Rupert v. Mills et al
VERDICT is entered for defendant Susan Cox on plaintiff Prentis Rupert's deliberate indifference claim. Verdict is entered for defendant Larry Mills on plaintiff Prentis Rupert's due process claim against Mills in his individual capacity. V erdict is entered for plaintiff Prentis Rupert on his due process claim against defendant Larry Mills in his official capacity. Because a claim against the sheriff in his official capacity is a claim against the county, Rupert is awarded damages in the amount of $5,750 against Poinsett County, Arkansas. Signed by Chief Judge Brian S. Miller on 9/2/2016. (jak)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
CASE NO. 3:15-CV-00022 BSM
LARRY MILLS and
This case was tried to the bench on August 18, 2016. Having listened to and observed
the witnesses, and having reviewed the exhibits offered into evidence, verdict is entered for
defendant Susan Cox on plaintiff Prentis Rupert’s deliberate indifference claim. Verdict is
entered for defendant Larry Mills on Rupert’s due process claim against Mills in his
individual capacity. Verdict is entered for Rupert on his due process claim against Mills in
his official capacity, and Rupert is awarded damages in the amount of $5750 against Poinsett
I. SUSAN COX
Verdict is entered for Cox on Rupert’s deliberate indifference claim because Rupert
has failed to meet his burden of proof on this claim.
Rupert was an inmate at the Poinsett County, Arkansas Jail for approximately 8 1/2
months during 2014-15. Cox is the jail’s nurse. On September 25, 2014, a few months after
entering the jail, Rupert requested medical attention, complaining of weight loss, headaches,
and back aches. Cox referred Rupert to the Arkansas Department of Health, where routine
blood work was done on October 4. The blood test revealed that Rupert was infected with
the hepatitis C antibody.
On October 20, after receiving a medical request from Rupert, Cox arranged for
Rupert to be seen at the Harrisburg Clinic to assess his condition. Rupert was seen at the
clinic on November 12. After that visit, Rupert made at least two requests regarding his
blood work. He was seen again at the Harrisburg Clinic on January 6, 2015. During his
detention at the jail, Rupert received no medication for his hepatitis C diagnosis and never
saw a specialist.
“A prison official is deliberately indifferent if she ‘knows of and disregards’ a serious
medical need or a substantial risk to an inmate’s health or safety.” Saylor v. Nebraska, 812
F.3d 637, 644 (8th Cir. 2016). To prove deliberate indifference, Rupert must show that he
suffered from an objectively serious medical need and that Cox was aware of that need and
deliberately disregarded it. Id. Cox does not dispute that Rupert has a serious medical
condition. Rupert, however, has not shown that Cox deliberately disregarded his medical
need. To prove this, he has to meet “an extremely high standard that requires a mental state
of ‘more...than gross negligence.’” Id. In fact, to prove that Cox deliberately disregarded
Rupert’s medical condition, he must show that Cox had a mental state that was “akin to
criminal recklessness.” Scott v. Benson, 742 F.3d 335, 340 (8th Cir. 2014).
Cox’s actions do not satisfy the deliberate indifference standard because she was
responsive to Rupert’s medical needs. Indeed, Cox referred Rupert for treatment on three
occasions, including two referrals for treatment regarding his hepatitis C diagnosis.
II. LARRY MILLS
Verdict is entered for Mills on Rupert’s due process claim against Mills in his
individual capacity, and verdict is entered for Rupert on his due process claim against Mills
in his official capacity.
Mills is the Poinsett County Sheriff and has been the sheriff for approximately twenty
years. As the sheriff, Mills is responsible for running the county jail, which includes assuring
the well-being of inmates and enforcing the jail’s written policy. Mills was the sheriff during
the time that Rupert was incarcerated in Poinsett County.
The jail’s written policy, which was introduced as plaintiff’s exhibit 1, explains the
process that must be followed when an inmate is disciplined. This policy is constitutional
because it provides appropriate due process to inmates. See Dible v. Scholl, 506 F.3d 1106,
1110 (8th Cir. 2007) (constitutional procedures include advance written notice of disciplinary
charges, an opportunity to present a defense and call witnesses, and a written statement of
the evidence and reasons for discipline); Poinsett County Detention Center Policy and
Procedure Manual, Ex. 1. Despite having a constitutional discipline policy, the jail clearly
had a custom or practice of disregarding its written policy and depriving inmates of
constitutionally protected due process rights.
Rupert testified that he hit another inmate and was placed in isolation on July 5, 2014.
His initial lockdown was to last three days. At some point during his three-day lockdown,
a jail administrator viewed the video tape of the event and decided to extend his lockdown
for another ten days. Rupert, who was a pretrial detainee, was never given advance written
notice of the disciplinary charge or an opportunity to see the videotape forming the basis of
his extended lockdown; was never given an opportunity to present a defense or call
witnesses; and was never given a written statement of the evidence and the reasons for
discipline, as required by Dible.
