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Elmer Stephen Wereb and Betty Jean Wereb v. Maui County

November 10, 2011

ELMER STEPHEN WEREB AND BETTY JEAN WEREB, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MAUI COUNTY, A POLITICAL SUBDIVISION OF THE
STATE OF HAWAII, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Michael Seabright United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT MAUI COUNTY'S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT MAUI COUNTY'S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs Elmer and Betty Wereb ("Plaintiffs") brought this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 after their son, Dennis Wereb ("Wereb"), died while in Defendant Maui County's (the "County") custody at the Lahaina, Maui, Police Station. On July 28, 2010, the court issued its Order (1) Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendants Hankins, Burgess, Lee, Gomes, Amano, Alvarez, Mawae, and Kia's Motion for Summary Judgment, and (2) Denying Defendant Maui County's Motion for Summary Judgment (the "July 28, 2010 Order"). See Doc. No. 114, July 28, 2010 Order (published as Wereb v. Maui County, 727 F. Supp. 2d 898 (D. Haw. 2010)). The County now moves under Local Rule 60.1(b) for reconsideration of relevant parts of the July 28, 2010 Order, given the intervening Opinion in Connick v. Thompson, 131 S. Ct. 1350 (2011).

The July 28, 2010 Order addressed all aspects of Plaintiffs' action, including individual-capacity claims against eight different County employees, defenses of qualified immunity as to some officials, potential supervisorial liability, state law claims, as well as potential municipal liability against the County under Monell v. New York City Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Connick and the present Motion now focus the court specifically on municipal liability and the question whether the County could have been "deliberately indifferent" to Wereb's constitutional rights. More precisely, the Motion is directed at the narrow issue of potential municipal liability for failure to train, where only a "single incident" of a constitutional violation is allowed. The Motion requires the court to scrutinize Plaintiffs' theory of municipal liability, and to re-examine and refine the legal analysis in light of Connick.

After carefully studying the contours of the Supreme Court's latest explanation of the "single-incident" theory of municipal liability, the court GRANTS the County's Motion IN PART, and thus GRANTS summary judgment IN PART in favor of the County on an aspect of Plaintiffs' § 1983 claim.

II. BACKGROUND

The relevant portion of the July 28, 2010 Order denied the County's Motion for Summary Judgment by addressing potential municipal liability against the County under Monell, and determining that genuine issues of material fact remain for trial against the County.*fn1

The July 28, 2010 Order extensively sets forth the circumstances that led to Wereb's death and Plaintiffs' corresponding theory or theories of liability against the County based on inadequate training of its Public Safety Aides ("PSA"). The court need not repeat the details here, as the County largely seeks reconsideration based on legal, not factual, grounds.*fn2 Accordingly, this Order is restricted solely to the question of whether an intervening change in law requires the court to reconsider its July 28, 2010 Order as to potential County liability.

The court denied the County's Motion for Summary Judgment because, construing factual inferences in favor of Plaintiffs, a reasonable factfinder could conclude that the County failed to train its employees who were responsible for monitoring pretrial detainees, and that such training was "deliberately indifferent" to their medical needs. Wereb, 727 F. Supp. 2d at 923. According to Plaintiffs' evidence, "Maui County's employees did not receive training on what to look for when monitoring detainees via video, . . . and did not receive training on how to determine if detainees were at risk for alcohol withdrawal[.]" Id. at 922 (citations to record omitted). The court explained:

A reasonable factfinder could find that the failure to provide detainees with the right to medical care was an obvious consequence of Maui County's employees' failure to closely monitor detainees or view them in person. The fact that Wereb lay motionless for approximately twenty-seven hours before he was found dead supports the conclusion that detainees were not monitored with a level of care required to notice even the most basic of medical needs. Further, given the known drawbacks of monitoring by video -- including the inability to spot signs of medical distress like sweating, shaking, or changes in skin color -- it should have been obvious to Maui County that monitoring detainees exclusively by video would deprive county employees of an accurate understanding of detainees' medical needs.

Id. (emphases added). The court further reasoned that the County had knowledge of specific needs of detainees:

The danger of Maui County's failure to train its employees in monitoring was further exacerbated by the fact the detainees in Maui are particularly likely to require medical care. [Maui Police Department's ("MPD")] Chief of Police, as well as many MPD employees, are aware that a large population of homeless alcoholics live in Maui and frequent the Lahaina Police Station. . . . . As a result, it should have been obvious to Maui County that its employees would likely encounter detainees experiencing alcohol withdrawal, which can be accompanied by serious and life-threatening side effects.

Id. at 923 (emphasis added and internal record citations omitted).

In so reasoning, the court was applying the principles of "deliberate indifference" that were explained earlier in the July 28, 2010 Order, in part as follows:

[M]unicipal liability may be imposed when "the need for more or different training is so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the policymakers of the city can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need." Canton [v. Harris], 489 U.S. [378, 390 (1989)]; see also Bd. of County Comm'rs [of Bryan Cnty.] v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 407-09 (1997) (explaining that deliberate indifference may be shown through a "pattern of tortious conduct by inadequately trained employees" or where "a violation of federal ...


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