Lower Courts Expand Application of Kingsley v. Hendrickson

February 7, 2017

Two years ago, in Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S. Ct. 2466, 2474 (2015), the U.S. Supreme Court held that only an objective reasonableness standard should apply to cases involving pretrial detainees, rather than the subjective deliberate indifference standard. The Kingsley case involved a pretrial detainee’s excessive force claim, but the Court’s language indicated that an objective reasonableness standard may be appropriate for all claims brought by pretrial detainees.

The lower courts have been slow to adopt such a liberal standard for claims outside of the excessive force context. The Seventh Circuit Appellate Court has determined that, although the objective reasonableness standard is the appropriate standard in excessive force cases, it has not yet applied that standard to conditions of confinement or denial of medical care claims brought by pretrial detainees. See Burton v. Downey, 805 F.3d 776 (7th Cir. 2015).

Several other circuits, however, have applied objective reasonableness standards to claims beyond the excessive force realm. This fall, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals applied an objective reasonableness standard to a pretrial detainee’s failure to protect claim in Castro v. County of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d 1060 (9th Cir. 2016), holding that the correctional officers would be held liable if there was a substantial risk of serious harm to the inmate that could have been eliminated through reasonable and available measures that the officer did not take. This standard is subtly different from the traditional subjective standard, which required the officer to have a “sufficiently culpable state of mind.”

Recently, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals also adopted an objective reasonableness standard for a conditions of confinement claim. In Ingram v. Cole County, No. 16-1046 (8th Cir. Jan. 17, 2017), the Appellate Court ruled that the rights of detainees at the Cole County Detention Center in Jefferson City, Missouri, were violated. The jail implemented a policy that required the detainees’ clothing to be washed every two to four days, during which time the detainees were not provided with any garments. They were provided a bed sheet and a blanket only, and the jail staff and other inmates were able to see the detainees unclothed. The Eighth Circuit Appellate Court held that that the Kingsley decision required an objective reasonableness standard for evaluating prison conditions of confinement for pretrial detainees. The Court held that under this standard, the jail’s policy was objectively unreasonable and unrelated to any penological interest, and therefore the detainees’ rights were violated.

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