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March 6, 2013

Appeals court clears county in lawsuit

A federal appeals court has upheld a judgment in favor of Hunt County, which had been sued by the parents of a boy who fell victim to a serious illness while detained at the Hunt County Juvenile Detention Center.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District Tuesday affirmed the summary judgment granted in the case where Donna and Mark Clyce alleged the center violated their son’s constitutional right to medical care.

“We affirm because the Clyces have failed to present evidence that C.C.’s injuries were caused by a Hunt County policy,” according to the ruling.

The Clyces originally sued Hunt County, the Juvenile Board and individual detention officers in state district court, which granted summary judgment in favor of all of the defendants. The Clyces then appealed the granting of summary judgment only involving the county and the juvenile board to the federal court.

According to the suit, 13 year-old C.C. had been placed on probation in Ellis County and was admitted to the Detention Center in Hunt County on Feb. 25, 2008 after violating the terms of his probation.

 Several days later, on March 4, 2008, C.C. began complaining of leg and hip pain. Detention Center staff scheduled a March 10 appointment with a physician.

 In the interim, C.C. continued to complain that he was in pain, did not eat his meals, and did not leave his room for scheduled activities.

On March 8, 2008  Donna Clyce visited C.C. at the Detention Center, was concerned about her son’s poor physical condition, and requested that detention officers take him to an emergency room.

The staff contacted the on-call probation officer from Ellis County, who according to Ellis County gave permission to take C.C. to the emergency room if needed.

The center staff said, however, they were instructed by the probation officer not to take C.C. to the emergency room unless his condition worsened and because he was scheduled to see a physician in two days.

“In any case, the staff did not take C.C. to an emergency room,” the appeals court ruling noted. “Instead, he was seen two days later by a physician during the previously scheduled appointment, and C.C. was diagnosed with a bruised hip, bruised ribs, a muscle pull, and an arm fracture. It is now known that the physician failed to diagnose a life-threatening methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection.”

C.C. was transported back to the detention center, where his condition continued to worsen. His sister visited and again asked that C.C. be taken to an emergency room and again the staff declined.

“However, the next day, on March 12, C.C. was transported out of the Detention Center for a court hearing, and his Ellis County probation officer observed C.C.’s physical condition,” the ruling said. “That officer diverted him to an emergency room. C.C. was  eventually diagnosed with the MRSA infection and underwent several extensive surgeries.”

The Clyces sued, seeking damages and claiming Hunt County had instituted a policy whereby employees continually ignored C.C.’s requests for medical attention.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the individual detention officers, holding that they were entitled to qualified immunity from suit in their individual capacities.

The district court also granted summary judgment in favor of Hunt County, holding that the Clyces offered no evidence that a Hunt County policy caused C.C.’s injuries.

In opposition to the summary judgment, the Clyces introduced evidence of the progression of C.C.’s illness, the requests for treatment and the Detention Center’s delay in providing the treatment.

“The Clyces offered no evidence regarding the training received by detention officers, whether it was inadequate, or whether specific additional training should have been offered,” according to the ruling. “Hunt County introduced evidence establishing that the Detention Center was in compliance with all state-law requirements, including those regarding health care and the qualifications and certification of employees, during the relevant time periods and that the Detention Center had a number of policies and procedures related to the provision of health care to detainees.”

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