Both prisoners and pretrial detainees may bring claims for violation of their constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C § 1983. The Eighth Amendment protects prisoners from “cruel and unusual punishments.” For claims of Eighth Amendment violations, prisoners must show that the actions of prison officials were objectively unreasonable under the circumstances. These claims also require a subjective component—courts inquire into the officials’ “state of mind” to determine whether they acted “maliciously and sadistically” to violate the prisoner’s rights. The prison officials must have demonstrated a “subjective awareness of the risk of harm.”
The rights of pretrial detainees, however, have both a different constitutional basis and different implications. Their rights are protected under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause and because they have not been convicted, they are entitled to a constitutional presumption of innocence. Accordingly, under Bell v. Wolfish (1979), they cannot be punished at all and may prevail on claims of rights violations by showing that the defendants’ actions were not “rationally related to a legitimate government purpose.”
But the differences between prisoners and pretrial detainees don’t end there. Though plaintiffs under both the Eighth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment must show that prison officials acted with “deliberate indifference,” the standard of what constitutes “deliberate indifference” under the Fourteenth Amendment is murky at best. In Kingsley v. Hendrickson (2015), the Supreme Court held that pretrial detainees only need to show that an officer’s use of force was objectively unreasonable in excessive force claims. This contrasts with similar claims by prisoners, where they must show that the officer’s actions were subjectively unreasonable. In other words, pretrial detainees need not demonstrate that officers acted “maliciously and sadistically to cause harm,” or even be subjectively aware that their use of force was excessive.
But Kingsley left open several questions that the Court declined to answer. The Court did not note whether its holding extends beyond excessive force claims, for example, to claims involving improper conditions of confinement or inadequate medical care.
Did Kingsley alter the standard for all claims by pretrial detainees or just claims involving excessive force? Do any claims by pretrial detainees require a subjective consideration of the defendant’s state of mind?
Circuits are split on whether to apply the Kingsley Standard to claims regarding conditions of confinement and inadequate medical care brought by pretrial detainees. The Second, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits have interpreted Kingsley as altering the standard for such claims, while the Fifth, Eighth, and Eleventh Circuits have held that the standard is unchanged.
The Ninth Circuit in Castro v. Los Angeles County (2015) categorically stated that the Kingsley holding applies broadly and extends beyond excessive force claims to protect other rights of pretrial detainees. Specifically, the Ninth Circuit held that Kingsley also applies to conditions of confinement claims. The court reasoned that the Supreme Court in Kingsley “did not limit its holding to ‘force’ but ‘spoke to the challenged government action’ generally.”
Likewise, the Second Circuit in Darnell v. Pinero (2017) held that Kingsley no longer requires a subjective component for conditions of confinement claims by pretrial detainees. The Court reasoned that “the Due Process clause can be violated when an official does not have subjective awareness that the official’s acts (or omissions) have subjected the pretrial detainee to a substantial risk of harm.” Therefore, according to the Second Circuit, pretrial detainees must only show that the defendants’ actions were objectively unreasonable under the circumstances.
The Seventh Circuit recently joined the Second and Ninth Circuits in Miranda v. Lake County (2018), and held that the “punishment model” of the Eighth Amendment is inappropriate for pretrial detainees. Therefore, demonstration of the defendant’s “punitive intent” in denying necessary medical care is not required under Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claims for pretrial detainees. The Court held that “[m]edical-care claims brought by pretrial detainees under the Fourteenth Amendment are subject only to the objective reasonableness inquiry identified in Kingsley.”
In contrast, the Fifth, Eighth, and Eleventh Circuits have held that Kingsley only applies narrowly to excessive force claims and does not extend to claims related to conditions of confinement or inadequate medical care.
In Anderson v. Concordia Parrish Correctional Facility (2017), the Fifth Circuit stated that in a claim for inadequate security and impermissibly delayed medical care, “a pretrial detainee must show subjective deliberate indifference to by defendants.” Perhaps illustrating its view that Kingsley is inapplicable, the majority in Anderson did not even discuss Kingsley in its opinion.
Similarly, the Eleventh Circuit decided not to apply the Kingsley Standard to a claim of deliberate indifference to a pretrial detainee’s medical needs in Dang ex rel. Dang v. Seminole County Sheriff (2017). Despite Kingsley, the Eleventh Circuit in Dang evaluated the plaintiff’s claims “under the same standard as a prisoner’s claim of inadequate care under the Eighth Amendment.” The Eleventh Circuit here interpreted Kingsley as only applying to claims of excessive force by pretrial detainees.
Finally, the Eighth Circuit joined the debate and sided with the Fifth and Eleventh Circuits in Whitney v. St. Louis (2018), where it held that although pretrial detainees have a “clearly established constitutional right…to have [their] serious medical needs attended to,” the establishment of deliberate indifference to medical needs still “requires both an objective and a subjective analysis.”
Until the circuit split is resolved, the standard required for claims of inadequate medical care or conditions of confinement by pretrial detainees will be vary by jurisdiction. One example where this has an impact is on claims for inadequate psychiatric care brought by the estates of prisoners who commit suicide in pretrial detention. Regarding conditions of confinement, an example would be a failure to protect claim when a pretrial detainee is harmed by another inmate. To ensure that the rights of pretrial detainees under the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause are addressed consistently, the Supreme Court will need address whether Kingsley applies broadly or whether its application is limited to excessive force claims.