Hunter Rosamond, another former pretrial detainee at the Poinsett County Jail,
testified that he was placed on lockdown approximately ten times. He stated that, while on
lockdown, inmates are required to remain in their cells 24 hours per day (as compared to all
other inmates who are confined to their cells 23 hours per day), are not allowed visitation,
are not allowed commissary privileges, and may have their food portions reduced.
Rosamond never received any of the due process required by Dible when he was placed in
isolation. On multiple occasions, when he felt his lockdown was unjust, he prepared written
requests to appeal, but those requests came back stating that he had to serve ten days. On a
number of occasions, he asked to speak with the sheriff, but he was never allowed to do so.
During the 11 1/2 months that Rosamond was in the jail, he saw many inmates get placed in
isolation, none of whom were given due process.
Mills did not dispute the testimony given by Rupert and Rosamond. He also
acknowledged that he is the ultimate decision-maker at the jail and that he is familiar with
the jail’s written policy. He was not aware of the cases involving either Mills or Rosamond
because the jail administrator would have handled those cases. Since becoming aware of
these complaints, however, measures have been taken to address the issues presented by
Granting Rupert a verdict against Mills in his individual capacity would be
inappropriate because the record does not prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that
Mills actually knew that these deprivations were taking place. See Weaver v. Lincoln
County, Nebraska, 388 F.3d 601, 606-07 (8th Cir. 2004) (plaintiff must show that supervisor
had notice that the training and supervision were inadequate and likely to result in a
constitutional deprivation). Although one could argue that the sheriff must have directed the
jailers to insulate him from their unconstitutional actions, this proposition has not been
proven by a preponderance of the evidence. No witness testified that Mills was provided any
information regarding the deprivations, and Mills testified specifically that he was not aware
of the deprivations. Therefore, Rupert’s claim against Mills in his individual capacity fails.
A verdict against Mills in his official capacity is appropriate because he failed to train
his jailers as to the procedures required when disciplining inmates. See Parrish v. Ball, 594
F. 3d 993, 997 (8th Cir. 2010)(a municipality can be held liable when training practices are
inadequate, the failure to train was a conscious choice, and such failure actually caused
plaintiff’s injury). First, it is clear that the training practices at the jail were inadequate
because Mills was aware of the jail’s written discipline policy, which passes constitutional
muster, but nothing indicates the jailers were aware of the policy. By a preponderance of the
evidence, it has been shown that the jailers routinely deprived inmates of their due process
rights and nothing presented at trial or in the record indicates the jailers were ever trained as
to the jail’s policy. Second, the sheer pervasiveness of the deprivations supports Rupert’s
position that the failure to train was a conscious choice. This is especially true because no
evidence was offered in opposition to Rupert’s position on this issue. Third, it is clear that
Rupert’s damages were actually caused by Mills’s failure to train his jailers because Rupert’s
due process rights were violated when he was placed in isolation for thirteen days without
For the violation of Rupert’s right to due process, he is awarded damages in the
amount of $5750 against Poinsett County, Arkansas. He is awarded $500 for each day that
he was in isolation, after the initial 36 hours ($500 x 11.5 = $5750). The first 36 hours are
excluded because the jail’s written policy required a hearing within 36 hours of the time that
Rupert was placed on lockdown.
In awarding these damages, the following testimony was found to be the most
compelling. First, Rupert testified that the only penalty he received was his isolation from
other inmates. Although Rosamond testified about other penalties faced by inmates on
lockdown, Rupert did not testify that he faced any penalty other than being isolated for an
additional hour per day. Second, the sheriff was very forthright in testifying that his jail had
not followed its written policy. He also testified, however, that he has now taken measures
to assure inmates are afforded due process. Both Rupert’s and Mills’s testimony weigh in
favor of awarding Rupert only nominal damages. Third, however, Rosamond explained that
the jail’s failure to provide due process was pervasive. In fact, it appears that the jail’s
written policy was worthless and that the jailers either had no knowledge of the policy or had
no intention of following it. This testimony weighs in favor of awarding even more than
$5750 to Rupert. Therefore, when these three pieces of evidence are weighed, $5750 is
sufficient to compensate Rupert for his due process violation while not being so severe as to
For the reasons set forth above:
Verdict is entered for defendant Susan Cox on plaintiff Prentis Rupert’s
deliberate indifference claim.
Verdict is entered for defendant Larry Mills on plaintiff Prentis Rupert’s due
process claim against Mills in his individual capacity.
Verdict is entered for plaintiff Prentis Rupert on his due process claim against
defendant Larry Mills in his official capacity. Because a claim against the sheriff in his
official capacity is a claim against the county, Rupert is awarded damages in the amount of
$5750 against Poinsett County, Arkansas.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 2nd day of September 2016.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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