On April 28, 2005, Brenda Jean Clustka committed suicide while inside her cell at the Washoe County jail. On November 3, 2005, her daughter and administer 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 committed suicide while inside her cell at the Washoe County jail. On November 3, 2005, her daughter and administer 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 of the United States Constitution 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 and injunctive relief that these acts were illegal and unconstitutional, as well as actual, compensatory, 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 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 9th Circuit's decision exacerbated a circuit split over §1983 municipal liability for not training law-enforcement officers to diagnose suicide risk, and that the 9th 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. The judgment was then vacated and the case remanded 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. The Circuit court 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. The jury found in favor of the officers. A mild amount of litigation occurred after trial over the Defendants' awards for costs. The case is now closed.David Priddy - 07/07/2011
Kenneth Gray - 08/01/2013