Man With Dementia Beaten Severely, Still Not Enough for 1983 Claim

By Betty Wang, JD on July 02, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Eleventh Circuit agreed with the court in a case that ruled against a 67-year-old man sufferning from dementia, granting the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The issue in the case was whether or not the defendant’s were subjectively aware of a substantial risk of serious harm to the plaintiff, which the district court found that they were not. Plaintiff’s complaint had failed to allege that the Sheriff Department custom or policy was actually the cause of plaintiff’s injuries.

Bruce Goodman, who suffered from a stroke and began showing signs of dementia, was arrested when he tried to enter a house that wasn’t his. He was also arrested nine months later after being confused on a night walk and entered a trailer, again not his.

His wife, Mary Goodman, went to jail where he was held to notify them of his medical condition and also requested that he be placed in isolation. The jail abided by this request, but Goodman still ended up being placed in a cell with another inmate, Antonio Raspberry, despite the particular housing unit usually placing prisonrs in their own cell.

The next morning, a correctional officer found Goodman beaten up, covered in blood, and his eyes so swollen that he couldn't open them. Goodman himself was too disoriented to point to the cause of this, but an investigation found it was Raspberry who had inflicted the beating. Goodman ended up spending almost a month in both intensive care and the jail infirmary, and Mary Goodman then claimed the beating significantly advanced his dementia.

Mary, as Bruce's wife and next friend, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the two officers charged with his supervision at the jail in their individual capacities, and against the Sheriff of the county in his official capacity. The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment.

A violation of § 1983 occurs when, in relevant part, "Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws."

The courts, while recognizing that what happened to Goodman was disturbing and a cause for concern amongst the staff of the jail, also had to turn to the rather strict requirements in bringing forth a § 1983 claim. The defendants, in their official capacity, not only needed to subjectively know of the substantial risk, and have knowingly or recklessly disregarded that risk, but their attitudes needed to go beyond just mere negligence. Even gross negligence would not be enough.

While Goodman brought forth evidence that easily infers the presence of negligent behavior, such as the failure to conduct cell checks and head counts, it just wasn't enough. In other words, they needed to know of and disregard a substantial risk of serious harm to Goodman, but in the end, this was found to be just garden variety negligence.

The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the district court did not err in their judgment, and affirmed.

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