Court of Appeals holds the county jail must provide mentally-ill inmates with discharge planning

The Court of Appeals has ruled that two ICE detainees at the Orange County Jail can sue County officials over the lack of any discharge planning. This case has two significant holdings relating to the constitutional rights of pretrial detainees and the government's obligation to ensure they are not put out on the street post-lockup without a medical plan.

The case is Charles v. Orange County, issued on May 24. Both plaintiffs suffer from ongoing mental illnesses. Immigration authorities sent them to the Orange County Jail, where they received treatment for their mental health issues, including medication. After plaintiffs prevailed in their immigration cases, they went home to New York City, but without any discharge planning from the jail, which caused plaintiffs to decompensate and otherwise "suffer[] serious mental health consequences."

Building upon the constitutional principle that jails must provide inmates with medical care ( Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976)), the Court of Appeals ( Lynch, Hall and Bolden [D.J.]) holds for the first time that jails must provide departing inmates with discharge planning. The Court says this planning constitutes "in-custody" care, which distinguishes this case from the those holding that the government owes you no medical obligations once you leave the facility. The point is that the discharge planning takes place before the inmate is released. The Court relies in part on guidelines from the American Psychiatric Association, which views discharge planning as part of in-custody care, as it "needs to begin as part of the initial treatment plan."

The Court also holds that the legal standard for cases like this holds the defendant jailers to an objective standard under the Fourteenth Amendment, and not the subjective standard under the Eighth Amendment. What does this mean? Convicted inmates who sue the jail for lousy medical treatment have to prove the defendants acted with subjective intent to harm the plaintiffs. This heightened evidentiary requirement recognizes the plaintiffs have already been convicted and have fewer rights than the rest of us. As for pre-trial detainees, however, they have not yet been convicted of anything, and therefore cannot be "punished" under the Constitution.

This means that plaintiffs' claim, alleging deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, will succeed if they prove either that "the defendants knew that failing to provide the complained of medical treatment would pose a substantial risk to his health or that the defendants should have known that failing to provide the omitted medical treatment would pose a substantial risk to the detainee's health." This standard is a new thing in the Second Circuit. In 2017, the Court of Appeals held in Darnell v. Piniero, 849 F.3d 17 (2d Cir. 2017), that pretrial detainees can win their cases if they show the defendant jailers knew or should have known the offensive jail conditions violated constitutional standards. (I briefed the appeal in Darnell). Darnell itself drew from a pro-plaintiff Supreme Court ruling, Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 1039 (2015), which said pre-trial detainees alleging excessive force can prevail under the objective standard. Darnell applied that logic to conditions-of-confinement claims, and Charles v. Orange County applies the same to medical treatment cases.