5th Circuit Finds County Not Liable for inmate's death

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a federal district court’s grant of summary judgment holding Harris County was not liable for the death of an inmate who punched a detention officer prompting a responsive punch.  The inmate fell, struck his head on a concrete ledge and died. The Court of Appeals reaffirmed the principle that counties may not be liable under civil rights claims on the basis of vicarious liability.  The Court said that respondeat superior liabilty was expressly prohibited in these type of cases and counties may be liable onely where “the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body’s officers.”

The Court found the plaintiffs had not produced evidence of prior acts by Harris County similar to those alleged to establish an official policy of the County sufficient to establish a practice or policy.  Accordingly the Fifth Circuit affirmed the granting of summary judgment rejecting all claims against Harris County.


The case is Hicks v Harris County.