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Doe v. Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center Commission

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

December 13, 2018

JOHN DOE, by and through his next friend, NELSON LOPEZ, on behalf of himself and all persons similarly situated, Plaintiffs,


          Elizabeth K. Dillon, United States District Judge.

         Pending before the court and addressed herein is defendant's motion for summary judgment, in which defendant seeks summary judgment on all of John Doe 4's (Doe 4) claims and consequently-according to defendant-summary judgment as to the entirety of plaintiffs' case. (D.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J., Dkt. No. 100.) The motion was briefed, argued before the court, and supplemental briefs were filed as required by the court. (Pls.' Suppl. Mem. Opp'n Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Dkt. No. 164; Def.'s Sup. Br., Dkt. No. 165.) For the reasons discussed below, the court concludes summary judgment in defendant's favor is appropriate as to Doe 4's claim regarding inadequate mental health treatment. It further concludes that there are disputed issues of fact precluding summary judgment with regard to Doe 4's excessive force claim (including use of restraints) and his claim based on the use of room confinement, which the cour construes as a conditions-of-confinement claim. These disputes exist both as to whether Doe has suffered an underlying constitutional violation and to the remaining elements of his Monell claims.[1] If Doe 4 is able to prevail at trial on his underlying constitutional claim alleging excessive force or his conditions-of-confinement claim, then he and plaintiffs will be permitted to proceed in presenting proof on the other prongs of their Monell claims. Accordingly, the court will grant defendant's motion for summary judgment in part and deny it in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 4, 2017, plaintiff John Doe 1 filed suit for declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking to protect the rights and interests of himself and a putative class of unaccompanied alien children (UACs)[2] detained at the juvenile detention center (Center) operated by defendant Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Detention Center Commission (Commission). Initially, the named plaintiffs consisted of John Does 1, 2, and 3. On August 8, 2018, Doe 4 became the only named plaintiff and class representative. Without objection, the class was certified on June 27, 2018, and is composed of Latino UACs who are currently detained or will be detained in the future at the Center who either: (i) have been, are, or will be subject to the disciplinary policies and practices used by the Center's staff; or (ii) have needed, currently need, or will in the future need care and treatment for mental health problems while detained at the Center (hereinafter Detainees). The second amended complaint, filed July 1, 2018, alleges the Commission violated and violates these Detainees' rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments through a pattern and practice at the Center of 1) excessive force and restraints, including use of the restraint chair, 2) inadequate mental health care based under both the deliberate indifference standard and, alternatively, the professional judgment standard, and 3) national origin and race discrimination.[3] Plaintiffs also include excessive use of solitary or room confinement as part of their excessive force claim, but it is properly analyzed as a separate conditions-of-confinement claim.[4]

         UACs are in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The Commission provides secure housing and other services at the Center to the UACs pursuant to a cooperative agreement with ORR. The purported objective for the UACs' placement at the Center is to provide a safe and appropriate placement “taking into consideration the risk of harm to the [UAC] or others, the community and the risk of flight.” (Cooperative Agreement 1-2, Ex. B-1, Dkt. No. 100-2.)[5]The Center serves as a secure detention facility and provides secure placement “until [the UACs] are released to a sponsor, obtain immigration legal relief, age out, or are discharged by the Department of Homeland Security.” Id.

         It is clear from plaintiffs' complaint, briefing, and expert witness reports, that plaintiffs are frustrated with a system that greets immigrant children fleeing oftentimes violent and traumatic backgrounds by housing them, sometimes for long periods of time, in detention facilities that are designed to house-and do house-juveniles who have been adjudged delinquent and charged juveniles awaiting trial. These circumstances sometimes lead to the immigrant children acting out, that then results in continued or additional restrictions on them. Not surprisingly, plaintiffs desire and advocate for a best practices approach, but the law does not require best practices. Rather, it requires constitutional practices, and that is the issue before the court. So, the court must determine on summary judgment whether the case may proceed to trial with regard to the alleged excessive force and inadequate mental health care claims based on constitutional requirements.

