Braillard v. Maricopa County – 5/27/2010

July 1, 2010

Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two Holds That the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Is a Nonjural Entity Which Cannot Be Sued Separately From the County, That An Adult Child Does Not Have Standing to Bring a Wrongful Death Action Under § 1983, and That Plaintiffs May Claim Punitive Damages Under § 1983.

Jennifer Braillard brought a wrongful death and survival action under state law and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Maricopa County, Maricopa County Sheriff Joseph Arpaio, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), and seven individual MCSO and County employees, for damages arising from the death of her mother while she was held in jail on suspicion of drug possession. MCSO employees at the jail failed to ascertain that Braillard’s mother was an insulin-dependent diabetic. Braillard’s mother did not receive medical attention for her diabetes for four days while in jail and died 18 days after being hospitalized. Braillard brought her action in her individual capacity and on behalf of her mother’s estate. The superior court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment with respect to Braillard’s § 1983 claims. Braillard appealed, and the defendants filed a cross-appeal regarding discovery issues and the trial court’s refusal to grant summary judgment that the MCSO was a nonjural entity and that Braillard did not have standing to bring a wrongful death action under § 1983.

As a matter of first impression, the Court held that the MCSO is a nonjural entity and cannot be separately sued from the county and that the MCSO should therefore be dismissed from the case. The Court held that Braillard, as an adult child, did not have individual standing to bring a wrongful death action under § 1983 because she had failed to allege a violation of a constitutionally protected right. The Arizona Appeals Court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The Court held that Braillard had alleged sufficient facts that a jury could find that MCSO employees, Sheriff Arpaio, and Maricopa County were liable under § 1983. The Court rejected the MCSO’s claims of qualified immunity, holding that pretrial detainees have a right to adequate medical care. The Court held that punitive damages claims under § 1983 were not precluded under Arizona law and that Braillard was also entitled to claim damages for her mother’s pain and suffering. The Court also affirmed the trial court’s rejection of the defendants’ argument that Braillard’s mother’s refusal to disclose her illness was a proximate cause of her death. The Court affirmed the trial court’s discovery rulings, holding that the Defendants were not entitled to production of the Braillard’s mother’s computer and that the employment records of Braillard’s expert witness on the standard of care were irrelevant and that the trial court was justified in quashing the defendants’ subpoena of the employment records.

Judge Vásquez authored the opinion; Judges Eckerstrom and Brammer concurred.