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Brianna M. Brooks, Individually and As Successor-In-Interest To Decedent Dennis Brooks; et al v. County of San Joaquin

April 27, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge


Through the present lawsuit, Plaintiffs seek redress under both 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law for the suicide of their father, Dennis Brooks, while Brooks was a pretrial detainee at the San Joaquin County Jail (hereinafter "jail"). Named Defendants include San Joaquin County and Sheriff Steve Moore, in his capacity as San Joaquin County Sheriff.

Certain correctional officers who were involved with Brooks' detention at the jail have also been sued, both in their official and individual capacities, including Defendants Kevin Casanelli, Angelo Hurtado-Askins, Mark Hughes, Octavio Samaniego, and Ralph Huggins. Presently before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. Defendants request summary judgment as to Plaintiffs' claims in their entirety. Plaintiffs' motion, while also seeking summary judgment, asks in the alternative that summary adjudication be granted as to various individual claims. As set forth below, Defendants' motion will be granted in part, granted in part and Plaintiff's Motion will be denied.


On November 20, 2008, at approximately 10:30 p.m., Decedent Dennis Brooks, a transient, broke into the house of his ex-wife, Brenda Clow-Brooks, after his daughter, Plaintiff Brianna Brooks, refused to allow Dennis Brooks entry to the residence. Brianna Brooks called law enforcement. Stockton police officers thereafter placed Dennis Brooks under arrest and transported him by squad car to the San Joaquin County Jail.

Defendant Kevin Casanelli conducted Dennis Brooks' pre-booking interview upon his arrival at the jail at approximately 12:30 a.m. on the morning of November 21, 2008. Brooks told Casanelli, a correctional officer, that while he was not currently thinking about suicide, he had a history of suicidal ideation and attempted suicide and was, as a result, under psychiatric care.

Plaintiff's Undisputed Fact ("PUF") No. 36. Brooks also told Defendant Casanelli that he was taking Seroquel, a medication known by Casanelli to be a psychotropic in nature. Brooks further admitted to Casanelli that he was under the influence of heroin, and Casanelli recognized Brooks from a prior incarceration at the jail where he was placed in the sheltered housing unit. Id. at 39-40. Sheltered housing is reserved for inmates and/or psychiatric patients who need closer monitoring than that afforded to the general jail population.

As the pre-booking officer, Casanelli input the information provided by Brooks, as well as his own observations, into a computerized custody information system known as CUSINS. Because of his heroin addiction, Brooks was seen by medical staff, where he again denied any current suicidal ideation. Defendants' Undisputed Fact ("DUF") No. 8.

After being seen by medical staff, Brooks' housing classification was assessed by another correctional officer, Defendant Ralph Huggins. Id. at 9. As a classifications officer, Huggins had access to information contained in both the CUSINS database and in the so-called booking process system, or CJIS. Despite Brooks' prior history, Huggins determined that he had no psychological impairment, explaining that a prior history of suicidal ideation is insufficient in and of itself to warrant contacting psychological staff. Huggins Dep., 87:25-89:4, Ex. A to Opening Decl. of Benjamin Nisenbaum. According to Huggins, Brooks denied any ongoing suicidal thoughts, or even being under a psychiatrist's care at the time of his face-to-face classification interview. See id. at 87:2-8.

That information directly contradicted what Brooks told Defendant Casanelli earlier.

Although Huggins indicated he did not know whether Brooks was under the influence of heroin, he assigned him to housing in so-called administrative segregation. DUF at 50-51. Huggins did not request any further psychiatric evaluation. Administrative segregation places inmates who require more supervision than those in the general population into individual cells where they are supposed to be checked at 30-minute intervals. Id. at 8. Huggins claimed he did not know that Brooks had told Casanelli that he was currently under the care of a doctor and taking medication for suicidal thoughts. He admitted that he could have checked the CUSINS database for information to that effect input by Defendant Casanelli but apparently did not do so. Huggins Dep., 90:22-92:21.

Defendants Hughes and Hurtado-Askins were both assigned to the administration segregation unit during the day shift on November 21, 2008. Neither had been involved in Brooks' pre-booking, booking or classification, and neither was aware of Brooks' suicidal history. DUF No. 20, PUF No. 61. Their required 30-minute rounds involved checking on the ad-seg inmates and using a computerized device that recorded the timing of each round. At 1:15 p.m., during one of his rounds, Hughes observed Brooks hanging from the sprinkler head in his cell by a bed sheet. Id. at 61. Hughes radioed for help, entered Brooks' cell and cut his body down with a utility knife. Defendants HurtadoAskins and Samaniego thereafter responded and performed CPR until the nurse and other emergency personnel arrived. Id. at 69-71.

Both Hurtado-Askins and Hughes deny noticing anything unusual about Brooks' demeanor prior to his death. They deny that Brooks expressed any suicidal thoughts, or that he was yelling or banging on his cell door. DUF No. 31-32, 38. One inmate, however, did allegedly write a letter reporting that Brooks had been banging on his cell door and threatening suicide. See DUF No. 50-55. That same inmate, Thomas Welles, claims that Defendant Hughes had heard those threats about an hour prior to Brooks' suicide but did nothing other than to tell Brooks to back away from his cell door. Welles Dep., 26:8-22, 27:16-20. Ex. C to the Opp'n/Reply Decl. of Benjamin Nisenbaum.

The County Coroner determined Brooks' cause of death to be due to asphyxiation, consistent with hanging by the neck. Brooks' suicide was the third in-custody suicide at the jail since 2004. All three suicides were by hanging. PUF Nos. 73-74.

Plaintiffs filed the present wrongful death claim on December 1, 2009. In addition to four causes of action based explicitly on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (for wrongful death based on Defendants' deliberate indifference to Brooks' serious medical/mental health needs), for loss of familial relations, for so-called Monell liability, and for successor-in-interest civil rights liability), Plaintiffs also allege three claims premised on California law, including wrongful death/negligence in violation of California Code of Civil Procedure §§ 377.60 and 377.61, for failure to provide equal accommodations under California Civil Code § 52.1, and for negligent hiring, retention, supervision and discipline against Defendants County and Moore.

Plaintiffs now move for summary adjudication as to their deliberate indifference, negligence, Monell, and familial association claims. Defendants move for summary judgment as to the case in its entirety. Consequently, Defendants do not seek dismissal of individual claims by way of summary adjudication, although they do seek wholesale dismissal of ...

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