Criminal Justice on the Docket

Troutman v. Louisville Metro Department of Corrections (amicus)

Status:
Active
Case Dates:
Wednesday, 3 June, 2020 - ongoing
Facts:

This case originated in the Western District of Kentucky. Plaintiff sued jail officials for the wrongful death of her father, Charles Troutman Jr., who died by suicide while being held in pretrial detention. There had been six detainee suicides in the 25 months prior to Troutman’s arrest, and both Troutman and his daughter had informed jail staff that he had attempted suicide multiple times in the past. Troutman also attempted suicide during this detention, although the jail doctor did not consider the attempt “serious.” Troutman’s daughter further informed jail staff that Troutman had suffered a severe brain injury and had been crying during phone calls with her while he was in jail, which she told them was unusual.

The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants on the grounds that the plaintiff failed to establish that jail medical personnel had known that the detainee posed a suicide risk. The trial court concluded that because jail medical personnel testified that they did not notice the risk, they were not subjectively negligent, and thus plaintiff could not meet the “deliberate indifference” standard necessary to obtain the relief she sought under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The counter argument advanced by Plaintiff at trial and in this appeal is that trial courts must use an objective standard when evaluating claims of deliberate indifference asserted by pretrial detainees against prison officials.

Legal Theory:

Using an objective deliberate indifference standard as arguably mandated by the Supreme Court in Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S. Ct. 2466, 2475 (2015), the trial court should have asked whether defendants disregarded an obvious risk of substantial harm to a plaintiff, irrespective of whether the defendant subjectively knew of the risk. Whether an objective or subjective standard applies to the defendants’ deliberate indifference is an open question in the Sixth Circuit, and the other circuits are divided on this.

Status:

In addition to National and the ACLU of Ohio, our fellow 6th Circuit affiliates (Michigan, Tennessee, and Kentucky) are joining as amici in this brief, as are the Human Rights Defense Center, Ohio Justice and Policy Center, Rights Behind Bars, the MacArthur Justice Center, and Worthy Now Prison Ministry. We moved to file the Amicus brief on June 3, 2020, and the brief was filed on June 4, 2020. On August 26, oral argument was scheduled for October 7, 2020.