RHESA HAWKINS BARKSDALE, Circuit Judge:
Concerning the suicide of pretrial detainee Tina Hare in July 1989, at issue in this interlocutory appeal on qualified immunity is whether, by not preventing the suicide, Appellants acted objectively unreasonably in the light of then clearly established law. On remand from a similar interlocutory appeal, decided by our en banc court, Hare v. City of Corinth, 74 F.3d 633 (5th Cir.1996) (en banc), the district court again denied qualified immunity to the individual defendants. We REVERSE.
On remand, additional evidence was not presented. The parties to this appeal agree that our en banc opinion accurately states the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, Richard Hare:
Hare, 74 F.3d at 636-38.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Richard Hare sued the City of Corinth, as well as the individual defendants bringing this appeal, alleging that, inter alia, they were deliberately indifferent to the risk of Tina Hare's suicide. The district court denied summary judgment, Hare v. City of Corinth, 814 F.Supp. 1312, 1314 (N.D.Miss.1993), and the individual defendants appealed, asserting qualified immunity.
Our court's original panel opinion held that Richard Hare had alleged a violation of the clearly established right to medical attention for suicidal tendencies, and that material fact issues remained as to whether the individual defendants were deliberately indifferent. Hare v. City of Corinth, 22 F.3d 612 (5th Cir.1994), withdrawn and superseded on rehearing by 36 F.3d 412 (5th Cir.1994), on rehearing en banc, 74 F.3d 633 (5th Cir. 1996), on remand, 949 F.Supp. 456 (N.D.Miss.1996). However, that panel revised its opinion, holding: (1) that "the jail officials were under a clearly established constitutional duty to provide pretrial detainees with reasonable care for serious medical needs, unless the deficiency reasonably served a legitimate governmental objective"; and (2) that a material fact issue existed as to whether the jail officials "knew or should have known of Tina Hare's vulnerability to suicide". Hare, 36 F.3d at 415-17, on rehearing en banc, 74 F.3d 633, on remand, 949 F.Supp. 456.
Hare, 74 F.3d at 643. This holding is restated at the conclusion of the opinion:
Id. at 650 (emphasis added).
Accordingly, this case was remanded to the district court with the following instructions:
Id. (Emphasis added).
As noted, additional evidence was not presented on remand. The district court again denied summary judgment, both on the merits and on qualified immunity, holding that material fact issues remained as to whether the individual defendants had subjective knowledge of the risk of Tina Hare's suicide and whether they acted with deliberate indifference to that risk. Hare, 949 F.Supp. at 460-66.
The denial of summary judgment on qualified immunity is, of course, immediately appealable, even when a genuine issue of material fact exists, when the order determines a question of law. E.g., Wren v. Towe, 130 F.3d 1154, 1157 (5th Cir.1997) ("A district court's denial of summary judgment is not immune from interlocutory appeal simply because the denial rested on the fact that a dispute over material issues of fact exists.") (citation omitted); Coleman v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 113 F.3d 528, 531 (5th Cir. 1997) (discussing Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299, 116 S.Ct. 834, 133 L.Ed.2d 773 (1996)).
Along this line, Richard Hare moved to dismiss this appeal. In an unpublished opinion, our court held:
Hare v. City of Corinth, No. 96-60872, at 2, 6 (5th Cir. filed Mar. 31, 1997) (unpublished).
It bears repeating that this appeal is brought only by the individual officers, not the City of Corinth, concerning only qualified immunity, not the merits. And, it is well to remember that qualified immunity serves a number of quite important goals. Courts have expressed a concern over "the deterrent effect that civil liability may have on the willingness of public officials to fully discharge their professional duties". Sanchez v. Swyden, 131 F.3d 1144, 1148-49 (5th Cir. 1998) (citing Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 555, 87 S.Ct. 1213, 1218, 18 L.Ed.2d 288 (1967); Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 638, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 3038, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987); Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 814, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2736, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982); and Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 239-41, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 1688-89, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974)). Moreover, we seek to "avoid excessive disruption of government". Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341, 106 S.Ct. 1092, 1096, 89 L.Ed.2d 271 (1986). To this end, qualified immunity serves to terminate a claim against a public official as soon as possible in a judicial proceeding, even before discovery. See Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 232, 111 S.Ct. 1789, 1793, 114 L.Ed.2d 277 (1991) ("`Until this threshold [qualified] immunity question is resolved, discovery should not be allowed.'") (quoting Harlow, 457 U.S. at 818, 102 S.Ct. at 2738).
