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Reiber v. County of Gage

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

March 30, 2016

RHONDA REIBER, Administrator of the Estate of Chad Gesin, Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF GAGE, NEBRASKA, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

John M. Gerrard United States District Judge

This matter is before the Court on the defendants' motion for summary judgment (filing 12) and motion to strike (filing 20) the plaintiff's evidence opposing summary judgment. The motion for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part, and the motion to strike will be denied.

BACKGROUND

This case arises out of the death by suicide of the plaintiff's decedent, Chad Gesin, while incarcerated in the Gage County Jail. See filing 1-1. Gesin was arrested on July 4, 2013 after a Nebraska State Patrol officer, Neal Trantham, saw him involved in an altercation in downtown Beatrice, Nebraska. Filing 13-1 at 2. Gesin's girlfriend, Jamie King, reported to the patrolman that Gesin had assaulted her earlier in the day. Filing 13-1 at 2. King also told Trantham that she had received a text message from Gesin earlier that day threatening suicide, and a Beatrice police officer on the scene said that Gesin had stabbed himself during a previous arrest. Filing 13-1 at 3. But Trantham assessed Gesin as angry and frustrated about being arrested, rather than sad, depressed, anxious, or suicidal. Filing 13-1 at 3. Trantham had not read the text message at that point, but he reported it on the Gage County booking form. Filing 13-1 at 4, filing 13-2 at 1. When Trantham interviewed King and actually read the text message, he believed that instead of a suicide threat, the text message was a terroristic threat of a murder/suicide directed at King. Filing 13-1 at 4.

Gesin was booked for domestic assault and third degree assault. Filing 14 at 3.[1] The Gage County correctional officers who conducted the booking completed a medical questionnaire with Gesin, and performed a preliminary breath test for alcohol. Filing 14 at 3-4. Gesin's blood alcohol level was reported as .103 percent. Filing 14 at 4. The questions on the medical questionnaire relating to self-harm or suicide were answered in the negative-that is, Gesin denied ever attempting suicide or having any suicidal thoughts. Filing 14 at 4, filing 13-13 at 2.

Gesin was housed in a "single 'male maximum cell'" at about 6:10 p.m., and provided with a blanket, toilet paper, cup, and pillow. Filing 14 at 4. Gesin was also provided with a portable phone, located outside his cell, in case he needed to call someone to help him post bond. Filing 13-13 at 2. One of the correctional officers on duty performed a cell check at about 6:15, and Gesin appeared to her to be asleep in his bunk. Filing 14 at 4. At about 6:30, the other officer on duty heard what she believed was Gesin pressing the keys on the portable phone placed outside his cell. Filing 13-13 at 2; filing 14 at 5.

At about 6:45, the two officers were escorting some inmates back to their cells after their Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and decided to conduct another cell check. Filing 14 at 5. One of the officers went to Gesin's area at about 6:50, and initially thought he was sitting on a stool leaning against his cell door, but then she saw that he was hanging from the cell bars with a dark material around his neck that proved to be his blanket. Filing 14 at 5-6. She called for assistance and radioed for an ambulance, and retrieved a "hook" knife from the booking room to remove the material from Gesin's neck. Filing 14 at 6. Gesin was unresponsive and bluish in color. Filing 14 at 6. She stepped aside for a Gage County sheriff's deputy who had arrived to assist, and he took the hook from her and cut Gesin to the floor. Filing 14 at 6. The deputy performed CPR until the emergency crew arrived to take Gesin to the hospital. Filing 14 at 7. Gesin was placed on life support, but died on July 9, 2013. Filing 1-1 at 2.

The plaintiff, as administrator of Gesin's estate, sued Gage County, Gage County Sheriff Millard Gustafson in his individual capacity, and unknown employees of the Gage County Sheriff's Office in their individual capacities, alleging claims for relief based upon (1) 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (2) state law constitutional violations, and (3) state law negligence. See filing 1-1. The unnamed defendants remain unnamed and have not been served. Gage County and Gustafson move for summary judgment. See filing 12.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The movant bears the initial responsibility of informing the Court of the basis for the motion, and must identify those portions of the record which the movant believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc). If the movant does so, the nonmovant must respond by submitting evidentiary materials that set out specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.

On a motion for summary judgment, facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a genuine dispute as to those facts. Id. Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the evidence are jury functions, not those of a judge. Id. But the nonmovant must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Id. In order to show that disputed facts are material, the party opposing summary judgment must cite to the relevant substantive law in identifying facts that might affect the outcome of the suit. Quinn v. St. Louis County, 653 F.3d 745, 751 (8th Cir. 2011). The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmovant's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could conceivably find for the nonmovant. Barber v. C1 Truck Driver Training, LLC, 656 F.3d 782, 791-92 (8th Cir. 2011). Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial. Torgerson, 643 F.3d at 1042.

Rule 56 also allows the Court to grant summary judgment as to some issues but not as to others. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Upon doing so, the Court may "enter an order stating any material fact-including an item of damages or other relief-that is not genuinely in dispute, " and thereby treat such a fact "as established in the case." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(g). And after giving notice and a reasonable time to respond, the Court may take other actions dictated by its findings-it may grant summary judgment for a nonmovant, grant the motion on grounds not raised by a party, or consider summary judgment on its own after identifying for the parties material facts that may not be genuinely in dispute. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f).

DISCUSSION

For reasons that will become apparent, it will be appropriate to first address the federal constitutional claims against the only named defendants, Gage County and Gustafson. Then, the Court will address the state constitutional claims, the state negligence claims, ...


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