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Thompson v. King

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

September 20, 2013

Elaine Thompson, Individually and as personal representative of the Estate of Johnny Dale Thompson, Jr., deceased Plaintiff - Appellee
Ulenzen C. King, Individually and as a Former Officer for the Saline County Detention Center; Stephen Furr, Individually and as a Deputy of the Saline County Sheriff's Department Defendants-Appellants

Submitted: April 9, 2013

Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Little Rock

Before WOLLMAN, BEAM, and MURPHY, Circuit Judges.

BEAM, Circuit Judge.

In this interlocutory appeal, Ulenzen C. King and Stephen Furr (collectively, Appellants), law enforcement officials in Saline County, Arkansas, appeal from the district court's denial of qualified immunity on summary judgment. We affirm the denial of qualified immunity to Officer King, reverse as to Officer Furr, and remand for further proceedings.


On December 18, 2008, Officer Stephen Furr, a deputy sheriff of Saline County, stopped a vehicle in which Johnny Dale Thompson, Jr., was a passenger. After discovering Johnny had an outstanding warrant, Officer Furr and another officer arrested Johnny and placed him in the patrol car. During this encounter, the officers found an empty Xanax bottle on Johnny. The bottle indicated that the Xanax was prescribed to Johnny and filled with sixty pills two days prior to his arrest. While en route to the Saline County Jail, Johnny slept but Officer Furr easily awakened him when they arrived at the jail. In an affidavit, Officer Furr explained, "Inside the jail [Johnny] appeared to be slurring slightly so I asked him if he had taken some of his meds earlier and he said 'yes.' I completed my paperwork and left the jail without further incident."

At the jail, Officer Furr left Johnny in the care of jailer Ulenzen King for booking. Officer King noted that Johnny appeared intoxicated, and Johnny asked for a chair to sit down. Johnny leaned forward in his chair but did not fall to the floor. During the booking process, Officer King had to slap the counter to awaken Johnny. Officer King asked Johnny several medical questions, including if he had ingested any medication and how much. Johnny informed Officer King that he suffered from seizures and had taken Dilantin but would not tell Officer King how many pills he had ingested. Due to Johnny's intoxication level, King wrote, "Too Intox to Sign" on Johnny's booking sheet. At approximately 7:42 P.M., Johnny was placed in a cell. At one point, another detainee observed Johnny's intoxicated condition and informed Officer King that Johnny needed help, but Officer King ignored the warning. At 9:09 P.M., Officer King and another officer entered Johnny's cell and discovered Johnny cool to the touch, not breathing, and non-responsive. Johnny was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead at 9:30 P.M.

An autopsy report revealed that Johnny died from a multiple drug intoxication. Among the cocktail of drugs in Johnny's system, the medical examiner's report indicated that "[h]ydrocodone (a narcotic) was present in [Johnny's] blood at a level which could be considered elevated to toxic in and of itself." Johnny's blood also contained methadone, another narcotic, within a therapeutic range. Additionally, the report revealed that Johnny had alprozolam in his system within a therapeutic range. Although Johnny had informed Officer King that he had taken Dilantin, the toxicology report showed no Dilantin in Johnny's system. Ultimately, the medical examiner classified the death as an accident, hypothesizing that Johnny may have "mistakenly [taken] one of the medications by mistake, thinking it was Dilantin."

Johnny's mother, Elaine Thompson, commenced action against Saline County and several Saline County officers individually, alleging federal constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law claims under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act and Arkansas' wrongful death law. The defendants moved for summary judgment, asserting qualified immunity. The district court concluded that Saline County and each individually named defendant, except for Officers Furr and King, were entitled to qualified immunity. Accordingly, the district court granted summary judgment and dismissed most of Thompson's claims but preserved the federal and state law claims against Officers Furr and King. Officers Furr and King now appeal, arguing that the district court erred in concluding they were not entitled to qualified immunity.


Pursuant to the collateral order doctrine, we have jurisdiction to review this interlocutory appeal only to the extent Appellants' qualified immunity arguments raise an issue of law. Robbins v. Becker, 715 F.3d 691, 693 (8th Cir. 2013). We review de novo the denial of summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity, viewing the evidence and drawing all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Small v. McCrystal, 708 F.3d 997, 1003 (8th Cir. 2013).

When an official asserts qualified immunity in response to a § 1983 action, we conduct a two-pronged analysis: "(1) [whether] the facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, demonstrate the deprivation of a constitutional or statutory right; and (2) [whether] the right was clearly established at the time of the deprivation." Jones v. McNeese, 675 F.3d 1158, 1161 (8th Cir. 2012) (alterations in original). As to prong one of this analysis, Thompson alleged that Appellants violated Johnny's substantive due process rights because they were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs.

A plaintiff claiming deliberate indifference must establish objective and subjective components. McRaven v. Sanders, 577 F.3d 974, 980 (8th Cir. 2009). "The objective component requires a plaintiff to demonstrate an objectively serious medical need. The subjective component requires a plaintiff to show that the defendant actually knew of, but deliberately disregarded, such need." Id. (quotations and citations omitted). On appeal, Appellants only challenged the district court's conclusions on the subjective component. Thus, we limit our review to that issue, ...

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