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Civil Rights - 42 U.S.C. 1983 - Deliberate indifference - Qualified immunity.

Byline: Mass. Lawyers Weekly Staff

Where plaintiff asserts claims against a city and its police officers arising out of the death of an inmate, those claims must be dismissed where plaintiff was unable to show that the inmate was incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm and that prison officials demonstrated deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety.

"Egidio Batista died from an injury he sustained while in a holding cell at the Ash Street Jail in New Bedford. His daughter, Natasha Baptista, has brought suit against five individuals and the City of New Bedford for claims arising out of Mr. Batista's death. The defendants have moved for summary judgment on all claims.

"Officer Rodrigues escorted Mr. Batista to the police cruiser without incident and transported him to the NBPD Headquarters.

"When Mr. Batista arrived at the Ash Street Jail, Officers Ronald Deschenes, Michael Goncalves, and Gina DiNucci of the BCSD were on duty in the admissions area.

"After Officer Deschenes searched Mr. Batista and helped him remove his shoes, he placed Mr. Batista 'into the temporary holding cell in the booking area that was occupied by four other male detainees.'

"'Mr. Batista appeared reluctant to enter and be locked in the Ash Street Jail holding cell with four arrested detainees, and he tried to resist it.' He asked Officer Deschenes why he was being placed in the cell and stated that he did not want to go into it.

"Officer Deschenes nonetheless placed Mr. Batista in the cell.

"Within a few minutes of being placed in the holding cell, Mr. Batista made physical contact with Luis Mojica, one of the other individuals in the cell. In response, Mr. Mojica shoved Mr. Batista, who 'fell to the ground, striking his head.'

"Mr. Batista was transported soon thereafter to a local hospital, where he died from his injuries the following morning.

"The amended complaint, names six defendants: BCSD Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, Officer Deschenes, Officer Goncalves, NBPD Chief of Police Joseph Cordeiro, Officer Rodrigues, and the City of New Bedford.

"Six of the claims assert violations of 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the various defendants: Counts I (unconstitutional policies) and II (failure to train and supervise) are against Sheriff Hodgson; Count III (failure to protect) is against Officers Deschenes and Goncalves; Counts IV (unconstitutional policies) and V (failure to train and supervise) are against Chief Cordeiro; and Count VI (failure to protect) is against Officer Rodrigues. The remaining three claims assert state law causes of action against the City of New Bedford: Count VII asserts a claim for Mr. Batista's wrongful death; Count VIII asserts a claim for Mr. Batista's pain and suffering; and Count IX asserts a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress on behalf of Ms. Baptista herself.

"Prison officials 'must take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates,' including those which 'protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.' Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832-33 (1994) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). However, not every instance of inmate-on-inmate violence results in constitutional liability for prison officials. Id. at 833. For a claim alleging failure to prevent harm by another inmate, 'the inmate must show that he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm' and the prison official must demonstrate 'deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety.' Id. at 834 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Therefore, in order to be liable, 'a prison official subjectively must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.' Burrell, 307 F.3d at 8 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

"Additionally, in 1983 claims, a defendant may not be held liable on a theory of vicarious liability. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009). A supervisor who does not participate in the challenged conduct may therefore only be held liable 'if (1) the behavior of his subordinates results in a constitutional violation and (2) the supervisor's action or inaction was affirmatively linked to the behavior in the sense that it could be characterized as supervisory encouragement, condonation or acquiescence or gross negligence of the supervisor amounting to deliberate indifference.' Hegarty v. Somerset Cty., 53 F.3d 1367, 137980 (1st Cir. 1995) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (emphasis in original)

"Finally, '[u]nder the doctrine of qualified immunity, police officers are protected 'from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'Mlodzinski v. Lewis, 648 F.3d 24, 32 (1st Cir. 2011) (quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009)).

"However, Joseph Cordeiro cannot be individually liable under 1983 because he was not the Chief of Police on the date of Mr. Baptista's death, and he did not have any hand in making the decisions or policies which plaintiff alleges contributed to his death.

"There is no evidence in the record to suggest that any of these individuals or Mr. Batista had displayed any violent or aggressive behavior in front of Officer Rodrigues which would allow him to draw the conclusion that Mr. Batista faced a substantial risk of serious harm by being placed in the holding cell, without even considering the ongoing surveillance of the cell by BCSD officers.

"Based on the facts of which Officer Rodrigues was subjectively aware at the time he left the Ash Street Jail, no reasonable jury could find that he was deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of serious harm to Mr. Batista. Therefore, the motion for summary judgment is ALLOWED as to Count VI.

"At the time Officer Deschenes made the decision to place Mr. Batista in the holding cell, there was nothing about the circumstances which would have put him on notice that there was a substantial risk of serious harm to Mr. Batista.

"In any event, Officer Deschenes is entitled to qualified immunity. There is no 'clearly established' law which, given the 'particular factual context of the case,' would have allowed a reasonable officer to understand that his conduct violated the right in question. Mlodzinski, 648 F.3d at 32-33.

"Given the dismissal of all federal claims, Counts I VI, the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims, Counts VII IX."

Baptista v. Hodgson, et al. (Lawyers Weekly No. 02-053-19) (19 pages) (Sorokin, J.) (Civil Action No. 16-cv-11476-LTS) (Jan. 24, 2019).

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Title Annotation:Baptista v. Hodgson, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts
Publication:Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly
Date:Jan 31, 2019
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