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Tenth Circuit: No Summary Judgment on Official Capacity Claims

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s denial of summary judgment on individual capacity claims against an Oklahoma sheriff related to a prisoner’s suicide. The appellate court held it lacked jurisdiction to consider official capacity claims.

On July 27, 2009, Charles Jernegan was incarcerated on an outstanding warrant at the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He reported that he felt paranoid, nervous or depressed, and was hearing voices. He also said he was taking medication for mental health problems. Someone wrote “Diag. Paranoid-Schizo” on his intake booking form, and based on his comments the form directed further assessment. Yet Jernegan was not referred to the jail’s mental health team for follow-up care; rather, Nurse Faye Taylor recommended that he be placed in general population.

On July 28, 2009, Jernegan filed a medical request through the jail’s computer “kiosk” communications system, asking to speak with someone about problems he was having.

His medical record contained an entry dated July 30, 2009 at 8:00 a.m., claiming that healthcare employee Sara Sampson “attempted to see” him in response to his kiosk request, but couldn’t because he’d been moved. At 9:25 a.m., nurses Robin Mason and Sara Jeffries were summoned to Jernegan’s cellblock, where they found him “hanging from a makeshift noose.” Guards cut him down but resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

After reviewing Jernegan’s file, Mason “became suspicious” that Sampson had not actually followed up on Jernegan’s kiosk request because 1) she had never seen mental health staff in the jail at 8:00 a.m.; 2) she had witnessed Sampson and other mental health staff “making sure to have consistent stories” about Jernegan’s treatment; and 3) she “‘had previous experience in witnessing the falsification of records and reports at the jail.’” Mason was also troubled by the practice of intake nurses to refer only “acutely suicidal” prisoners for mental health evaluations.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) conducted an investigation which determined “that Mr. Jernegan was not examined by any member of the jail’s mental-health team in the time period between the filing of his kiosk report and his death.” The investigation found that three Oklahoma Jail Standard violations had contributed to Jernegan’s death: he was placed in the jail’s general population, there was infrequent observation and the “policy used by correctional healthcare management [was] in direct conflict with the [Oklahoma] Jail Standards.”

Jernegan’s mother, Carolyn Cox, filed a lawsuit in 2011 against Sheriff Stanley Glanz, Correctional Healthcare Management – the company that provided medical care at the jail – and several medical staff members, including nurses Taylor and Sampson. Cox sued Glanz in his individual capacity, alleging supervisory liability for failing to train and supervise Taylor, Sampson and other jail employees. She also alleged an official capacity claim that Glanz “had promulgated and administered an unconstitutional policy of providing insufficient mental-health evaluation and treatment – a policy that ultimately resulted in Mr. Jernegan’s death.”

The federal district court found that “genuine disputes as to material facts” precluded granting summary judgment in favor of Sheriff Glanz on both claims, and he appealed.

The Tenth Circuit reversed as to the individual capacity claim in September 2015, concluding in a lengthy and technical ruling that Glanz was entitled to qualified immunity because Cox had “failed to establish that Sheriff Glanz acted as to Mr. Jernegan with the requisite mental state to constitute deliberate indifference.”

However, the Court of Appeals held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider Cox’s official capacity claim because triable issues of material fact existed as to whether the Sheriff’s written policies contributed to Jernegan’s suicide.

Following remand, the district court entered judgment in favor of Glanz in his individual capacity on January 13, 2016, while Cox’s claim against Glanz in his official capacity remains pending. See: Cox v. Glanz, 800 F.3d 1231 (10th Cir. 2015). 

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Related legal case

Cox v. Glanz