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Vaughn v. Greene County

August 10, 2007

SUSAN VAUGHN, PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF PHIL EDWARD BLOUNT PLAINTIFF
v.
GREENE COUNTY, ARKANSAS; DAN LANGSTON, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SHERIFF OF GREENE COUNTY, ARKANSAS; JOHN AND JANE DOES I - X, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES AS OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES OF THE GREENE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT DEFENDANTS
SUSAN VAUGHN, PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF PHIL EDWARD BLOUNT PLAINTIFF
v.
CHRISTOPHER L. GRAY, CHRIS HALL, DAVID WANNER, AND MICHAEL JOHNSON, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES AS OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES OF THE GREENE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James M. Moody United States District Judge

ORDER

Pending is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Docket # 59). Plaintiff has responded. For the reasons set forth herein, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

Facts

Susan Vaughn (Vaughn) brought her original civil rights action against Greene County, Arkansas (Greene County) and Greene County Sheriff Dan Langston (Sheriff Langston) to recover damages related to the in-custody death of her brother, Phil Edward Blount (Blount). The defendants moved for summary judgment, with Sheriff Langston also moving for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. Vaughn moved for partial summary judgment on the issue of the defendants' liability. This Court denied the motions. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals granted qualified immunity to Defendant Dan Langston on Februray 17, 2006. Vaughn v. Greene County, Ark., et. al., 438 F. 3d 845 (8th Cir. 2006). Plaintiff filed a second complaint on December 14, 2004, adding Chris Hall, Chris Gray, Michael Johnson and David Wanner, in their individual and official capacities as Defendants.

Defendants motion for summary judgment claims that: (1) Plaintiff has no proof to support her claim against the individual capacity defendants because Plaintiff cannot offer any proof to show that the Defendants were deliberately indifferent to any of the decedent's medical needs which were actually known to them; (2) Plaintiff has no proof to support her claim against the official capacity Defendants because Plaintiff has no proof of any underlying constitutional violation; no proof of any unconstitutional county policies that were the "moving force" behind any alleged constitutional violation, and Plaintiff's theories of negligence and vicarious liability are not actionable; (3) Plaintiff has no proof to support her causation claim; (4) Plaintiff has no proof to support her compensatory damages claim; (5) Plaintiff's claims against the individual capacity Defendants should be summarily dismissed because Plaintiff added them in circumvention of the Court's initial scheduling order; and (6) the individual capacity Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.

The background of this case was set forth as follows by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals:

On December 23, 2001, Blount, a 46-year-old moderately obese man, was arrested and taken to the Greene County Jail (Jail), where he was incarcerated on a charge of first-degree sexual assault. During the Jail's intake procedure, Blount completed a medical intake form, indicating he had a history of mental illness, headaches, epilepsy/seizures, ulcers, and kidney/bladder problems, but indicating he did not have a history of heart problems or high or low blood pressure. Although Blount had no medications with him upon his arrival at the Jail, Blount's mother, Carolyn Barber (Barber), later brought Blount's medications, including an anti-depressant. Inmate medication logs from the Jail, as well as written jailer statements, indicate Blount received his anti-depressant medication from December 24, 2001, until January 2, 2002, when the Jail ran out of the medication for Blount's last two dosages on that day. According to these records, Blount's new prescription did not arrive until January 4, 2002, but would not be administered until the next day's shift starting at 6:00 a.m.

On January 4, 2002, jailer Chris Hall (Hall) spoke with Blount's cellmate, who said Blount had been ingesting shampoo and engaging in other odd behavior. Hall repeated this information to Jail Sergeant Mark Harmon, who in turn informed the other jailers. Around 3:00 p.m., Blount was moved to an isolation cell to be monitored. At approximately 10:30 or 11:00 p.m., jailer Chris Gray (Gray) observed Blount vomiting in the isolation cell. Blount asked Gray for a nurse because his stomach was bothering him. Gray asked Blount if he was vomiting because of the shampoo he had ingested, but Blount did not respond. Blount was not given the opportunity to see a nurse following his request. During the night and early morning hours, Blount and the other inmates were checked by Jail personnel about once every hour.

On January 5, 2002, at about 5:15 a.m., jailer Michael Johnson (Johnson) observed Blount pacing in his cell and repeatedly drinking water and throwing up. Approximately thirty minutes later, at 5:50 a.m., Johnson went to Blount's cell to give him his medications and observed Blount lying naked on the floor of his cell. Johnson and the shift supervisor entered Blount's cell, found him unresponsive, initiated CPR, and called for an ambulance. Blount was transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy led to the determination Blount died of natural causes: arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, causing a heart attack that resulted in Blount's death. Detectable amounts of Blount's anti-depressant medication were found in Blount's system during his autopsy.

According to Barber, Blount called her numerous times on January 3 and 4, 2002, and stated he was nauseated and vomiting. Barber attempted to contact Sheriff Langston to ask for someone to take Blount to a doctor, but Barber was unable to reach the sheriff. Barber later went to the Jail twice on January 4, told a Jail staff member Blount was sick, and was told Blount was receiving his medications. Additionally, Vaughn, Blount's sister, called the Jail before Blount's death to tell the Jail staff he was sick. Vaughn also wrote and faxed a letter to Sheriff Langston, informing him Blount had mental problems and needed to be placed in a different facility.

Standard for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no genuine issue of material fact, so that the dispute may be decided solely on legal grounds. Holloway v. Lockhart, 813 F.2d 874 (8th Cir. 1987); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The Supreme Court has established guidelines to assist trial courts in determining whether this standard has been met:

The inquiry is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is a need for trial -- whether, in other words, there are genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because ...


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