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Whitney v. City of St. Louis

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

April 12, 2018

Norman Whitney, Sr. Plaintiff-Appellant
City of St. Louis, Missouri; Shelley Sharp, in both her Official Capacity as a Corrections Officer and Individually

          Submitted: March 14, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before WOLLMAN, SHEPHERD, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.


         Norman Whitney, Sr. ("Whitney Sr.") brought this action after his son, a pretrial detainee who had recently been treated for suicidal thoughts, hanged himself in a cell that was monitored by closed-circuit television. Whitney Sr. asserted state law wrongful death claims and federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against correctional officer Shelley Sharp and the City of St. Louis. The district court[1]dismissed the federal claims because the complaint failed to allege that Sharp knew that Whitney Sr.'s son presented a suicide risk and because the City could not be liable without an underlying constitutional violation. The district court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

         I. Background

         On August 4, 2014, after being arrested, Norman Whitney, Jr. ("Whitney") was taken to the St. Louis University Hospital for treatment of an irregular heartbeat.[2]While there, he attempted to escape and said that he wanted the police to take his life so that he would not be sent back to prison. He was evaluated and determined to be suicidal. After being treated by psychiatry and showing improvement, he was released as fit for confinement and transported to the St. Louis City Justice Center on August 8, 2014.

         On August 10, 2014, Whitney was moved to a medical unit in the Justice Center because he was suffering from a number of medical conditions, including (1) detoxification from heroin use, (2) congestive heart failure, (3) hypertension, and (4) diabetes mellitus.[3] Sharp was assigned to monitor Whitney in his cell via closed- circuit television. Sharp last saw Whitney pacing by the shower area at 9:05 a.m. Sometime within the next fourteen minutes, she discovered that he had hanged himself with a ligature made from his ripped hospital gown.

         After Whitney's death, an unnamed medical practitioner at the Justice Center came forward to report that Whitney had mentioned having suicidal ideation to him. There is no evidence that this information was relayed to Sharp or other jail personnel prior to Whitney's death. Whitney denied suicidal ideation when asked by other correctional officers.

         Whitney's father brought an action in Missouri state court against Sharp, in both her official and individual capacities, as well as the City of St. Louis, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Missouri wrongful death act. The action was removed to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The complaint alleges that Sharp caused Whitney's death through her deliberate indifference by failing to: (1) "adequately monitor Whitney;" (2) "timely provide adequate medical care to his serious suicidal medical condition and need;" and/or (3) "timely intervene to rescue Whitney while he was committing suicide in the CCTV cell." The claim against the City is based on the City's failure "to have a policy of constant surveillance under the circumstances of Whitney's incarceration."

         Sharp and the City filed motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The district court granted the motions, dismissed with prejudice the § 1983 claims against both defendants, and dismissed without prejudice the state law claims against both defendants.

         II. Discussion

         Whitney Sr. claims the district court erred (1) when it held that the complaint did not adequately plead deliberate indifference in his claim against Sharp, and (2) when it held that the City could not be liable under § 1983 in the absence of a constitutional violation by Sharp. We review the grant of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) de novo. Hughes v. City of Cedar Rapids, 840 F.3d 987, 994 (8th Cir. 2016) (citing Sparkman Learning Ctr. v. Ark. Dep't. of Human Servs., 775 F.3d 993, 997 (8th Cir. 2014)). To survive a 12(b)(6) motion, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

         A.Deliberate Indifference Claim ...

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