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Second Circuit: Subjective Standard Applies to Pretrial Detainee Due Process Claims

On September 22, 2009, the Second Circuit joined the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 10th and 11th circuits in holding that the subjective standard for deliberate indifference set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994), applies to claims of deliberate indifference to serious medical needs brought by state custody pretrial detainees under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause.

Phillip Caiozzo was arrested for first degree harassment by Albany, New York, police and taken to the Albany County Correctional Facility (ACCF). Caiozzo was a chronic alcoholic and had been arrested at least 27 times previously and treated for chronic alcoholism at ACCF. Caiozzo was given a medical evaluation by Linda Cummins, R.N. As one of the standard screening questions she asked him when he had last consumed alcohol. Caiozzo replied that he had done so early on the evening of that day. He meant early on the evening of the previous day as he had been in custody all day. Apparently Caiozzo was confused about the dates or how much time had elapsed since the arrest.

Cummins just accepted the date. To her this meant that Caiozzo was currently intoxicated and did not need immediate alcohol withdrawal protocols. The protocols are critical because alcohol withdrawal can be fatal to an alcoholic. In this case, it was. Caiozzo died of a seizure later that night.

Caiozzo's estate sued various jail and medical employees. The trial court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment, holding that plaintiff could not prove that Cummins or any other employee "disregarded a risk of harm of which [they] were aware," the subjective standard of Farmer. Plaintiff appealed.

The Second Circuit joined every circuit to already address the issue in holding that, for pretrial detainees' claims of deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, the subjective Farmer standard, which originated in a deliberate indifference case brought by a convicted prisoner under the Eighth Amendment, applies. This is what the district court did. Plaintiff had primarily argued that Cummings should have known about the immediate danger of alcohol withdrawal, not that she did know. This does not meet the Farmer standard. The judgment of the district court was affirmed.

See: Caiozzo v. Koreman, 581 F.3d 63 (2nd Cir. 2009).

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Related legal case

Caiozzo v. Koreman