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DeLuna v. Mower County

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 21, 2019

Geronimo DeLuna Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
Mower County; Terese Amazi, Mower County Sheriff; Chris Fletcher, Mower County Correctional Officer; Officers John Doe 1 through John Doe 10 Defendants - Appellees The State of Minnesota, Department of Human Services Plaintiff

          Submitted: March 12, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota

          Before GRUENDER, BENTON, and GRASZ, Circuit Judges.

          GRASZ, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Geronimo DeLuna and the Minnesota Department of Human Services ("MDHS") brought this negligence action after an official at the Mower County, Minnesota Jail (where DeLuna was serving time) provided and made DeLuna wear shoes that were too small for his feet. DeLuna says the shoes caused a blister on one of his left toes, which ultimately resulted in a severe infection requiring multiple corrective surgeries. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Mower County ("County"), and DeLuna appeals. Because we conclude there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the County negligently caused DeLuna's injury and that it is not entitled to vicarious official immunity, we reverse.

         I. Background

         In December 2014, DeLuna began serving a 180-day sentence at the jail for a driving-related offense. All inmates at that location were required to wear "Croc"-style[1] slip-on shoes provided by the jail.

         On February 10, 2015, a jail officer took away DeLuna's old slip-on shoes and made him wear a replacement pair.[2] DeLuna quickly noticed the shoes were too tight and rubbed against his feet. DeLuna wore a men's size ten but says the new shoes were a women's size ten. Later that day, DeLuna complained to a jail officer about his shoes being too small, but he was told no other shoes were available at that time and his old slip-on shoes had been thrown out. DeLuna says he then suffered a blister on his left foot's middle toe, and he complained to a jail sergeant about having a sore toe. The jail's medical records say DeLuna refused to see a nurse because he wanted to continue participating in the jail's "Sentence to Serve" program ("STS"), which allows inmates to perform volunteer community work (often outdoor manual labor) to reduce the length of their sentences. DeLuna, however, denies refusing treatment that day.

         The next day, on February 11, DeLuna participated in the STS program from 7:45 a.m. until 4 p.m. and wore his own personal shoes, as was allowed during STS work hours. Upon returning to the jail, DeLuna says a jail officer noticed the third toe on DeLuna's left foot had a blister. DeLuna told the officer the slip-on shoes he had been wearing were too small, and the officer immediately provided DeLuna with a larger, better-fitting pair. The jail's medical records show DeLuna complained that day to a jail officer again about a sore toe (DeLuna later testified his toe "was just blowing up" by then) and that he still refused to see a nurse. DeLuna also denies he refused treatment on February 11.

         On February 12, DeLuna says his left foot was in such pain he could not get out of bed. He filled out a "Sick Call Request Form" seeking treatment. He was examined by the jail's nurse, who completed a medical report stating DeLuna's injured toe was "warm [and] swollen" and that DeLuna said it began as a blister. The nurse prescribed an antibiotic to be taken twice a day and instructed DeLuna to keep the toe clean, apply a topical ointment, and wrap it in gauze. DeLuna said his toe had an open sore by that point.

         On the evening of February 13, the jail's overseeing officer observed DeLuna's toe was "purple and leaking." The officer drew a line toward the top of DeLuna's foot and told him to let the jail know if the redness and swelling progressed beyond the line. It soon did, and the jail's doctor recommended DeLuna be taken to a hospital. Jail staff took DeLuna to a Mayo Clinic emergency room.

         DeLuna was diagnosed with having Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus ("MRSA"), a super-strain of staph infection resistant to usual penicillin-based medication. DeLuna remained in the hospital for ten days and underwent three surgeries on his left foot to remove the infection. As a result, DeLuna says he has a large scar running down the middle of his foot and residual sharp pains in the same area. MDHS paid his sizeable medical bill.

         DeLuna and MDHS brought a lawsuit in state court against the County, the County Sheriff, and a number of jail officers, raising four counts: (1) negligence in providing shoes that were too small, resulting in his MRSA infection; (2) negligence in providing an environment infested with bacteria and viruses, including MRSA; (3) willful failure to provide adequate medical treatment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (4) failure to adequately train jail officers in providing suitable shoes, adequate medical care, and a safe environment in violation of the same rights. The defendants removed the suit to federal district court and, following discovery, moved for summary judgment on all claims. DeLuna then voluntarily dismissed all claims and defendants except his negligence action against the County for providing undersized shoes.

         Exercising supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), the district court granted summary judgment to the County on DeLuna's negligence claim. The district court concluded DeLuna failed to show the County breached a duty of care because contracting MRSA was not a foreseeable danger of wearing shoes that were too small for less than 24 hours. The district court also concluded DeLuna failed to show any breach proximately caused his injuries because, based on testimony from the County's expert witness, "many other causative ...


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