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Fifth Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Suit over In-Custody Death

On February 10, 2016, the Fifth Circuit court of appeals upheld the dismissal of a suit brought over the in-custody death due to PCP toxicity.

Marcus Dewayne Slade was arrested after Marshall, Texas police encountered him naked, agitated and having a physical altercation with a man seated in a car. He refused to calm down and a Taser shock was insufficient to subdue him. Several officers were required to handcuff Slade and place him in a patrol car.

Slade was transported to the nearby Harrison County Jail. The drive took less than five minutes and police spoke with him during the drive.

Soon after they arrived at the jail, police noticed Slade was unresponsive. They performed CPR and summoned paramedics, but he was pronounced dead at the scene. The cause of death was found to be PCP toxicity.

Slade's mother filed a federal civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging Slade's constitutional rights were violated when police failed to seek medical care for him until he was unresponsive. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment after finding that the mother had failed to prove the alleged denial of medical care had caused her son's death.

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit held that, although it may not be necessary to prove with expert testimony that a person was in need of medical care when the need was obvious, a causal connection between the denial of medical care and the injury (or, in this case, death) must be proven and the mother had not done so. In other words, she failed to prove that her son would have lived had the police sought medical care for him sooner.

The court also refused to disregard the requirement of causation, which is rooted in Texas state law, and instead base liability upon whether there was a chance of survival had medical care been given sooner. It held that this "loss of chance" doctrine is irrelevant in the § 1983 context. Therefore, it affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the suit. See: Slade v. City of Marshall, Texas, 5th Cir., No. 15-40517.

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Related legal case

Slade v. City of Marshall, Texas