PORTLAND, Maine — A portion of a wrongful death lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by the mother of an inmate who committed suicide while incarcerated at the Cumberland County Jail in 2008 will go forward after the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month upheld a decision by a federal judge in Maine.
Paul Victor Galambos III, 26, was found dead in a cell in the jail’s medical unit on Dec. 12, 2008, according to document filed in U.S. District Court in Portland. His death was ruled a suicide caused by deep leg vein thrombosis caused by self-inflicted blunt force trauma on Dec. 8, 2008, when Galambos took a “swan dive” off a table in his cell on to the floor.
Galambos was classified as a pretrial detainee by the jail, according to court documents. He was arrested Aug. 3, 2008, on charges of robbery, refusal to submit to arrest and violation of a condition of bail. His history of mental illness and substance abuse was well-documented and known by jail officials and employees of the firm contracted by Cumberland County to provide health care at the jail.
On the second anniversary of his death, Galambos’ mother, Katherine M. Cady, 66, of West Buxton, sued the jail, Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce, corrections officers, Maine Medical Center, several doctors employed there and Corizon Inc., the St. Louis firm that provided health care for inmates, and its employees that interacted with Galambos. She is seeking an unspecified amount in damages and legal costs.
The appellate court in Boston upheld U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Torresen’s ruling dated June 4 that dismissed the lawsuit against the jail, sheriff and its employees and the hospital and its staff. She said that two counts against Corizon and three members of its staff members alleging that they were “deliberating indifferent” to Galambos’ condition should be decided by a jury.
One alleges that Corizon and its employees violated Galambos’ right to “a safe environment and protection from serious, life-threatening harm and injury, including that incurred by self-harm or self-mutilation, and guaranteed him treatment of his medical and psychiatric illnesses or injuries,” under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
The second alleges that, under the Maine Civil Rights Act, Galambos’ was denied his right to medical and mental health care and his right not to be punished cruelly nor unusually.
Attorneys for Corizon argued that the firm and its employees also should have been dismissed from the lawsuit as the county and its employees were under the qualified immunity laws because Corizon and its employees were acting as government employees.
“Qualified immunity protects government officials from lawsuits alleging they violated plaintiffs’ rights, only allowing suits where officials violated a ‘clearly established’ statutory or constitutional right,” according to information on the Cornell University Law School website. “When determining whether or not a right was ‘clearly established,’ courts considers whether a hypothetical reasonable officials would have known that the defendant’s conduct violated the plaintiff’s rights.”
The question of whether employees of a company contracted by a government entity to provide a service previously provided government employees are covered under Maine’s qualified immunity statute has not been addressed by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court or a federal judge in Maine.
Torresen endorsed the recommended decision of retired U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk.
“I agree with the magistrate judge’s prudent decision to assume for the sake of argument that the Corizon defendants are entitled to qualified immunity,” Torresen wrote. “I adopt her approach, and I agree with her conclusion for the reasons she states, that even if the Corizon defendants are entitled to raise a qualified immunity defense, their defense fails” at summary judgement phase of the litigation.
The next step will be for Torresen to set a trial date, Cady’s attorney, Eric Mehnert of Bangor, said last week.
Correction: In a previous version of this story, attorney Eric Mehnert’s name was misspelled.