerty, Girardi Keese, Los Angeles, California; for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Before: Marsha S. Berzon and Jay S. Bybee, Circuit Judges, and Sharon L. Gleason, [*] District Judge.

         SUMMARY [**]

         Civil Rights

         The panel reversed in part and affirmed in part the district court's order denying summary judgment to defendants in an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and California law by a pretrial detainee who alleged that defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to be safeguarded from injury and his state law right to medical care while in custody.

         After being arrested, plaintiff was detained in a temporary holding cell and left unattended for around half an hour, during which time he attempted suicide, causing permanent and severe injury. With his mother acting as guardian ad litem, plaintiff filed suit alleging, in part, that defendants were deliberately indifferent to his safety because they failed to take appropriate action after plaintiff's mother had warned a police officer over the phone that plaintiff was suicidal.

         The panel held that defendant Officer Brice was entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law because a reasonable officer would not have known that failing to attend to plaintiff immediately after the phone call would be unlawful under the law at the time of the incident. The panel therefore reversed the district court's denial of summary judgment in favor of Officer Brice on the § 1983 claim.

         The panel next held that it lacked jurisdiction to review the district court's denial of summary judgment in favor of the municipal defendants on the § 1983 claim. The panel noted that when a municipal defendant's motion for summary judgment is "inextricably intertwined" with issues presented in the individual officers' qualified immunity appeal, this court may exercise pendent party appellate jurisdiction. The panel held that in this case appellate resolution of the officer's appeal did not "necessarily" resolve the pendent claim of municipal liability. The panel noted that its holding that Officer Brice was entitled to qualified immunity did not preclude the possibility that a constitutional violation may nonetheless have taken place, including as a result of the collective acts or omissions of Santa Maria Police Department officers. The panel remanded to permit the district court to consider the claims in light of this court's recent guidance in Castro v. County of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d 1060 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc), and Gordon v. County of Orange, 888 F.3d 118, 1125-26 (9th Cir. 2018).

         Finally, the panel affirmed the district court's denial of summary judgment to defendants on the state law claim brought pursuant to California Government Code § 845.6, concluding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to liability under state law.

         Dissenting in part, Judge Bybee joined the majority's holding that Office Brice was entitled to qualified immunity for plaintiff's deliberate-indifference claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and that the panel lacked jurisdiction over the municipal liability claim. Judge Bybee would have reversed the district court's denial of summary judgment on the state law claim, because he believed that there was no basis under California law for subjecting Officer Brice to suit.

          OPINION

          BERZON, Circuit Judge

         This case concerns the attempted suicide of a jailed pretrial detainee. Shane Horton was arrested for slashing an acquaintance's car tire and taken to the local police department, where he was detained in a temporary holding cell. Left unattended for around half an hour while the officer in charge spoke to his mother and completed paperwork, Horton removed his belt, fed it through the cell door bars, and hanged himself, causing permanent and severe brain damage.

         With his mother acting as guardian ad litem, Horton brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and California law. He contends that the City of Santa Maria, the Santa Maria Police Department, and several individual officers violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to be safeguarded from injury and his state law right to medical care while in custody. We reverse the district court's denial of qualified immunity on the § 1983 claims as to Officer Andrew Brice, conclude that we lack jurisdiction to review the denial of summary judgment on the § 1983 claims as to the municipal defendants, and affirm the district court's denial of summary judgment on the state law claims.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         In the months leading up to his arrest, eighteen-year-old Horton had given his mother reason to be concerned. He used drugs, including marijuana, "Molly" (a pure form of 3, 4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine), and phencyclidine (PCP), and contemplated suicide. On December 13, 2012, he took PCP and "started freaking out." He extinguished cigarettes on his own face and hands, punched his fist through a window, tried to cut his wrist with a piece of broken glass, held a kitchen knife pointed at his throat, and, his mother understood, threatened to kill himself. That night, he was admitted to the emergency room, where he was initially held as a suicide risk. But he specifically denied to hospital staff any suicidal ideation, and the doctors came to suspect "that [his problem] was mostly drugs." Horton was discharged the morning of December 14, 2012, after an emergency room physician and a member of the county's Crisis and Recovery Emergency Services ("CARES") team agreed that he was not suicidal.

