D.D.C. Notes Split Re Standard Governing Claims By Pretrial Detainees Asserting Their Right to Medical Care

Per Austin v. District of Columbia, Slip Copy, 2007 WL 1404444 (D.D.C. May 11, 2007):

In Count IV of his Complaint, Austin alleges that Officer Thomas-through action or inaction-denied him the established right of pre-trial detainees to adequate medical treatment. See City of Revere v. Mass. Gen. Hosp., 463 U.S. 239, 244, 103 S.Ct. 2979, 77 L.Ed.2d 605 (1983). Thomas correctly characterizes the constitutional right at issue as based in the substantive component of the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause. But the relevant constitutional standard is not, as Thomas submits, that Austin can prove a violation only by showing that Thomas's conduct “shocks the conscience” of the Court. Rather, Austin can establish a constitutional violation in this setting by demonstrating that Thomas acted with deliberate indifference to his medical needs.FN5

FN5. The Court is aware that there is some division among the federal courts of appeals as to the standard governing claims by pretrial detainees asserting their right to medical care while in police custody. After the parties submitted their memoranda of law in support of the pending motions, the Supreme Court declined the opportunity to resolve what one party seeking review had characterized as a five-to-five circuit split as to the appropriate standard. See Petition for a Writ of Certiorari, Butler v. Fletcher, 465 F.3d 340 (8th Cir.2006) (No. 06-955), cert. denied, --- S.Ct. ----, 2007 WL 120288 (April 30, 2007), available at 2007 WL 98147. This Court has previously relied on the deliberate-indifference case law in the analogous (albeit unique) context of challenges brought by detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. See Al-Ghizzawi v. Bush, Civ. A. No. 05-2378, 2006 WL 2844781, at *4 & n. 8 (D.D.C. Oct.2, 2006); O.K., 344 F.Supp.2d at 61 & n. 23. That reliance finds strong support in existing Supreme Court precedent, which indicates that, because deliberately indifferent conduct suffices to establish liability under the Eighth Amendment, such “conduct must also be enough to satisfy the fault requirement for due process claims based on the medical needs of someone jailed while awaiting trial.” Lewis, 523 U.S. at 850.


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