Massachusetts: Wrongful Death Claims Survive Summary Judgment in Prisoner Suicide Case
by Mark Wilson
n September 15, 2014, a Massachusetts superior court denied summary judgment to jail officials on a wrongful death claim related to a prisoner’s suicide, though the court dismissed deliberate indifference claims against three defendants.
Eric Adams was taken into custody by the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) on December 5, 2008. During intake at the Worcester County House of Corrections (WCHC), a jail employee conducted a suicide screening that identified only a “psychiatric history (psychotropic medication or treatment)” as a suicide risk factor. A psychiatric screening conducted at the same time revealed “that Adams had a history of psychotropic medication, outpatient mental health treatment, violent behavior, and substance abuse/treatment.”
WCHC contracts with Advocates, Inc., a private entity, to provide prisoner mental health services. Advocates employee Brian McNeil reviewed Adams’ mental health screening and concluded that no further evaluation was necessary.
As a result, Adams was assigned to the general population and not placed on suicide watch. WCHC physician Thomas Patnaude later learned of Adams’ prior methadone history and placed him on methadone detoxification, including Tranxene and Donnatal three times a day. However, on December 6 and 7, 2008, Adams received only one of the three doses of the prescribed medication.
On December 7, 2008, Adams hung himself in his cell with a bed sheet. He died five days later.
Dianna Cardinale, the administratrix of Adams’ estate, filed suit in state court against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Worcester County Sheriff Guy Glodis, Patnaude, Advocates, Inc. and McNeil, alleging two deliberate indifference claims and two wrongful death claims for failing to identify Adams as a suicide risk and provide adequate suicide prevention measures.
The defendants moved for summary judgment on all the claims. Adams’ estate introduced evidence of an April 29, 2008 report by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice which gave “a comprehensive, negative evaluation of the jail’s treatment of its prisoners.”
The estate also introduced a January 26, 2006 report by prison suicide prevention expert Lindsay M. Hayes; that report also made findings and recommendations concerning WCSO’s suicide prevention policies.
Following Ramos v. Patnaude, 640 F.3d 485 (1st Cir. 2011), the superior court granted summary judgment to Patnaude, Glodis and McNeil on the deliberate indifference claims.
The court held, however, that the defendants were not entitled to summary judgment on the wrongful death claims and were not immune from suit as to those claims. See: Cardinale v. Massachusetts, Superior Court Civil Action No. WOCV2011-02457-D (Worcester Sup. Ct., Sept. 15, 2014).
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Related legal cases
Cardinale v. Massachusetts
|Cite||Superior Court Civil Action No. WOCV2011-02457-D (Worcester Sup. Ct., Sept. 15, 2014)|
Ramos v. Patnaude
|Cite||640 F.3d 485 (1st Cir. 2011)|
|Level||Court of Appeals|
|Appeals Court Edition||F.3d|