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OH State Court Must Determine Immunity Before Suit Filed; Guards Not Entitled to Qualified Immunity in Prisoner's Death

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that guards at the Southern Ohio
Correctional Facility sued by the estate of a prisoner--who was beat to
death by the guards--are not entitled to qualified immunity; that before
the District Court can accept a pendent jurisdiction of a wrongful death
claim, a state court must make a determination of the guard's immunity from
suit under Ohio law.

The prisoner had a history of psychiatric problems and became violent when
not on antipsychotic medication. He began to act out, doing injury to
himself and disrupting the activities of others. No one at the scene was
authorized to administer the prisoner's medication, so about twelve guards
subdued the prisoner and placed him in restraints. While shackled on the
floor, guards beat the prisoner with clubs about the head and body while
dragging him to a strip cell. A guard then put his foot on the prisoner's
neck, applied his body weight, and inflicted the lethal blow to the prisoner.

The estate of the prisoner filed a 42 U.S.C. §1983 action that included a
state based intentional tort for wrongful death. The defendants sought
qualified immunity on the Eighth Amendment claim for infliction of cruel
and unusual punishment. The District Court held that it was well
established at the relevant times that beating a prisoner to near death
and leaving him to die violates the Eighth Amendment. The Sixth Circuit
affirmed the denial of qualified immunity.

The Sixth Circuit, however, reversed the District Court's acceptance of
pendent jurisdiction of the state tort claim. The Court held that Ohio law
vests its state officers and employees with immunity from suit unless that
person acted with malicious purpose, in bad faith or in a wanton or
reckless manner. Under Ohio law, a state tort claim can not be filed until
an Ohio Court of Claims makes a determination of whether the officer or
employee is entitled to immunity. Thus, the district court may not take
pendent jurisdiction of the state tort claim until such a determination is
made. The case was affirmed in part and reversed in part. See: Haynes v.
Marshall, 887 F. 2d. 700 (6th Cir. 1989).

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