         A. Use of Force and Doe 4

         Doe 4 is a 17-year-old citizen of Honduras who arrived in the United States on or about May 15, 2017, and was transferred to the Center on or about December 1, 2017. The Center uses a program approved by the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice called Handle with Care. This program allows the use of force as a last resort and requires use of the least amount of force reasonably necessary. Restraints may be used, not as punishment, but if necessary after less restrictive measures are unsuccessful. A Detainee is not to be left unsupervised while in mechanical restraints, such as handcuffs, and the use of restraints is to be discontinued as soon as safely possible. The Center also notes that use of excessive force is grounds for dismissal and the filing of a child abuse complaint with Child Protective Services. Indeed, the Center has terminated employees for use of force-even in circumstances where the employee was being assaulted and returned punches.

         Doe 4 sets forth three instances of alleged excessive use of force while detained at the Center. While the parties' briefing lacked detail about the record evidence regarding the incidents, the court has endeavored to provide a more fulsome account. First, in his response to defendant's interrogatories, Doe 4 recounts an incident where he “got mad at staff, ” and staff members grabbed him, fell on top of him, and hurt him. Doe 4 states that they put him in handcuffs and placed him in his cell, and he was forced to stay in handcuffs inside his room and lie on the floor without a mattress. Doe 4 stated that the handcuffs left marks and bruises and hurt him. He does not provide a date for this incident. (Doe 4 Resp. to Interrog. 5, 17, Ex. F, Dkt. No. 100-6.)

         Defendant highlights that, despite the grievance procedure available to Detainees, it has no reports from Doe 4 regarding his allegations from this particular incident. And, although Doe 4 does not remember the date of this incident, defendant believes that he is describing the events that occurred on February 4, 2018, because that is the only incident in the Center's records during which Doe 4 was placed in mechanical restraints. (Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 5; Ropp Aff. ¶¶ 10-11, Dkt. No. 100-8.) In the Center's “Significant Incident Report” (SIR) describing this incident, [6] it states: Doe 4 became frustrated with staff when he was instructed to trim his fingernails and told that he would fail to earn a behavioral point if he did not; when he requested to speak with a supervisor and the supervisor told him he could earn the point back if he trimmed his fingernails, Doe 4 refused and continued arguing; Doe 4 then threatened to assault a staff member and punched a table; Doe 4 was instructed to return to his room to cool down, and when staff members spoke to him to attempt to deescalate his behavior, he continued to argue with them; Doe 4 began punching a staff member in the face and was consequently placed in a two-man physical restraint, which he resisted, and he would not let go of the staff member he had punched; Doe 4 was then lowered to the floor while physically restrained, where he continued to struggle against them; mechanical restraints were put on his wrists and he continued to struggle and was escorted to his room; the restraints were taken off after six minutes and he was secured in his room. (SIR 1-2, Ex. H-4, Dkt. No. 100-8; Ropp Aff. ¶ 9(f).)

         In the second incident, Doe 4 recounts that he had reported issues with a staff member, specifically, that on one occasion the staff member hit him “[i]n the ribcage and the face and on the arm” when Doe 4 was outside and in his room. Doe 4 stated that when he and other UACs were talking to a staff member about problems they had, staff said they were being disrespectful, and one staff member said he was going to take away a behavioral point. Another staff member then pushed Doe 4 against the wall and said he wanted to put him in restraints, to which Doe 4 replied by asking if they could keep “talking calmly.” The staff member then told Doe 4 to go to his room for a time-out. In his deposition testimony, Doe 4 agreed that he stood against the wall and refused to take a time-out at this point because he was angry, but this contradicts his response to interrogatories in which he stated that he pulled himself off the wall. Then, staff members allegedly grabbed him, Doe 4 moved his arms down to protect himself, and staff hit him in the ribs and face and held his hands behind his back while they pinned him against the wall. Doe 4 testified that once he was in his room with more than ten staff members, the Center's staff put his hands behind his back and moved him to the corner of the room, where a staff member twisted his arm and banged him against the cement. When a staff member fell on top of him and Doe 4 said he could not breathe, they allegedly said it was “good” that he could not breathe. Doe 4 stated that a staff member also hit his hand with something hard, he had bruises from this incident, and his face, ribs, and hand really hurt. When asked if he tried to hit or kick staff at any time during this incident, Doe 4 replied, “maybe.” (Doe 4 Dep. 50:23-54:18, 87:24-88:18, 91:23-92:5, Dkt. No. 129-4; Doe 4 Resp. to Interrog. 5.)

