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Burke v. Muskogee County Council of Youth Services

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

May 17, 2019

ROBBIE EMERY BURKE, as Special Administratrix of the Estate of Billy Woods, deceased, Plaintiff,

          ORDER AND OPINION [1]

          Ronald A. White, United States District Judge.

         This action arises from the suicide of 16-year old Billy Woods at the Muskogee County Regional Juvenile Detention Center (“MJDC”). Billy died alone in his room at the MJDC after hanging himself with a bed sheet. After this court's ruling on motions to dismiss, the parties' joint stipulations of dismissal with prejudice, and the recent settlement between other parties, [2]the following 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims remain: failure to train, failure to supervise, and inadequate staffing against the Board pursuant to Monell v. Department of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Plaintiff also brought a claim for cruel and unusual punishment under Article II, § 9 of the Oklahoma Constitution against the Board. Now before the court is the motion for summary judgement filed by the Board [Docket No. 158].

         I. Standard of Review

         The court will grant summary judgment “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The court's function is not “to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). In applying the summary judgment standard, the court views the evidence and draws reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Burke v. Utah Transit Auth. & Local 382, 462 F.3d 1253, 1258 (10th Cir. 2006). At this stage, however, Plaintiff may not rely on mere allegations, but must have set forth, by affidavit or other evidence, specific facts in support of the Complaint. Id.

         “Conclusory allegations that are unsubstantiated do not create an issue of fact and are insufficient to oppose summary judgment.” Harvey Barnett, Inc. v. Shidler, 338 F.3d 1125, 1136 (10th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted).

A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by: (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or (B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1). While at the summary judgment stage evidence need not be submitted in a form that would be admissible at trial, the substance of the evidence must be admissible.

         II. Undisputed Material Facts

         The Board owns the MJDC, a ten-bed facility that houses juveniles until their cases are adjudicated. Docket Nos 158, at 8-9; 187, at 8; and 207, at 2. The Board contracted with the MCCOYS to operate and staff the MJDC. Docket Nos 158, at 9-10; 187, at 8; and 207, at 2. Of course, the existence of the subcontract did not relieve the Board of its oversight responsibility. 10A Okla. Stat. § 10A-2-3-103(C). The Board reviewed and approved MCCOYS' policies and policy changes. Docket No. 187-5, at 2.

         Billy Woods arrived at the MJDC around 2:30 p.m. on December 14, 2016. Docket Nos. 158, at 12-13; 187, at 9-11; and 207, at 2. When Billy arrived, Anthony Cornwell, a shift supervisor initiated the intake process, but did not complete it because his shift ended at 3:00 p.m. Id. Cornwell wrote in his “Daily Note” that Billy appeared to have mental health issues. Id. Jarrod Lang was the shift supervisor who arrived at 3:00 p.m. Id. Later that day, possibly even after 7:00 p.m., Lang completed the intake process. Id.

         During the intake process, Billy was given a suicide risk assessment. Id. Billy told Lang that he had attempted suicide seven or eight times beginning when he was eight or nine years old. Id. He told Lang he had attempted to hang himself, but that most recently, he attempted suicide by gun. Id. Lang asked Billy, “how likely do you think you would be to hurt yourself at this time, ” and Billy replied that he “definitely would not.” Id. Despite Billy's history and because of Billy's answer to that one question, Lang did not place Billy on suicide watch. Id. Lang did not inform Brandon Miller, Angela Miller or Marietta Winkle about Billy's history with suicide. Id.

         Under the MCCOYS' suicide prevention policy, if a resident is placed on suicide watch, he or she must be visually observed every five (5) minutes, bed linens will be removed, and clothing will be removed if the juvenile attempts to use it cause bodily harm. Id. While the MCCOYS' written policy states that every juvenile be visually observed at least every fifteen (15) minutes, there is no evidence that anyone at the MJDC checked on Billy between 3:00 and 7:00 p.m. Id. Lang did not review Cornell's “Daily Note” from the previous shift. Id.

         On December 15, 2016, Billy slept in his room most of the day until he was sent to court around 2:45 p.m. Docket Nos. 158, at 13-14; 187, at 13-15; and 207, at 2-3. On December 15, 2016, Lang, Brandon Miller, Angela Miller, and Marietta Winkel were working the 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift at the MJDC. Id. Angela Miller was on duty in the control room, while the others were on the floor. Id. When Billy returned from court, he was locked in his room from around 3:55 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. when he came out to eat dinner. Id. Billy showered around 6:30 p.m. and went back to his room a few minutes later. Id. Winkle stated that Billy looked depressed when he was out of his room and that if she had been supervising, she would have had someone sit in Billy's room with him or at least check on him every five minutes. Id. Nevertheless, for the next two hours, no one checked on Billy. Id.

         At 8:36 p.m. Lang opened the door to Billy's room and found him hanging from a bed sheet. Docket Nos. 158, at 15-17; 187, at 16-20; and 207, at 3-5. The MJDC staff did not cut him down, check his pulse, or check his breathing. Id. No. one removed the bed sheet from Billy's neck. Id. They waited over 20 minutes to call 911. Id. ...

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