Jail Officials and Staff Win Summary Judgment in Jail Death Case

September 26, 2017

District Court Judge Frederick Kapala granted summary judgment in favor of the jail staff on plaintiff’s Section 1983 claims arising out of the death of a jail inmate in McCann v. Ogle County, et al., No. 11 C 50125 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 18, 2017). Patrick McCann died of respiratory depression caused by an overdose of Methadone while he was being detained at the Ogle County Correctional Center (OCCC) pending his trial for arson and aggravated domestic battery. McCann physically assaulted his mother, threatened to kill them both, and burn down her house in Ogle County, Illinois. He suffered injuries in the fire and was treated at the burn unit at a local hospital. Three weeks later, he was discharged from the hospital by his attending physicians, arrested on a warrant, and brought to the OCCC.

Although OCCC staff were not warned of his arrival, they quickly arranged for the necessary medications, materials, and equipment for McCann and treated him according to his physician’s instructions. The jail nurse contacted the treating physician’s at the hospital and discussed McCann’s care while at the OCCC. The jail had an agreement with an outside medical provider to provide physician services to the inmates of the OCCC. An employee of this provider, Dr. Stephan Cullinan, saw McCann seven days after his admission to the OCCC and found him healing as expected. Dr. Cullinan made changes to his medications, including changing his pain medication to 60 mg of Methadone twice daily. The nurse provided the Methadone as prescribed and continued to change his dressings and care for him several times a day. The nurse noticed no respiratory distress or changes in McCann’s mental status or fatigue over the next several days. However, on the morning of his tenth day at the OCCC, McCann appeared tired and sluggish. Despite his exhaustion, McCann was able to get up, take his medication and eat that morning. He moved to a chair while the nurse changed his bedding and put lotion on his burns. After seeing him, the nurse spoke with Dr. Cullinan over the phone and reported McCann’s fatigue. Dr. Cullinan decreased McCann’s Methadone dose to begin that afternoon. Subsequent 30-minute welfare checks by OCCC staff were made. McCann was observed to be sleeping and periodically snoring. However, when the nurse arrived with his lunch three hours after seeing him that morning, she found McCann unresponsive and not breathing. An ambulance was called. McCann was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. The pathologist found that McCann died of the adverse effects of Methadone.

McCann’s estate claimed that the jail nurse was deliberately indifferent to McCann’s medical needs, focusing on two alleged deficiencies: that the nurse failed to know the proper dosages and risks associated with the Methadone prescription, and that the nurse failed to check McCann’s respiration rate and other vital signs on the morning of his death. The Court found that the evidence did not show that the nurse’s failure to know Methadone dosages and risks, as well as her failure to check vital signs, rose to the level of deliberate indifference. Rather, the Court found that the evidence demonstrated that the nurse did not know the Methadone dose was too high, and, therefore, could not have acted with the requisite intent.

McCann’s estate also alleged that the Sheriff’s Department, the Sheriff, and the OCCC administrator acted with deliberate indifference by refusing to detain McCann at the hospital. The estate alleged that the Sheriff’s Department had an unwritten policy of refusing to transfer inmates with serious medical conditions to outside hospitals for monetary reasons. The Court found that the evidence did not support these claims either. Rather, the undisputed evidence showed that OCCC staff and Sheriff relied on the medical provider, Dr. Cullinan, to determine whether an inmate required hospitalization. Dr. Cullinan testified that he had determined, based on his medical judgment, that McCann did not need to be hospitalized, and that his condition would not worsen with incarceration. The Sheriff and jail administrator were entitled to rely on Dr. Cullinan’s medical judgment. Moreover, Plaintiff had presented no evidence that there was a policy, unwritten or otherwise, which caused McCann to remain at the OCCC for financial reasons. Thus, the Court concluded that the claims against the Sheriff, the jail administrator, and the Sheriff’s Department should be dismissed. Michael Bersani and Yordana Wysocki represented the Sheriff’s Department and the OCCC administrator.

McCann v. Ogle County

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