         Defendant points out that Doe 4 reported this incident to his mental health clinician, who reported the allegations to CPS. (Doe 4 Dep. 53:3-9; Doe 4 Resp. to Interrog. 6-7; Letter to Shenandoah Valley Social Services, Ex. H-7, Dkt. No. 100-8.) In response, CPS decided not to conduct an investigation, finding that the incident did not meet the legal definition of child abuse or neglect. (Letter from Shenandoah Valley Social Services, Ex. H-8, Dkt. No. 100-8.) Defendant states that the date of Doe 4's report to his counselor corresponds with events that occurred on April 1, 2018, for which two SIRs were created. (Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 6.) The first SIR describes Doe 4's allegations. It states that Doe 4 was directed to return to his room for time-out after he asked if he had lost any behavioral points, he initially refused but then agreed to a time-out, and as he was walking toward his room, the shift supervisor punched Doe 4 in the rib cage. Thereafter, the SIR states that Doe 4 resisted attempts to put him in physical restraints and he was moved into his room, where the same supervisor punched him on the right side of his face and Doe 4 also sustained a puncture wound to his right hand. (SIR, Ex. H-6, Dkt. No. 100-8.) The second SIR recounting the events on April 1 describes the actions taken by staff members during the incident. It states that during free time, Doe 4 was acting in a disruptive and disrespectful manner and was consequently directed to take a time-out in his room. When he refused and stood against the wall, staff attempted to deescalate the situation. After Doe 4 refused, continued disobeying the staff's instructions, and showed aggressive behavior, staff placed him in a two-man restraint and escorted him to his room, where he struggled against staff and additional staff was needed. Once in the room, Doe 4 scratched and kicked staff and was then placed in a one-man restraint, after which he continued fighting by attempting to kick and headbutt the staff. After five minutes, the staff released Doe 4 and left him in his room. Some of the staff members had scratches and red marks from their interactions with Doe 4. After he was left in his room, Doe 4 started punching the door and sink in his room. (SIR, Ex. H-5, Dkt. No. 100-8.)

         In the third instance of alleged excessive force, which Doe 4 believes occurred in mid-July, Doe 4 asked for deodorant spray and was told no because shower time had passed. When the supervisor left, Doe 4 asked a staff member to open the closet so he could get deodorant spray. The staff member denied Doe 4's request because the supervisor had, and Doe 4 felt angry. Doe 4 stated that five or six staff members then surrounded him, he tried to protect himself as one approached him, and “a lot of staff members” fell on top of him and grabbed him. He says that they then folded his arms up to his neck so it felt like they would break or pull his arms off, and were hitting him, moving him around, and struggling to get a hold on him. Then, Doe 4 alleges that once he was “calm and collected, ” they brought him into his room, where they tried to restrict his arms and legs, one staff member held his feet, and another hit him with metal handcuffs, leaving a bruise close to his neck. Doe 4 stated that he punched a staff member in the face after the staff members grabbed him. He could not recall if he “head-butted” another staff member. (Doe 4 Resp. to Interrog. 6, 15.)

