Court Opinion: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion for Sept. 7

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

Wright v. City of Ponca City, et al.

Gary Schauer suffered a neck injury during an altercation outside a tavern in Ponca City, Oklahoma. When emergency medical technicians employed by Ponca City arrived on the scene, Schauer told them he couldn’t move his left arm or his legs. The EMTs loaded Schauer into an ambulance without stabilizing his spine, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion said. During this process, Schauer’s head “flopped” forward. He died a few days later “as a direct result of his spinal cord injuries.”

Leasa Wright, special administrator of Schauer’s estate, brought this 42 U.S. Code 1983 suit against the EMTs and Ponca City. Wright claimed the EMTs violated Schauer’s right to substantive due process when they, knowing Schauer had a possible spinal cord injury, moved him without a cervical collar and backboard. She asserted Ponca City failed to adequately train its EMTs in the handling of patients with suspected spinal injuries, specifically including intoxicated individuals.

Upon the defendants’ motions, the district court concluded Wright’s amended complaint failed to state a claim for relief. It ruled the facts set out in the amended complaint neither shocked the judicial conscience nor implicated a fundamental right and didn’t amount to a violation of Schauer’s right to substantive due process. Absent any underlying constitutional violation on the part of its employees, the district court decided Wright’s claim against Ponca City also failed.

Wright appealed, asserting the district court erred in dismissing the amended complaint. Exercising jurisdiction, a district court out of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, affirmed the district court’s order of dismissal, although the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals did so for reasons different than those employed by the district court, citing the 10th Circuit opinion Brooks v. Colo. Dep’t of Corr. The 10th Circuit concluded, even assuming the amended complaint stated a viable violation of Schauer’s right to substantive due process, any such violation wasn’t clearly established, the EMTs are entitled to qualified immunity, the opinion noted. The 10th Circuit further concluded Wright’s complaint failed to state a plausible failure-to-train claim against Ponca City.

After evaluation, the 10th Circuit affirmed the order of the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma dismissing the amended complaint.

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