         Approximately two weeks later, on the morning of December 29, 2012, Horton and his girlfriend became involved in a physical altercation. As his girlfriend was driving away with a friend, Horton pulled out a folding knife and slashed the tire of the friend's car.

         Officers Andrew Brice and Duane Schneider soon arrived on the scene and found Horton. Horton admitted to slashing the tire, pointed the police to the knife, and remained calm and cooperative as the officers arrested him for misdemeanor vandalism.

         Officer Brice stayed to interview Horton's girlfriend. She disclosed that Horton had hit her several times in the past, chased her with a knife, and stabbed a friend in the leg. She also revealed that he had made comments about killing police and sympathizing with the suspects in recent mass homicides.

         While Officer Brice was speaking to Horton's girlfriend, Officer Schneider transported Horton to the police station, where he patted Horton down, confiscated his wallet and iPod, and placed him in a temporary holding cell. Officer Schneider did not remove Horton's jewelry or belt. As Officer Schneider prepared to leave, Horton said he was feeling anxious and "would really like to speak to someone" - "not a therapist. Even you." As they talked, Horton explained to Officer Schneider that it had been "a really, really, really rough three weeks straight." He described his recent drug use and the window-breaking incident, and said that he "had the shit beat out of me fucking thousands of times." At one point, Officer Schneider asked if he had any medical problems; Horton responded, "No, sir. Not that I know of. I'm real healthy as I'm aware. I'm just - besides feeling anxious right now and I hate being locked in a box . . . . I don't like being in a cell."

         Eventually, Officer Schneider left, stating that he would "[p]robably do a psych or something."[1] He instructed Horton to wave at the security camera if he needed anything. A few minutes later, another police officer asked Horton if he had any medical problems; Horton again said he did not.

         Approximately an hour and a half later, Officer Brice returned to the police station. Officer Brice spoke to Horton privately in an interview room, explaining that Horton's girlfriend and her friend both said that Horton slapped the girlfriend, and reporting that she had a mark on her consistent with that allegation. Officer Brice said that Horton's girlfriend had been granted a restraining order against him for one week, that he would be charged with felony domestic violence, and that he had the option to post bail. At one point during the conversation, Officer Brice asked Horton if he had any medical conditions, and Horton once again replied, "No, sir."

         At the end of the interview, Officer Brice brought Horton back to the holding cell and gave him the opportunity to call his mother, Yvonne Horton.[2] Horton told his mother, "I'm in jail right now. I'm going to get booked and go to [the main county jail in] Goleta. You can choose to be there, get me out on bail or not. . . . I would appreciate it [if you came to get me out on bail], but it is up to you." Yvonne apparently said she would not bail him out, and he ended the conversation by saying, "It's okay, Mom. I'm sorry . . . . All right. I love you." Before hanging up, Yvonne requested to speak privately to Officer Brice.

         Officer Brice left Horton in the cell and, out of Horton's earshot, called Yvonne back. Officer Brice spoke with Yvonne for ten to fifteen minutes, during which time, she stated in her deposition, she relayed "everything" about the December 13, 2012 incident - Horton's use of drugs, the cigarette marks on his face and hands, the knife he held to his throat, his hospitalization with an initial "5150" hold for risk of suicide, [3] the CARES official's conclusion that he could be discharged because his conduct was due to drugs not suicidal ideation, and her disagreement with that conclusion. Yvonne testified that she also told Officer Brice that her son was depressed and suicidal, that she was really worried about him, and that she believed he could be helped in the judicial system. And she recounted that she instructed Officer Brice to "please, watch him, please look after him, please."[4]

         Officer Brice explained to Yvonne that he was getting ready to transport Horton to jail, which Yvonne understood to mean that they would be transporting him "very shortly." In response to Yvonne's pleas to look after her son, Officer Brice reassured her that "[h]e's safe here." When asked at deposition whether she ever told the police officer he had to go check on Horton immediately, she said, "I didn't think that I would have to do that. . . . I was under the impression, after I spoke to [him] in that way, that he would go back and check on him."