         Defendant states that it has no report of allegations of mistreatment from this incident by Doe 4. (Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 7; Ropp Aff. ¶ 15.) In the Center's SIR from this July incident, it states that Doe 4 requested deodorant and refused to go to his room, and when staff unsuccessfully attempted verbal redirection, they called for assistance. After multiple attempts at verbal redirection, a staff member was directed to help guide Doe 4 to his room. As he approached Doe 4, Doe 4 responded aggressively by punching him in the face. Then, because they had exhausted all forms of less intrusive intervention, staff placed Doe 4 in a physical restraint and called for additional assistance. Doe 4 head-butted a staff member as he was trying to open the door to his room. Because of his continued struggle against physical restraint, Doe 4 was placed in a two-man physical restraint. Doe 4 continued struggling and became more aggressive, and staff was thereafter able to place him in his room. (SIR, Ex. H-9, Dkt. No. 100-8.)

         B. Solitary Confinement (or Room Confinement) and Doe 4

         The Center also uses a technique that it calls room confinement-and plaintiffs call solitary confinement-in which a Detainee is confined for a period of time in the room to which he is otherwise assigned. Prior to the implementation of its current behavioral management program in August 2016, the Center confined Detainees to their rooms for predetermined amounts of time when their behavior crossed certain thresholds. Under the new program, room confinement is only used when necessary to ensure safety. If a Detainee is in room confinement, he or she is supposed to be monitored every 15 minutes, reevaluated at least every four hours, and released as soon as safely possible. Additionally, an SIR is required if the confinement results in removal from programming.

         Doe 4 recounts several instances of confinement in his responses to defendant's interrogatories. Doe 4 states that he has been put in restriction in his room for over an hour many times, and often, this was for small things that did not involve fighting. Doe 4 describes several incidents of confinement that he specifically remembers: 1) after the incident described above when he “got mad at staff” and was put in handcuffs, he was “forced to stay in cuffs in [his] cell, [and] forced to lie on the hard floor with no mattress”; 2) after the incident described above when he was hit in the ribs and face, he was in restriction for four hours; 3) on one occasion when he asked to speak with his counselor and his request was denied, he was in restriction for seven or eight hours; 4) when he kept asking staff members why he could not play video games in his pod and became angry and said “a bad word they understood, ” he was locked in his cell for four or five hours; 5) on two occasions, when he accidentally kicked another child and kicked the ball into a camera while playing soccer, he was placed in restriction for four hours; and 6) the longest time he was put in restriction was for three days. (Doe 4 Resp. to Interrog. 17-19.)

         In addition, in his deposition, Doe 4 confirmed that there was an incident where he became upset and dumped his food and drink on the lid of his tray. But in his own words, he did not want to eat and was told by a supervisor to throw away his food, he became confused and said he needed time to think, and the supervisor “grabbed the plate and threw it out.” (Doe 4 Dep. 81:2-13.) Dr. Lewis recounts this incident in his report with more detail, noting that after Doe 4 dumped his food, he refused several requests to return to his room. When he struggled and tried to kick staff, he was put in room confinement, where he “became upset and tied a shirt around his neck and was given a suicide blanket.” (Dr. Lewis Report ¶ 150, Dkt. No. 106-2.)

         Also in his deposition, Doe 4 stated that there were other instances during which he was confined to his room for longer than one day, in addition to the three-day confinement, but he could not remember specifically how many times. When asked if he knew the reasons why he was being confined in those incidents, Doe 4 replied: “just because supposedly I'm not being respectful, ” and explained that he used the word “supposedly” because “sometimes they do things that are not true.” (Doe 4 Dep. 80:5-22.) Doe 4 provided a more thorough explanation in his deposition regarding the incident when he asked to speak to his counselor. Doe 4 stated that he remembered the incident described by defense counsel as the time he became “upset about not being able to sit in the chair and about point losses, ” but said, contrary to defense counsel's description of the event, that he was not angry. However, in his response to defendant's interrogatories, Doe 4 stated that he was “frustrated about something that staff had done” to him. In his words, Doe 4 stated that he asked to talk to his counselor several times, to which a staff member repeatedly responded no and asked him to get up from the chair. Then, Doe 4 said that he talked to the supervisors, who told him that he was insulting the other staff member and not following his instructions. When the supervisors asked him to take a time-out, Doe 4 says he responded by stating, “That's okay. I want to talk to my counselor.” At this point, Doe 4 states that the staff ignored him when he asked them not to touch him, grabbed his hands and arms, took away everything, and put him in his cell for seven or eight hours. He believes that the only thing he did in this situation was sit in a chair and ask for help. (Id. 83:11-84:18; Doe 4 Resp. to Interrog. 8-9.)

