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Seventh Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Suit Over Placement on Suicide Watch

Seventh Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Suit Over Placement on Suicide Watch

by Matt Clarke

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the dismissal of a prisoner’s lawsuit over his placement on suicide watch and in administrative segregation.

Daryise L. Earl, a Wisconsin prisoner, filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that officials at the Racine County Jail were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs and violated his due process rights when they placed him on suicide watch following his conviction for first-degree intentional homicide, and required him to wear suicide-proof clothes to which he was allergic. Earl was on suicide watch for five days, then placed in administrative segregation for twelve days. During a later return to the jail for a hearing, he was again held in ad seg for seven days.

Jail officials claimed they had a policy requiring the placement of prisoners on suicide watch after conviction of a serious felony, until a mental health examination cleared them for general population. Earl alleged the suicide watch and stints in administrative segregation were in retaliation for false accusations that he had threatened guards at the jail.

Upon granting the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the district court held that neither the placement on suicide watch or in ad seg was “unusually harsh,” nor long enough to implicate a liberty interest. Therefore, no due process claim could be raised. Further, because the jail guards summoned a nurse when Earl reported having an allergic reaction to the suicide-proof clothing and the nurse gave him medication and a cream despite not finding a rash, there was no evidence of deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.

Earl appealed, arguing that the reason for his placement on suicide watch was a triable issue of fact. The Seventh Circuit held the reason he was on suicide watch or whether other, similarly situated prisoners were not placed on suicide watch did not matter. Because the suicide watch was of insufficient duration and lacked harsh conditions, it failed to implicate a liberty interest – which prevented Earl from raising a due process claim. The same reasoning applied to Earl’s placement in ad seg: “his time in segregation was too short to affect his liberty, and he did not point to any conditions of administrative segregation that were any worse than general prison conditions.”

Earl also had no viable claim for deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs because the guards summoned a nurse, the nurse provided treatment and the guards followed the nurse’s medical decision that he could continue wearing the suicide watch clothes. The judgment of the district court was therefore affirmed. See: Earl v. Racine County Jail, 718 F.3d 689 (7th Cir. 2013).


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Related legal case

Earl v. Racine County Jail