         Instead of going immediately back to the cell, Officer Brice first went to complete the paperwork necessary to transport Horton to jail and prepare the transport van. When Officer Brice went to get Horton, approximately 27 minutes after leaving him, [5] Officer Brice discovered Horton hanging from the cell door, not moving. Officer Brice immediately called for assistance, administered CPR, and waited for the paramedics to arrive to transport him to the hospital. Horton survived the suicide attempt but suffered prolonged anoxia, [6]resulting in severe and permanent brain damage.

         With his mother acting as guardian ad litem, Horton filed suit in October 2014 against the City of Santa Maria, the Santa Maria Police Department, Officer Brice, Officer Schneider, and other officers, claiming (1) negligence and (2) § 1983 liability on the part of the individual officer defendants, (3) liability on the part of the municipal defendants, see Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), and (4) liability under California Government Code § 845.6 on the part of all defendants.

         The district court granted summary judgment to all defendants on the state law negligence claim and to all officers except Officer Brice on the § 1983 claims. As to Officer Brice, the district court held that there is a genuine issue of fact regarding whether Officer Brice acted with deliberate indifference to Horton's safety after speaking with his mother, and denied him qualified immunity. The court also denied summary judgment to the municipal defendants on Horton's § 1983 claim that those defendants failed to develop and adhere to a written policy regarding suicide detection and prevention; failed to develop and adhere to written policies regarding the identification and evaluation of mentally disordered detainees; and failed adequately to train their officers on such policies. Finally, the district court denied summary judgment to Officer Brice and the municipal defendants on the claim under California Government Code § 845.6, but granted summary judgment on that claim to the other individual officers. Officer Brice and the municipal defendants timely appealed. See Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 530 (1985).

         II. Discussion

         A. Section 1983 Claim Against Officer Brice

         The district court concluded that there is a genuine issue of fact regarding whether Officer Brice acted with deliberate indifference to Horton's safety after speaking with his mother, and denied the officer qualified immunity. Qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages unless their conduct violates "clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Plaintiffs bringing § 1983 claims against individual officers therefore must demonstrate that (1) a federal right has been violated and (2) the right was clearly established at the time of the violation. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009). We may "exercise [our] sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first." Id. at 236. Here, we begin with the second, "clearly established" prong, for reasons that will appear.

         1. Clearly Established Law

         "A clearly established right is one that is sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violates that right." Isayeva v. Sacramento Sheriff's Dep't, 872 F.3d 938, 946 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015)). At the time of the events in this case, the generally applicable standard established that officers who act with deliberate indifference to the serious medical need of a pretrial detainee violated the detainee's constitutional rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See, e.g., Conn v. City of Reno, 591 F.3d 1081, 1090-91 (9th Cir. 2010), vacated, 563 U.S. 915 (2011), opinion reinstated in relevant part, 658 F.3d 897 (9th Cir. 2011).

         Under Ninth Circuit law at the time of the incident, Fourteenth Amendment claims that officers acted with deliberate indifference to the medical needs of a pretrial detainee were governed by the same "deliberate indifference" standard as Eighth Amendment claims for failure to prevent harm to convicted prisoners. See Simmons v. Navajo County, 609 F.3d 1011, 1017 (9th Cir. 2010), overruled in part by Castro v. County of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d 1060 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc); Clouthier v. County of Contra Costa, 591 F.3d 1232, 1241-43 (9th Cir. 2010), overruled by Castro, 833 F.3d 1060. That standard provided that an officer was liable for deliberate indifference only if he "kn[ew] of and disregard[ed] an excessive risk to inmate health or safety" - that is, if he was "aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists" and actually drew the inference. Simmons, 609 F.3d at 1017 (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994)). "Deliberate indifference thus require[d] an objective risk of harm and a subjective awareness of that harm." Conn, 591 F.3d at 1095. (As we shall explain, that partially subjective standard has since been revised to an entirely objective standard for pretrial detainees. See Gordon v. County of Orange, 888 F.3d 1118, 1125-26 (9th Cir. 2018); Castro, 833 F.3d at 1068-71; infra pp. 16-18).