         As to the time when Doe 4 states he was held in confinement for three days, defendant refers to that period as a “three-day modified programming schedule, ” and points out that Doe 4 attended educational programming and was given an opportunity for recreation, and that this period of confinement and modified programming resulted from Doe 4's assault of punching a staff member in the face. (Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 3; Ropp Aff. ¶¶ 9(c), 20.) Defendant asserts that this was the only instance it knows of during which Doe 4 was held in confinement for a period of 24 hours or more, relying on the lead case manager's statement in her affidavit that “Doe 4 was placed in room confinement for 24 hours after punching a staff member in the face several times and refusing to let go, ” and he “continued to be disruptive by cursing at staff and banging on the door and wall of his room” after being placed in his room. (Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 3-4; Ropp Aff. ¶ 18.) The lead case manager also stated that Doe 4 has been placed on a three-day modified programming schedule on several occasions, including the time he punched a staff member, and had access to education programming and recreation whenever he was on this modified schedule. (Ropp Aff. ¶ 20.)

         C. Mental Health Claim and Doe 4

         A Detainee, upon arrival at the Center, is given a mental health screening to determine if an assessment is required. If so, an assessment is performed by a mental health clinician. If the assessment indicates a need for a psychological evaluation, then the Center requests approval from ORR. Each Detainee is provided with a case manager and a mental health clinician, who are bilingual in Spanish. Each Detainee is supposed to have one-on-one counseling with his or her clinician at least once a week, and clinicians are supposed to provide two group counseling sessions each week, although there is some evidence that those informal group sessions are not always run by clinicians and do not always occur. A psychiatrist sees Detainees every three to six weeks, and Detainees may schedule additional appointments with him without limitation.

         When Doe 4 arrived at the Center, he underwent a psychological evaluation and, although he was uncooperative, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder based on his history. The psychologist that conducted the investigation recommended that Doe 4 be placed in residential treatment. (Psychological Evaluation 10, Ex. H-10, Dkt. No. 100-8.) The Center had attempted to transfer Doe 4 to several residential treatment facilities on several different occasions, but those requests require approval by ORR and acceptance by the receiving facility. Because Doe 4 had a history of violence at the Center, other facilities would not accept him. (Ropp Aff. ¶¶ 21-22.)

         While at the Center, Doe 4 met with a mental health clinician, who is a licensed professional counselor with a master's degree in clinical mental health, for about an hour about once a week, [7] (Doe 4 Dep. 34:3-22, 40:8-41:4), and with a psychiatrist who prescribed him medicine once every six weeks, [8] (Doe 4 Dep. 37:11-38:22). More than fifty percent of each visit with Dr. Kane is supposed to be dedicated to one-on-one counseling and coordination of care. (Ex. H-3, at 2-3, Dkt. No. 100-8.) Doe 4 did not report thoughts of suicide or self-harm to either his mental health clinicians or his psychiatrist. (Exs. H-2, H-3, Dkt. No. 100-8.) The record reflects only one incident where Doe 4 harmed himself by punching a wall. (Doe 4 Dep. 44:4-10, 79:25-80:4.) In addition, Doe 4 testified that he feels better about his anger now and can think of other things to calm down when he feels angry. (Id. 81:25-82:9.)

         Doe 4 stated that he often asked his case worker and counselor to see a psychologist who he could talk to about his feelings, but the Center did not let him. He stated that he has only seen a psychologist once since arriving at the Center. Because he has not been able to speak with a psychologist, Doe 4 testified that he has been hurt and so angry that he has harmed himself. (Doe 4 Resp. to Interrog. 8, 10.) The Center's lead case manager, however, has no record of any requests from Doe 4 to see a psychologist, and there is no record of such a request in his case file, although it ...

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