In Stockton v. Milwaukee County, the court (Scudder/St. Eve/Kirsch, with St. Eve writing) partially reversed and partially affirmed summary judgment against an estate who had brought claims against staff at the Milwaukee County Jail over the death of Michael Madden, who had been brought to the jail following an arrest for an alleged probation violation. Upon arrival to the jail, Madden reported that he had a serious heart condition. Madden decompensated at the jail, ultimately ending up unconscious in the presence of officers, one of whom was propping Madden up with his body and moved (in the testimony of one nurse) purposely to allow Madden to fall and hit his head on the floor.
The court noted that the claims were brought under the Eighth Amendment, although it questioned that decision, suggesting that the rights of someone detained on an unadjudicated probation violation are properly governed by the Fourteenth Amendment. See Slip Op. at 10 n.3. But the court determined that it need not definitively resolve the issue since the plaintiff had waived any claims under the Fourteenth Amendment.
The court sets out the standard for Eighth Amendment claims—a showing of an objectively serious medical condition to which the defendant was deliberately indifferent. (The parties acknowledged that Madden’s condition was objectively serious.) The court noted that deliberate indifference is an “exacting standard” that is a question of fact. Slip Op. at 11-12. The court also noted that an Eighth Amendment claim further requires a causal link between the deliberate indifference and the plaintiff’s injury, which is “typically a question reserved for the jury.” Slip Op. at 12.
Applying these rules, the court concluded that the nurses were entitled to summary judgment because the record lacked evidence that the nurses knew that Madden’s symptoms indicated the particular infection that caused his death, instead of other ailments that could be treated less emergently. The court further disposed of the plaintiff’s Monell claim, finding that the plaintiff had failed to provide evidence that the policy/practice at issue (staffing levels) impacted detainees other than Madden or were the moving force of Madden’s injuries.
Finally, the court affirmed summary judgment in favor of supervisory defendants because there was no evidence those defendants were deliberately indifferent to either Madden’s care in particular, or the practices plaintiff alleged were involved.
The court reversed summary judgment, however, on plaintiff’s claims against the officer who purposely moved his body so that Madden would fall and hit his head. The district court had found that a reasonable jury could conclude that this conduct was a use of force, and an unreasonable one at that, but that the officer was entitled to qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit reversed that decision, finding that the use of force was so obviously impermissible that it fit within the body of case law that recognizes qualified immunity is unavailable for conduct that is so egregious and unreasonable that no reasonable official could have thought he was acting lawfully. The court specifically found that conduct, which amounted to a gratuitous infliction of wanton and unnecessary pain (as is required to prove a claim of excessive force under the Eighth Amendment), was obviously unlawful and the officer was not entitled to qualified immunity.