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Sixth Circuit Won’t Hold Michigan County Liable After Mentally Ill Prisoner Impregnates Another

by Harold Hempstead

On May 3, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment favoring for defendant officials with Wayne County, Michigan, in a complaint filed by one mentally ill prisoner who was impregnated by another while they were confined for treatment.

Felicia Morgan was incarcerated by the state Department of Corrections (DOC) at Robert Scott Correctional Facility (RSCI) when she was charged with assaulting a guard and transferred to the Wayne County Jail in Detroit for arraignment. While housed there, her mental health deteriorated, so jail staff had her transferred to United Community Hospital UCH for mental health care.

The co-ed UCH ward where Morgan was housed had six prisoner bedrooms. Male and female prisoners were usually placed on opposite sides of a dayroom and several large staff rooms that separated the ward. The prisoners could mingle, but they were not allowed in one another’s room. Monitoring each ward were usually three Wayne County deputies and two or three UCH employees.

On November 15, 2005, Morgan was caught having sex with fellow prisoner Eric Miles in his room. Morgan “took ‘responsibility for everything,’” and both of them “declined to continue the investigation or pursue possible prosecution,” the Court later recalled.

Morgan testified in a deposition that she had one consensual and one non-consensual sexual encounter while housed at UCH. She was then transferred back to RSCI, where she “gave birth to a child, apparently fathered by Miles.”

After Morgan’s 2017 release from custody, she filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Morgan accused Wayne County Sheriff’s Office Deputies Deputies Leonard Davis, Keisa Clark and Sgt. Arelia Pendergrass of failure to protect her, in violation of her Eighth Amendment rights secured by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. It also made state-law negligence claims against Wayne County and sought to hold it liable for creating a custom or practice that led to the civil rights violations, as laid out in Monell v. Dep’t of Social Servs. Of City of New York, 436 U.S. 688 (1978).

The district court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgement, holding that Clark and Davis were entitled to qualified immunity (QI) and that there was insufficient evidence to support a supervisory liability claim against Pendergrass. Wayne County was also entitled to QI on the state-law negligence claims, the district court held, adding that the Monell claims were legally insufficient. Morgan appealed the judgement as to all defendants except Pendergrass.

But the Sixth Circuit agreed that Morgan failed to prove the subjective element of an Eighth Amendment failure-to-protect claim: that any defendant had personal knowledge of the specific risk she faced – that of being housed with another mentally ill prisoner, and that the two may have sex that she wouldn’t have were she not mentally ill.

Concerning the Monell claims, the Court held that Wayne County’s comprehensive security protocol, combined with the fact there were “no reported instances of sexual relations or assaults between inmates at UCH before November 2005,” meant there was insufficient evidence to support that “Wayne County knew its [UCH security] policy was ineffective.”

The Court said there was a lack of legal authority supporting Plaintiff’s claim “that the Eighth Amendment requires men and women [prisoners] to be housed separately.” Combined with her failure to show that any of the othere defendants violated her constitutional rights, that meant Morgan’s Monell claims were legally insufficient, the Court said. It also held that Morgan’s negligence claims were legally insufficient because her cited authorities concerned “claims against the entity providing medical care, of which the decedents were patients” and in this case  “Morgan was not a ‘patient.’”

Thus the district court’s judgement was affirmed. Morgan was represented by Royal Oak attorney Michael R. Dezsi. See: Morgan v. Wayne Cty., 33 F.4th 320 (6th Cir. 2022).

DOC shuttered RSCF in 2009, shipping its prisoners to another women’s lockup to save money. The building was then demolished and the site sold to Northville Township for $1. The state then took a 40% share of a reported $8.5 million sale price for the property in 2016. The site is now shared by a housing development, a motel and a small shopping strip.

Additional source: Detroit Free Press

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