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Split Summary Judgment Order in California Prisoner’s Wrongful Death Suit

by Ed Lyon

On September 17, 2019, a federal judge denied several summary judgment claims urged by CoreCivic while granting one.

Federal prisoner Gerardo Cruz-Sanchez entered the Otay Mesa Detention Center (OMDC) in San Diego, California, operated by private prison corporation CoreCivic on February 4, 2016.

He was not given a medical exam until February 11. He began seeking medical help on February 12 and five more times, showing successively worse symptoms with each request. He was not seen by a medical doctor until February 26 and was coughing up blood. Cruz-Sanchez was then hospitalized. He died from pneumonia three days later.

On a third amended civil rights suit with a pendant state Bane Act claim by the estate of Cruz-Sanchez, CoreCivic sought summary judgment to dismiss the pendant claim, duty to provide health care, duty to train jailers, the legal jailor-jailee relationship and the ability of Cruz-Sanchez’s estate to seek punitive damages.

A Bane Act claim requires coercion on the defendant’s part. Judge Battaglia held the coercion element does not have to be independent of the alleged constitutional violation like, as in this case, requests for medical help. A guard supposedly denied Cruz-Sanchez access to medical care until Cruz-Sanchez’s condition worsened to the point where an emergency was declared. A material fact thus existed for a jury to decide.

Jailer Landin claimed he was not trained in these situations, but CoreCivic’s contract with the U.S. was to provide medical care to detainees and appropriately train its jailers. A material fact concerning Landin’s training existed for a jury to decide. The same ruling applied to CoreCivic’s overall duty to provide health care to its OMDC detainees, identifying another material fact for a jury to decide.

Because CoreCivic does have a duty to provide medical services and jailers are supposed to be trained to assist detainees to access them, a material facts issue exists regarding the special jailer-jailee relationship between Landin and Cruz-Sanchez. This is a jury issue.

Punitive damages were the only summary judgment point not decided in Cruz-Sanchez’s favor. The court held this was prematurely raised because it is solely a trial issue. See: Estate of Gerardo Cruz-Sanchez, U.S.D.C. (SD CA) Case No. 17-cv-569-AJB-NLS

Related legal case

Estate of Gerardo Cruz-Sanchez