Friday, March 23, 2018

Deliberate indifference case survives appeal

A lawyer brought this case after her dogs died in a house fire. She claims the firemen would not allow her into the apartment to retrieve them. That's the basis for her Fourth Amendment seizure claim. Plaintiff also alleges the defendants were deliberately indifferent to her serious medical condition. The dog seizure claim loses. The medical claim survives appeal.

The case is Bruno v. City of Schenectady, a summary order issued on March 16. According to the district court opinion, plaintiff returned home after a medical procedure to find her apartment on fire. She wanted to enter the building to rescue her dogs but the fire department said they were dead. The Court of Appeals (Katzmann, Kearse and Oetken [D.J.]) says it was "eminently reasonable for fire officials to temporarily prevent Bruno from entering her home while the fire on the premises was still under investigation." This is because the Supreme Court has said that "fire officials are charged not only with extinguishing fires, but with finding their causes and preserving evidence."

But the medical indifference claim is reinstated despite the district court's grant of summary judgment. Plaintiff claims the police officers' actions at the fire scene aggravated her prior medical condition (traumatic brain injury), to which the officers were deliberately indifferent, placing her in a "condition of urgency." While the district court thought it was "difficult to conclude that such condition was her pre-existing TBI, given that she was well enough to be released from a hospital before the fire," what turns the case in her favor is her allegation that the officers aggravated it at the scene of the house fire and loss of her dogs.

We also have an issue surrounding the officers' intent. On the deliberate indifference claim, the law at the time of the summary judgment motion was that plaintiffs had to show the officers subjectively disregarded a risk of harm. That standard derived from Caiozzo v. Koreman, 581 F.3d 63 (2d Cir. 2009). But the standard changed in 2015, when the Supreme Court issued Kingsley v. Henderickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466 (2015), which mandated an objective test: whether a reasonable person would appreciate the risk to which the pre-trial detainee was subjected. This is a more plaintiff-friendly standard, adopted by the Second Circuit in Darnell v. Pineiro, 849 F.3d 17 (2d Cir. 2017) (a case that I briefed). On that recent authority, the Court of Appeals hurls the case back to the trial court to reconsider the motion under Darnell. 

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