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Case Name Conn v. City of Reno PN-NV-0001
Docket / Court 05-cv-00595 ( D. Nev. )
State/Territory Nevada
Case Type(s) Policing
Case Summary
On April 28, 2005, Brenda Jean Clustka died by suicide while inside her cell at the Washoe County jail. On November 3, 2005, her daughter and administrator of the estate, represented by two civil rights lawyers, brought a complaint in the District of Nevada (Judge Howard D. McKibben) against the ... read more >
On April 28, 2005, Brenda Jean Clustka died by suicide while inside her cell at the Washoe County jail. On November 3, 2005, her daughter and administrator of the estate, represented by two civil rights lawyers, brought a complaint in the District of Nevada (Judge Howard D. McKibben) against the City of Reno, Nevada and two officers of the Reno Police Department. The plaintiff alleged that the defendants performed, participated, aided and/or abetted in acts that led to the death of Ms. Clutska.

The plaintiff alleged that the police officers escorting Ms. Clutska to the jail did not report her apparent earlier attempt to commit suicide while in the back of their police van. The plaintiff brought this action against the police officers for not putting Ms. Clutska on suicide watch and against the City of Reno for not properly training its police officers to deal with this type of situation. The plaintiff alleged a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on the part of the police officers for abridging Ms. Clutska's right to be free from deliberate indifference to risk of suicide. The plaintiff also brought a separate cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Reno for failing to properly train its police officers with respect to their obligation to report suicide attempts by detainees. Plaintiff sought declaratory that these acts were illegal and unconstitutional, injunctive relief, compensatory damages, and punitive damages for these alleged violations. A First Amended Complaint, filed on December 12, 2005, added the estate and Clustka's son as plaintiffs in addition to the daughter.

On August 29, 2006 the defendants, moved for summary judgment, claiming that the plaintiffs could not establish a §1983 claim because they could not show that Ms. Clustka was an objectively serious suicide risk while in custody and that the officers failed to take appropriate steps to protect her. The court agreed that the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to establish that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to Clustka's serious medical needs, or that the conduct of the defendants was the actual cause of Clutska's harm sufficient to constitute liability under §1983. The district court granted the motion for summary judgment and awarded judgment in favor of the defendants on March 8, 2007.

The plaintiffs then appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. On July 24, 2009 the 9th Circuit reversed and remanded the case. Conn v. City of Reno, 572 F.3d 1047 (9th Cir. 2009). The 9th Circuit (Judge Stephen Reinhardt, Judge Mary M Schroeder, and Judge Dorothy W. Nelson) held that a reasonable jury could find that the police officers were liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for their deliberate indifference to Clustka's serious medical need, and that their actions were a cause in fact and a proximate cause of her suicide.

The defendants petitioned for a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court. In their May 6, 2010 petition, the defendants argued that the Ninth Circuit's decision exacerbated a circuit split over §1983 municipal liability for not training law-enforcement officers to diagnose suicide risk, and that the Ninth Circuit created a new circuit split by erroneously imposing on officers a constitutional duty to diagnose and report suicidal tendencies. On April 4, 2011 the Supreme Court granted certiorari, vacated the judgment, and remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit for further consideration in light of Connick v. Thompson, 131 S.Ct. 1350 (2011). In Connick, the Supreme Court addressed the liability of a district attorney's office for its prosecutors on a failure-to-train theory under § 1983.

On remand and in consideration of Connick, the Ninth Circuit found that the district court had been correct to hold that the municipality was not liable. On September 6, 2011, the Ninth Circuit reinstated its original opinion except for the part on municipal liability. Conn v. City of Reno, 658 F.3d 897 (D. Nev. 2011). On the district court level, the case then proceeded to trial against the two police officers only.

After a six-day jury trial, with proceedings beginning March 7, 2012, the jury found in favor of the officers. On March 13, 2012, the plaintiffs had objected to the qualified immunity jury instruction:
The jury instruction objected to asks "whether the officers reasonably misapprehended how the law would govern their situation.'' This is a legal question and one the Ninth Circuit has decided. Should the jury find that the officers were indeed deliberately indifferent to the serious medical needs of Brenda Clustka, then there can be no qualified immunity because the Ninth Circuit found that law clearly established, and the officers cannot have reasonably misapprehended it.
The court denied the objection during the trial proceedings that day. On March 14, 2012, the jury deliberated for approximately three hours before returning a verdict in favor of the defendants. Judgment was entered in favor of the defendants and against the plaintiffs.

A small amount of litigation occurred after trial over the defendants' awards for costs. In an order of September 19, 2012, the court found that as the defendants prevailed on all claims, they were entitled to an award of all allowable costs. In response to the plaintiffs' argument that the court should deny costs because of the plaintiffs' indigency and the the fact that it was a case of substantial public importance, effecting an immediate change in the way suicide threats were handled locally. Considering these circumstances, the court adjusted the costs to reflect the plaintiffs' economic circumstances and the desire not to chill future plaintiffs from bringing actions raising substantial constitutional issues, reducing the costs awarded to the defendants by fifty percent. The case is now closed.

