The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed a favorable summary judgment disposition and jury award involving a woman who was shackled while giving birth after she was caught driving without a license and processed through a 287(g) program. Villegas v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, No. 11-6031, slip op. (6th Cir. Mar. 4, 2013) (Clay, Gibbons, and White, JJ.). Judge Clay delivered the panel’s majority opinion. Judge White dissented.
This case involves a woman who was pulled over for a traffic offense. When she failed to produce a driver’s license, the officer arrested her, took her to the county jail, and processed her identification information through the county’s 287(g) program. ICE then placed an immigration detainer on her. As a result of the detainer, the county jail classified her as a medium-security inmate. Villegas, No. 11-6031, slip op. at 2. Two days later Villegas went into labor and an ambulance was called to take her to the local hospital.
What happened next is startling so I’ll quote at length:
For transportation in the ambulance, Plaintiff was placed on a stretcher with her wrists handcuffed together in front of her body and her legs restrained together. According to Defendant Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, because hospitals are “conducive to security breaches including escape,” medium-security inmates at hospitals remain shackled until they return to jail. Two male officers (Matthew Barshaw and Thomas Farragher) accompanied Plaintiff in the ambulance to the Hospital with Barshaw riding in the front seat and Farragher in the back with Plaintiff. Barshaw questioned his supervisor about the leg restraints because “what if all of a sudden the baby started [and it] took more time to unrestrain these restraints in the back of the ambulance.”
Upon arriving at the Hospital, Farragher removed Plaintiff’s shackles at the request of Hospital staff so that Plaintiff could change into a hospital gown. Barshaw and Farragher remained in the room with Plaintiff with their backs turned as she changed, and after she finished, they again restrained her. Shortly after Plaintiff arrivedat the Hospital, officer Brandi Moore arrived to relieve Barshaw and Farragher. Farragher informed Moore that Plaintiff was a “medium-security inmate” with a “hold” or “detainer” in her file and gave Moore a “charge sheet,” indicating Plaintiff’s name, charge, and custody level. After Farragher and Barshaw left, Moore removed Plaintiff’s handcuffs but kept one of Plaintiff’s legs restrained to the hospital bed.
At some point during Moore’s shift, Moore overheard Hospital staff talking to a doctor about a “No Restraint Order” but claims that she never received such an order from the Hospital. Additionally, Moore admitted to having been told by a nurse that she “shouldn’t put leg irons on [Plaintiff],” but the conversation ended there. At 11:20 p.m., a Hospital doctor signed a physician’s order stating: “Please remove shackles,” and this order was placed in Plaintiff’s hospital file, though never specifically given to any officer. Moore was relieved by officer David Peralta at 11:00 p.m. on June 5th and told Peralta to “be prepared for a no restraint order.”
Shortly after the shift change, Peralta removed Plaintiff’s restraints. According to hospital records, when the shackles were removed, Plaintiff had only dilated to 3 centimeters (“cm”). Plaintiff did not become dilated to 4 cm, a point that Defendant contends is medically relevant, until 11:45 p.m. It was around this time that Plaintiff also first requested pain medication, which she received in the form of an epidural. Plaintiff gave birth without any complications at approximately 1:00 a.m on July 6, 2008—roughly two hours after Peralta removed her shackles. Plaintiff remained unshackled until shortly before Peralta’s shift ended at 7:00 a.m., when he re-restrained Plaintiff to the bed at one of her ankles. Plaintiff was never handcuffed postpartum”
Villegas, No. 11-6031, slip op. at 3-4
In addition, Villegas was not allowed to take a breast pump issued by the hosital to the jail because it was not deemed a “critical medical device. Villegas, No. 11-6031, slip op. at 4.
The federal district court granted Villegas’s summary judgment motion claiming that the jail staff were deliberately indifferent to her need to be unrestrained while in labor and to her postpartum medical needs by denying her access to the breast pump. Both are claims that fall within the Eight Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. Villegas, No. 11-6031, slip op. at 5-6. A jury awarded her $200,000 in damages. Villegas, No. 11-6031, slip op. at 5.
The Sixth Circuit reversed the trial court’s summary judgment disposition. First, the court concluded that there exists a factual dispute about whether Villegas posed a risk of flight. If she did, then, as the court recounted, restraints would be consistent with American Medical Association and United Nations standards regarding custody. Villegas, No. 11-6031, slip op. at 15. In addition, the court concluded that there remains a factual dispute about the risk posted by shackling. Villegas, No. 11-6031, slip op. at 18.
Secondly, the court concluded that there was no evidence indicating that the breast pump was issued as part of a treatment plan. Villegas, No. 11-6031, slip op. at 22. The evidence showed “little more than the fact that Hospital staff handed her a breast pump as she was being discharged.” Villegas, No. 11-6031, slip op. at 22. Testimony from a psychiatrist and an ob/gyn “that a breast pump was necessary to allow Plaintiff to express her milk and relieve her breast pain,” the court explained, “does not speak specifically to the obviousness of the risk to Plaintiff” of being denied access to the breast pump. Villegas, No. 11-6031, slip op. at 22. Therefore, summary judgment on this issue was also inappropriate.
In a spirited dissent, Judge White pointed out that Villegas was treated in this manner for no reason except that her immigration status automatically subjected her to a medium-security classification under the theory “that illegal immigrants in general pose a danger of flight.” Villegas, No. 11-6031, slip op. at 26 (White, J., dissenting). It was not based on any assessment of Villegas’s flight risk or danger to the public. Villegas, No. 11-6031, slip op. at 26 (White, J., dissenting). Indeed, “[i]n order to flee or pose a threat, Villegas would have had to harm or elude armed officer(s) and the nurse authorizing entry and exit from the maternity ward charged with unlocking the doors.” Villegas, No. 11-6031, slip op. at 27 (White, J., dissenting).
Update: The New York Times reported on October 18, 2013 that Villegas reached a settlement with the county and that a federal judge recommended she be allowed to remain in the United States.