Civil Rights: Municipal Liability for Inmate Suicide

CZW successfully defended the Creek County Public Facilities Authority in Ernst v. Creek County Public Facilities Authority, et al. In Ernst, Plaintiff filed suit as the Personal Representative of the Estate of Mr. Ernst against the Creek County Public Facilities Authority regarding the suicide of Mr. Ernst in the Creek County Jail. Plaintiff claimed that during Mr. Ernst’s incarceration, the Authority failed to provide adequate medical care to Mr. Ernst, in violation of the United States Constitution. At the time of Mr. Ernst’s suicide, the Authority had contracted with an outside, medical services provider which employed a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) to conduct medical and mental health evaluations. In Mr. Ernst’s case, both the LPN and LPC had conducted evaluations of Mr. Ernst on various occasions. A few days prior to his suicide, the LPN determined Mr. Ernst did not need to be on suicide watch and she did not place him on suicide watch. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma entered summary judgment in favor of the Authority, finding that Plaintiff had not established a claim of municipal liability under the United States Constitution against the Authority. Plaintiff appealed this ruling. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s holding, finding that there was no federal, constitutional requirement that in a Jail, only a licensed physician or psychiatrist may conduct suicide evaluations AND that the Jail did not fail to adequately oversee the medical services contractor. For complete opinion, click here.