David Priddy - 07/07/2011
Kenneth Gray - 08/01/2013
Sarah McDonald - 08/18/2018

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Failure to train
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) City of Reno, Nevada
Plaintiff Description Children and estate of a woman who committed suicide while in a Reno, Nevada jail
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Filing Year 2005
Case Closing Year 2012
Case Ongoing No
07-15572 (U.S. Supreme Court)
PN-NV-0001-9001.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/06/2010
05-cv-00595 (D. Nev.)
PN-NV-0001-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/29/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 2-2819237]
PN-NV-0001-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/03/2005
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Amended Complaint [ECF# 16]
PN-NV-0001-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/12/2005
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF# 49]
PN-NV-0001-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/29/2006
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiff's Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF# 53]
PN-NV-0001-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/25/2006
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Reply to Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF# 58]
PN-NV-0001-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/13/2006
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Granting Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF# 62] (D. Nev.)
PN-NV-0001-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/08/2007
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Appellants' Opening Brief (2007 WL 2734637)
PN-NV-0001-0009.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 08/06/2007
Source: Westlaw
Appellees' Answering Brief (2007 WL 4266351)
PN-NV-0001-0010.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 09/27/2007
Source: Westlaw
Plaintiffs-Appellants' Reply Brief (2007 WL 4991080)
PN-NV-0001-0011.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 01/31/2008
Source: Westlaw
9th Circuit Opinion (572 F.3d 1047)
PN-NV-0001-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 07/24/2009
Petition for a Writ of Certiorari
PN-NV-0001-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/06/2010
Brief of Amici Curiae International Municipal Lawyers Association, National League of Cities & National Association of Counties in Support of Petitioner (2010 WL 2354756)
PN-NV-0001-0013.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 06/09/2010
Source: Westlaw
Brief in Opposition (2010 WL 3183971)
PN-NV-0001-0014.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 08/09/2010
Source: Westlaw
Denial of Petition for Rehearing en Banc (591 F.3d 1081)
PN-NV-0001-0019.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 01/08/2011
Source: Google Scholar
Supplemental Brief for Respondents (2011 WL 1155267)
PN-NV-0001-0016.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 03/29/2011
Petitioners' Supplemental Brief (2011 WL 1321237)
PN-NV-0001-0017.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 03/31/2011
Source: Westlaw
Order of US Supreme Court (131 S.Ct. 1812 / 179 L.Ed.2d 769)
PN-NV-0001-0020.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 04/04/2011
Source: Westlaw
Appellants' Supplemental Brief (2011 WL 2129928)
PN-NV-0001-0012.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 05/20/2011
Source: Westlaw
Petitioners' Reply Brief (2010 WL 3375616)
PN-NV-0001-0015.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 07/05/2011
Source: Westlaw
Special Verdict [ECF# 144]
PN-NV-0001-0021.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/14/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges McKibben, Howard D. (D. Nev.)
PN-NV-0001-0008 | PN-NV-0001-9000
McQuaid, Robert A. Jr. (D. Nev.) [Magistrate]
Nelson, Dorothy Wright (Ninth Circuit)
Reinhardt, Stephen Roy (Ninth Circuit)
PN-NV-0001-0001 | PN-NV-0001-0019
Schroeder, Mary Murphy (Ninth Circuit)
Plaintiff's Lawyers Hughes, Paul W. (District of Columbia)
PN-NV-0001-0012 | PN-NV-0001-0014 | PN-NV-0001-0016
Keyser-Cooper, Terri (Nevada)
PN-NV-0001-0002 | PN-NV-0001-0004 | PN-NV-0001-0006 | PN-NV-0001-0009 | PN-NV-0001-0011 | PN-NV-0001-0012 | PN-NV-0001-0014 | PN-NV-0001-0016 | PN-NV-0001-9000
Kimberly, Michael B. (District of Columbia)
PN-NV-0001-0014 | PN-NV-0001-0016
Pincus, Andrew J. (District of Columbia)
PN-NV-0001-0014 | PN-NV-0001-0016
Rothfeld, Charles A. (New York)
PN-NV-0001-0012 | PN-NV-0001-0014 | PN-NV-0001-0016 | PN-NV-0001-9001
Vaillancourt, Diane K. (California)
PN-NV-0001-0002 | PN-NV-0001-0004 | PN-NV-0001-0006 | PN-NV-0001-0009 | PN-NV-0001-0011 | PN-NV-0001-0012 | PN-NV-0001-0014 | PN-NV-0001-0016 | PN-NV-0001-9000
Wetherall, Paul C. (Nevada)
Defendant's Lawyers Bibas, Stephanos (Pennsylvania)
PN-NV-0001-0003 | PN-NV-0001-0015 | PN-NV-0001-0017
Campbell, Jack D. (Nevada)
PN-NV-0001-0005 | PN-NV-0001-0007 | PN-NV-0001-9000
Christensen, Donald L. (Nevada)
PN-NV-0001-0003 | PN-NV-0001-0010 | PN-NV-0001-0015 | PN-NV-0001-0017
Gordon, Nancy Bregstein (Pennsylvania)
PN-NV-0001-0003 | PN-NV-0001-0015 | PN-NV-0001-0017
Kadlic, John J. (Nevada)
PN-NV-0001-0003 | PN-NV-0001-0010 | PN-NV-0001-0015 | PN-NV-0001-0017 | PN-NV-0001-9001
Lynch, Patricia A. (Nevada)
PN-NV-0001-0005 | PN-NV-0001-0007 | PN-NV-0001-9000
Other Lawyers Byers, Jacqueline J. (District of Columbia)
Etzkorn, Lars (District of Columbia)
Graham, Tamara L. (District of Columbia)
Kinnaird, Stephen B. (District of Columbia)
PN-NV-0001-0013 | PN-NV-0001-9001
Stevens, Michael W. (District of Columbia)

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