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Rupert v. Mills

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division

September 2, 2016

PRENTIS RUPERT PLAINTIFF
v.
LARRY MILLS and SUSAN COX DEFENDANTS

          VERDICT

         This case was tried to the bench on August 18, 2016. Having listened to and observed the witnesses, and having reviewed the exhibits offered into evidence, verdict is entered for defendant Susan Cox on plaintiff Prentis Rupert's deliberate indifference claim. Verdict is entered for defendant Larry Mills on Rupert's due process claim against Mills in his individual capacity. Verdict is entered for Rupert on his due process claim against Mills in his official capacity, and Rupert is awarded damages in the amount of $5750 against Poinsett County, Arkansas.

         I. SUSAN COX

         Verdict is entered for Cox on Rupert's deliberate indifference claim because Rupert has failed to meet his burden of proof on this claim.

         Rupert was an inmate at the Poinsett County, Arkansas Jail for approximately 8 1/2 months during 2014-15. Cox is the jail's nurse. On September 25, 2014, a few months after entering the jail, Rupert requested medical attention, complaining of weight loss, headaches, and back aches. Cox referred Rupert to the Arkansas Department of Health, where routine blood work was done on October 4. The blood test revealed that Rupert was infected with the hepatitis C antibody.

         On October 20, after receiving a medical request from Rupert, Cox arranged for Rupert to be seen at the Harrisburg Clinic to assess his condition. Rupert was seen at the clinic on November 12. After that visit, Rupert made at least two requests regarding his blood work. He was seen again at the Harrisburg Clinic on January 6, 2015. During his detention at the jail, Rupert received no medication for his hepatitis C diagnosis and never saw a specialist.

         “A prison official is deliberately indifferent if she ‘knows of and disregards' a serious medical need or a substantial risk to an inmate's health or safety.” Saylor v. Nebraska, 812 F.3d 637, 644 (8th Cir. 2016). To prove deliberate indifference, Rupert must show that he suffered from an objectively serious medical need and that Cox was aware of that need and deliberately disregarded it. Id. Cox does not dispute that Rupert has a serious medical condition. Rupert, however, has not shown that Cox deliberately disregarded his medical need. To prove this, he has to meet “an extremely high standard that requires a mental state of ‘more...than gross negligence.'” Id. In fact, to prove that Cox deliberately disregarded Rupert's medical condition, he must show that Cox had a mental state that was “akin to criminal recklessness.” Scott v. Benson, 742 F.3d 335, 340 (8th Cir. 2014).

         Cox's actions do not satisfy the deliberate indifference standard because she was responsive to Rupert's medical needs. Indeed, Cox referred Rupert for treatment on three occasions, including two referrals for treatment regarding his hepatitis C diagnosis.

         II. LARRY MILLS

         Verdict is entered for Mills on Rupert's due process claim against Mills in his individual capacity, and verdict is entered for Rupert on his due process claim against Mills in his official capacity.

         Mills is the Poinsett County Sheriff and has been the sheriff for approximately twenty years. As the sheriff, Mills is responsible for running the county jail, which includes assuring the well-being of inmates and enforcing the jail's written policy. Mills was the sheriff during the time that Rupert was incarcerated in Poinsett County.

         The jail's written policy, which was introduced as plaintiff's exhibit 1, explains the process that must be followed when an inmate is disciplined. This policy is constitutional because it provides appropriate due process to inmates. See Dible v. Scholl, 506 F.3d 1106, 1110 (8th Cir. 2007) (constitutional procedures include advance written notice of disciplinary charges, an opportunity to present a defense and call witnesses, and a written statement of the evidence and reasons for discipline); Poinsett County Detention Center Policy and Procedure Manual, Ex. 1. Despite having a constitutional discipline policy, the jail clearly had a custom or practice of disregarding its written policy and depriving inmates of constitutionally protected due process rights.

         Rupert testified that he hit another inmate and was placed in isolation on July 5, 2014. His initial lockdown was to last three days. At some point during his three-day lockdown, a jail administrator viewed the video tape of the event and decided to extend his lockdown for another ten days. Rupert, who was a pretrial detainee, was never given advance written notice of the disciplinary charge or an opportunity to see the videotape forming the basis of his extended lockdown; was never given an opportunity to present a defense or call witnesses; and was never given a written statement of the evidence and the reasons for discipline, as required by Dible.

         Hunter Rosamond, another former pretrial detainee at the Poinsett County Jail, testified that he was placed on lockdown approximately ten times. He stated that, while on lockdown, inmates are required to remain in their cells 24 hours per day (as compared to all other inmates who are confined to their cells 23 hours per day), are not allowed visitation, are not allowed commissary privileges, and may have their food portions reduced. Rosamond never received any of the due process required by Dible when he was placed in isolation. On multiple occasions, when he felt his lockdown was unjust, he prepared written requests to appeal, but those requests came back stating that he had to serve ten days. On a number of occasions, he asked to speak with the sheriff, but he was never allowed to do so. During the 111/2 months that Rosamond was in the jail, he saw many inmates get placed in isolation, none of whom were given due process.

         Mills did not dispute the testimony given by Rupert and Rosamond. He also acknowledged that he is the ultimate decision-maker at the jail and that he is familiar with the jail's written policy. He was not aware of the cases involving either Mills or Rosamond because the jail administrator would have handled those cases. Since becoming aware of ...


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