"Decision of this purely legal question [of qualified immunity] permits courts expeditiously to weed out suits which fail the test without requiring a defendant who rightly claims qualified immunity to engage in expensive and time consuming preparation to defend the suit on its merits." Siegert, 500 U.S. at 232, 111 S.Ct. at 1793 (emphasis added). "One of the purposes of immunity, absolute or qualified, is to spare a defendant not only unwarranted liability, but unwarranted demands customarily imposed upon those defending a long drawn out lawsuit." Id. Accordingly, the doctrine of qualified immunity "provides ample protection to all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law". Malley, 475 U.S. at 335, 106 S.Ct. at 1093. Needless to say, some of these goals are not reflected in the instant case; the issue of qualified immunity is still unresolved more than six years after the complaint was filed.
The bifurcated test for qualified immunity is quite familiar: (1) whether the plaintiff has alleged a violation of a clearly established constitutional right; and, (2) if so, whether the defendant's conduct was objectively unreasonable in the light of the clearly established law at the time of the incident. E.g., Colston v. Barnhart, 130 F.3d 96, 99 (5th Cir.1997). It goes without saying that we review a summary judgment de novo, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. E.g., Abbott v. Equity Group, Inc., 2 F.3d 613, 618-19 (5th Cir. 1993).
Again, the first step is to determine whether the plaintiff has alleged "violation of a clearly established constitutional right". Siegert, 500 U.S. at 231, 111 S.Ct. at 1793. E.g., White v. Taylor, 959 F.2d 539, 545 n. 4 (5th Cir.1992) ("We have interpreted Siegert to require that we examine whether the plaintiff has stated a claim for a constitutional violation before reaching the issue of qualified immunity."); Connelly v. Comptroller of the Currency, 876 F.2d 1209, 1212 (5th Cir. 1989) ("It is a common failing in qualified immunity decisions that courts avoid deciding exactly what constitutional violation might have occurred if the facts are as a plaintiff alleged.... The purpose of requiring careful characterization of plaintiff's claim at the outset of a qualified immunity analysis is to
Richard Hare claims that the individual defendants "violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by causing Tina Hare to be deprived of her right to reasonable care". Hare, 74 F.3d at 650. Appellants counter that there is no duty to diagnose her with a mental illness that would trigger a duty to protect her from suicide. And, again, our en banc opinion stated:
Id. at 647-48.
Richard Hare has consistently alleged that the individual defendants knew, or should have known, that Tina Hare was exhibiting suicidal tendencies, and that the defendant's actions, and inactions, by, inter alia, placing Tina Hare in an isolated cell, without removing the blanket, constituted deliberate indifference to Tina Hare's serious medical/psychiatric needs. Therefore, pursuant to the standard established by our en banc opinion, Richard Hare has alleged the violation of a clearly established constitutional right.
The second prong of the qualified immunity test is better understood as two separate inquiries: whether the allegedly violated constitutional rights were clearly established at the time of the incident; and, if so, whether the conduct of the defendants was objectively unreasonable in the light of that then clearly established law. See Pierce v. Smith, 117 F.3d 866 (5th Cir.1997); Rankin, 5 F.3d at 108 ("When evaluating whether a plaintiff stated a constitutional violation, we looked to currently applicable constitutional standards. However, the objective reasonableness of an official's conduct must be measured with reference to the law as it existed at the time of the conduct in question.") (internal quotes and citations omitted) (emphasis added).
As discussed fully in our en banc opinion, review of the case law as of the time of the incident, July 1989, reveals that the standard of care owed to pretrial detainees, in protection of their due process right to medical care or protection from harm, was confused and often conflicting. See generally Hare, 74 F.3d at 639-43 (detailing the relevant case law on this issue prior to the en banc opinion). We revisit it briefly.
In Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 539, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 1874, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979), the Court provided the following standard to be applied in a case involving a pretrial detainee's due process rights:
This standard is contrasted with the requirement of "deliberate indifference", which has been employed in cases involving prisoner claims of Eighth Amendment violations due to denial or interference with medical needs. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104-05, 97 S.Ct. 285, 291-92, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976). This was explained in our en banc opinion in Hare:
74 F.3d at 640.
The case law in this circuit in the decade following Bell and Estelle did little to clarify the proper standard in pretrial detainee suicide cases. Johnston v. Lucas, 786 F.2d 1254 (5th Cir.1986), held that a prisoner must show that the jailers acted with "conscious or callous indifference" to their duty to protect the prisoner from others. Shortly after Lucas, we held that, in cases involving claims by a pretrial detainee under the Eighth Amendment right to be free from the constant threat of harm by fellow inmates, "[t]he same conditions of violence and sexual abuse which constitute cruel and unusual punishment may also render the confinement of pretrial detainees punishment per se." Alberti v. Klevenhagen, 790 F.2d 1220, 1224 (5th Cir.1986).
Finally, in Partridge v. Two Unknown Police Officers, 791 F.2d 1182 (5th Cir.1986), our court was presented with a case involving a pretrial detainee suicide. We held that, under Bell, "the defendants had a duty, at a minimum, not to be deliberately indifferent to [the pretrial detainee's] serious medical needs". Id. at 1187 (emphasis added). This decision clearly held that negligence is an insufficient basis on which to state a claim, and pointed to a standard of deliberate indifference to a pretrial detainee's medical needs. However, the applicable standard was again obfuscated by our decision in Cupit v. Jones, 835 F.2d 82, 85 (5th Cir.1987), which signaled a return to the Bell test by requiring that an official's failure to provide reasonable medical care must be "reasonably related to a legitimate governmental objective".
These cases show that the parameters of the law in 1989 were far from clearly defined. But, on the other hand, they demonstrate that it was clearly established that, at a minimum, the standard of care was as described in our 1996 en banc opinion in this case. See Hare, 949 F.Supp. at 464 ("[T]he duty of law enforcement officials not to be deliberately indifferent to serious medical needs of pre-trial detainees has long since been the minimum duty owed to a pre-trial detainee.") (citing as authority Estelle, 429 U.S. 97, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251; Bell, 441 U.S. at 535 n. 16, 99 S.Ct. at 1872 n. 16; City of Revere v. Massachusetts Gen. Hosp., 463 U.S. 239, 244, 103 S.Ct. 2979, 2983, 77 L.Ed.2d 605 (1983); Jones v. Diamond, 636 F.2d 1364, 1378 (5th Cir.1981), overruled on other grounds by International Woodworkers of Am., AFL-CIO and its Local No. 5-376 v. Champion Int'l. Corp., 790 F.2d 1174 (5th Cir.1986); and Partridge, 791 F.2d at 1187).
Therefore, the deliberate indifference test enunciated in our 1996 en banc opinion was a clearly established minimum standard of conduct when the incident occurred in 1989. In other words, at the very least, that standard was clearly established as of then. Therefore, it is that standard to which we hold the individual defendants in determining, objectively, the reasonableness of their conduct. See Anderson, 483 U.S. at 640, 107 S.Ct. at 3039 ("[T]he `contours' of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right."); Sanchez, 131 F.3d at 1148 ("[T]he official's knowledge of the relevant law need not rise to the level of a `constitutional scholar.'") (citing Harlow, 457 U.S. at 815-17, 102 S.Ct. at 2736-38).
