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Suit over death of detainee reinstated

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//June 11, 2023

Suit over death of detainee reinstated

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//June 11, 2023//

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Where the district court dismissed claims alleging that medical professionals exhibited deliberate indifference to the needs of a detainee, but the complaint sufficiently alleged that the medical professionals knew of and disregarded a substantial risk of serious injury to decedent, the claims were reinstated.


Shelly Kaye Stevens, as personal representative of the estate of James Allen Leslie Stevens, filed a second amended complaint alleging decedent suffered deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs while in custody at the Alleghany County, Maryland Detention Center which led to his death. The district court held that while “the Amended Complaint may adequately state allegations of medical negligence against [the individual medical defendants] … it fails to support a cause of action against them for a constitutional violation.” Therefore, the district court dismissed appellant’s second amended complaint.

Deliberate indifference

The test for deliberate indifference is two-pronged and includes both objective and subjective elements. Appellant must demonstrate that (1) decedent was exposed to a substantial risk of serious harm (the objective prong) and (2) the prison official knew of and disregarded that substantial risk to the inmate’s health or safety (the subjective prong). Here, appellees do not dispute prong one. Therefore, this case turns whether the individual medical defendants acted with a “sufficiently culpable state of mind,” specifically, deliberate indifference to decedent’s health.

The district court held that appellant failed to plead actual knowledge because the complaint “acknowledge[s] that none of the Individual Defendants ‘thought it necessary’ to take the Decedent to the hospital.” And, in any event, the district court concluded that instead of stating an actionable claim for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, appellant had merely asserted that appellees failed to provide decedent with his desired level of care and had, at most, outlined a claim of medical negligence.

Appellant’s 44-page second amended complaint sets out in meticulous detail decedent’s persistent, documented decline in health and care, and the individual medical defendants’ knowledge that harm would result. Further, appellant alleged at least three protocol violations which demonstrate the individual medical defendants “knew of and disregarded a substantial risk of serious injury to the detainee or that they actually knew of and ignored a detainee’s serious need for medical care.”

Appellant sufficiently alleged that the individual medical defendants knew of and disregarded a substantial risk of serious injury to decedent. This court therefore concludes that the subjective prong of the deliberate indifference test is satisfied. The court also rejects the district court’s conclusion that appellant’s deliberate indifference claim amounts to no more than mere disagreement over the proper course of decedent’s treatment.

Remaining claims

Appellant’s Monell claim against Correct Care Solutions was dismissed, in part, based on the dismissal of appellant’s underlying constitutional claim. Because the district court erred in dismissing the constitutional claim, the district court also erred in dismissing Count Two.

Likewise, the district court’s dismissal of appellant’s state analog claims was also in error. Finally, as to the state law claims contained in Counts Five through Seven, the district court’s dismissal was predicated on dismissal of all claims over which the court exercises original jurisdiction. Because dismissal of the federal claims was in error, so too was the district court’s dismissal of the state law claims.

Reversed and remanded.

Stevens v. Holler, Case No. 20-7102, May 30, 2023. 4th Cir. (Thacker), from DMD at Baltimore (Coulson). Lauren M. McLarney for Appellant. Daniel Anthony Griffith for Appellees. VLW 023-2-141. 19 pp.

VLW 023-2-141

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