         Two principles inform our clearly established law inquiry in this case. First, the qualified immunity inquiry "must be undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad general proposition." Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201; see also Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 742 (2011) ("We have repeatedly told courts . . . not to define clearly established law at a high level of generality."). It is therefore critical whether our case law had, at the time of the events in this case, sufficiently clarified when a detainee's imminent risk of suicide was substantial enough to require immediate attention.

         Second, in Estate of Ford v. Ramirez-Palmer, we recognized that deliberate indifference claims "depend in part on a subjective test that does not fit easily with the qualified immunity inquiry," which is an objective inquiry. 301 F.3d 1043, 1049 (9th Cir. 2002). Estate of Ford concluded that even where the clearly established legal standard requires deliberate indifference, the qualified immunity inquiry should concentrate on the objective aspects of the constitutional standard. That is because "a reasonable prison official understanding that he cannot recklessly disregard a substantial risk of serious harm, could know all of the facts yet mistakenly, but reasonably, perceive that the exposure in any given situation was not that high." Id. at 1050. We held that "[i]n these circumstances, [an officer] would be entitled to qualified immunity" under the deliberate indifference standard. Id.

         Thus, Horton must show that, given the available case law at the time of his attempted suicide, a reasonable officer, knowing what Officer Brice knew, would have understood that failing to check on Horton immediately after the phone call with Yvonne presented such a substantial risk of harm to Horton that the failure to act was unconstitutional. We turn to the directly applicable case law now, which is sparse.

         At the time of Horton's incident, we had held that officers who failed to provide medical assistance to a detainee should have known that their conduct was unconstitutional in two instances, neither of which resemble the facts in this case. See Clouthier, 591 F.3d at 1244-45; Conn, 591 F.3d at 1098.

         Clouthier held that a mental health specialist who failed to take adequate precautions to protect a detainee from committing suicide was not entitled to qualified immunity. 591 F.3d at 1245. The specialist knew that the detainee was suicidal, that he had attempted suicide multiple times, and that another staff member had placed the detainee in a suicide smock and warned that he needed to be "constantly monitored throughout the day to ensure his safety." Id. at 1244. Nevertheless, the specialist removed the detainee from regular suicide monitoring and instructed officers to return his regular clothes and bedding, which he eventually used to commit suicide. Id. at 1245. Under these facts, we concluded that "a reasonable mental health professional could not have thought it was lawful to remove key suicide prevention measures put in place by a prior Mental Health staff member." Id.[7]

         In Conn, we denied qualified immunity at the summary judgment stage to officers who, while transporting a detainee, observed her wrap a seatbelt around her neck in an apparent attempt to choke herself and who threatened to commit suicide. 591 F.3d at 1098. The transporting officers did not take the detainee to a medical center or alert subsequent officers to the behavior; she then committed suicide. Id. We concluded that "[w]hen a detainee attempts or threatens suicide en route to jail, it is obvious that the transporting officers must report the incident to those who will next be responsible for her custody and safety." Id. at 1102.[8]

         The facts of Clouthier and Conn do not at all resemble this case. Officer Brice's interactions with Horton began with his initial arrest, during which Horton remained cooperative. Officer Brice also spoke with Horton's girlfriend, who informed him of Horton's previous violent episodes, but did not indicate any present suicidal intentions. At the jail, Officer Brice asked Horton if he was having any medical problems, to which Horton responded in the negative.

         Officer Brice did know that Horton, according to his mother, had been suicidal two weeks before the incident and that his ...


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