Accordingly, we turn to whether the conduct of the individual defendants was objectively reasonable in the light of the then clearly established law. E.g., Rankin, 5 F.3d at 108; Spann v. Rainey, 987 F.2d 1110, 1114 (5th Cir.1993). "The stated purpose underlying adoption of an objective test was to `permit the resolution of many insubstantial claims on summary judgment' and to avoid `subject[ing] government officials either to the costs of trial or to the burdens of broad-reaching discovery' in cases in which the legal norms the officials are alleged to have violated were not clearly established at the time the events occurred." Lynch v. Cannatella, 810 F.2d 1363, 1374 (5th Cir. 1987) (citing Harlow, 457 U.S. at 817-18, 102 S.Ct. at 2737-38) (emphasis added).
On this appeal, objective reasonableness has been confused with the separate subjective standard of deliberate indifference. This
Again, this appeal is brought only by the individual officers, not the City of Corinth, contesting the qualified immunity denial, not the merits. And, again, in addressing qualified immunity, the test is objective reasonableness. And, again, objective reasonableness is a question of law for the court. E.g., Mangieri v. Clifton, 29 F.3d 1012, 1016 (5th Cir.1994) ("[I]n evaluating a claim of qualified immunity, the district court is to make a determination of the objective reasonableness of the official's act as a matter of law.")
Obviously, the analysis for objective reasonableness is different from that for deliberate indifference (the subjective test for addressing the merits). Otherwise, a successful claim of qualified immunity in this context would require defendants to demonstrate that they prevail on the merits, thus rendering qualified immunity an empty doctrine. See Hart v. O'Brien, 127 F.3d 424, 454 (5th Cir.1997) ("A public official who attacks a plaintiff's ability to prove her case is not raising a qualified immunity defense, which is `conceptually distinct from the merits of the plaintiff's claim.'") (quoting Johnson v. Jones, 515 U.S. 304, 314, 115 S.Ct. 2151, 2156, 132 L.Ed.2d 238 (1995)).
Accordingly, for this appeal on qualified immunity, the subjective deliberate indifference standard serves only to demonstrate the clearly established law in effect at the time of the incident, as discussed supra. And, under that standard—the minimum standard not to be deliberately indifferent—the actions of the individual defendants are examined to determine whether, as a matter of law, they were objectively unreasonable.
Officer Burns was present at a meeting between Tina Hare and her parents, at which Tina Hare threatened suicide. Officer Burns placed her in the private cell closest to the monitor and the trusty's station, searched the cell, ensured that Tina Hare did not have a belt, and removed her shoes because they had laces. Officer Burns did not remove the blanket from the cell because he believed that Tina Hare, who weighed only approximately 100 pounds, was not strong enough to tear it. Officer Burns instructed Officer Moore to keep a close check on Tina Hare. On the afternoon of the suicide, Appellants, or the jail trusties, checked on Tina Hare when she went to her cell at 3:00 p.m., when Officer Damons came on duty at 4:00 p.m., when Tina Hare was fed at 5:00 p.m., and when Officer Burns called at 6:00 p.m. Moreover, the only evidence in the record concerning Tina Hare's physical state when she was found is Officer Burn's report, which states that Officer Damons reported that she was dead.
Needless to say, in this context, the objective reasonableness standard does not afford a simple bright-line test. See, e.g., Rellergert v. Cape Girardeau County, 924 F.2d 794, 797 (8th Cir.1991) ("While we conclude that the
It is important to underline our narrow holding: we do not address arguments concerning the material fact issues designated by the district court. Instead, we hold that the undisputed facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, do not constitute objectively unreasonable conduct when applied against the deliberate indifference standard.
In this regard, it should be noted that our holding does not insulate all public officials from liability for suicides by pretrial detainees. Based on evidence that an officer was subjectively, deliberately indifferent, as described in our en banc opinion, the objective reasonableness analysis may well result in that officer not being entitled to qualified immunity. It goes without saying that each case will turn on the evidence to which the objective standard is applied. On the other hand, as discussed, and where appropriate, qualified immunity serves important purposes by terminating an action early in the proceedings. E.g., Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227, 112 S.Ct. 534, 536, 116 L.Ed.2d 589 (1991) ("Immunity ordinarily should be decided by the court long before trial.").
In sum, as a matter of law, the district court should have granted summary judgment to Appellants on qualified immunity grounds.