Crowson v. Washington County State, Utah, No. 19-4118 (10th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Martin Crowson was an inmate at the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility (the “Jail”) when he began suffering from symptoms of toxic metabolic encephalopathy. Nurse Michael Johnson and Dr. Judd LaRowe, two of the medical staff members responsible for Crowson’s care, wrongly concluded Crowson was experiencing drug or alcohol withdrawal. On the seventh day of medical observation, Crowson’s condition deteriorated and he was transported to the hospital, where he was accurately diagnosed. After Crowson recovered, he sued Johnson, LaRowe, and Washington County under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court denied motions for summary judgment on the issue of qualified immunity by Johnson and LaRowe, concluding a reasonable jury could find both were deliberately indifferent to Crowson’s serious medical needs, and that it was clearly established their conduct amounted to a constitutional violation. The district court also denied the County’s motion for summary judgment, concluding a reasonable jury could find the treatment failures were an obvious consequence of the County’s reliance on LaRowe’s infrequent visits to the Jail and the County’s lack of written protocols for monitoring, diagnosing, and treating inmates. Johnson, LaRowe, and the County filed consolidated interlocutory appeals, raising threshold questions of jurisdiction. Johnson and LaRowe challenged the denial of qualified immunity, while the County contended the Tenth Circuit should exercise pendent appellate jurisdiction to review the district court’s denial of its summary judgment motion. The Tenth Circuit exercised limited jurisdiction over Johnson’s and LaRowe’s appeals pursuant to the exception to 28 U.S.C. 1291, carved out for purely legal issues of qualified immunity through the collateral order doctrine. The Court held Johnson’s conduct did not violate Crowson’s rights and, assuming without deciding LaRowe’s conduct did, the Court concluded LaRowe’s conduct did not violate any clearly established rights. The Court's holding was "inextricably intertwined with the County’s liability on a failure-to-train theory," so the Court exercised pendent appellate jurisdiction to the extent Crowson’s claims against the County rested on that theory. However, under Tenth Circuit binding precedent, the Court's holdings on the individual defendants’ appeals were not inextricably intertwined with Crowson’s claims against the County to the extent he advanced a systemic failure theory. The district court's denial of summary judgment to Johnson, LaRowe, and the County on the failure-to-train theory was reversed, and the remainder of the County’s appeal was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.