Callahan v. North Carolina Department of Public Safety, No. 20-1410 (4th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Sergeant Callahan was a shift supervisor at Bertie Correction Institution (BCI). Wissink, a murderer serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, was housed in the medium custody unit that she supervised. Callahan wrote a disciplinary report for Wissink. Later that day, Wissink started a trashcan fire. Callahan put the fire out with a fire extinguisher. Wissink then threw boiling liquid, that he had heated up in the microwave, in Callahan’s face. After Callahan fell, Wissink grabbed her fire extinguisher and repeatedly beat her with it. Callahan died from the attack. Callahan’s father sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violation of his daughter’s substantive due process rights, alleging that approximately a week before Callahan’s murder, Wissink warned “BCI officials that he had homicidal thoughts and needed help for his mental health conditions” but no one at BCI took any action and Wissink remained in medium custody. Callahan alleged that BCI’s policies required four officers per shift but on the day of the murder, only three officers were on duty and only Callahan was fully trained, so state-created danger led to Sergeant Callahan’s death.
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Callahan’s complaint. A plaintiff alleging state-created danger must plausibly allege more than a mere failure to protect. The substantive due process claim failed to adequately allege how the individual defendants created or substantially enhanced the danger which resulted in Callahan’s death and failed to plead “intent to harm.”