Beck v. Hamblen County, No. 19-5428 (6th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Beck claims he was assaulted by other inmates while detained at the Hamblen County, Tennessee jail. He sued Sheriff Jarnagin under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Jarnagin had no direct involvement in Beck’s detention; section 1983 does not impose vicarious liability on supervisors for their subordinates’ actions. Beck argued that the overcrowded jail has repeatedly failed minimum standards; that Jarnagin has long known of its failures; and that Jarnagin has been deliberately indifferent to inmate safety. The Tennessee Corrections Institute has identified the jail’s failures in inspection reports that are sent to Jarnagin each year. The court denied Jarnagin qualified immunity on Beck’s Fourteenth Amendment claim, reasoning that pretrial detainees have a clearly established right to be free from a government official’s deliberate indifference to inmate assaults.
The Sixth Circuit reversed. Existing precedent would not have clearly signaled to Jarnagin that his responses to the overcrowding problem were so unreasonable as to violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Beck has no evidence suggesting that Jarnagin had any personal knowledge of Beck’s specific situation Jarnagin did make efforts “to abate” th3 general risk of inmate-on-inmate violence but did not have the power to allocate more taxpayer dollars to the safety problems. The court noted that Beck’s suit against Hamblen County remains viable.