In Castro v. County of Los Angeles, published May 1, 2015, a divided panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in party a jury verdict in a 42 U.S.C. section 1983 action against the defendant county and two deputies arising out of an inmate's injuries at the hands of another inmate when both were placed in a sobering cell. The court affirmed the jury verdict against the deputy who placed a violent inmate in the cell with the plaintiff and the deputy who allegedly failed to respond to the plaintiff pounding on the cell door or a volunteer's statement to the deputy that the violent inmate was inappropriately touching the plaintiff. Whether the deputies violated the inmate's due process rights by being deliberately indifferent to a known risk of substantial harm was a question of fact. The court also affirmed the jury's award of punitive damages against the inmates, holding that a finding of deliberate indifference was indistinguishable from the finding of "reckless disregard" necessary to support an award of punitive damages.
But the majority ruled that the jury's verdict holding the county liable was reversed. To find Monell liability against an entity defendant, the plaintiff must prove that the entity's custom or policy violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights and injured him. The county's choice of the jail cell's design was a policy decision for purposes of Monell liability. But the plaintiff failed to prove that the county's choice of that design was deliberately indifferent to a known substantial risk of inmate harm. The existence of a state regulation regarding sobering cell design at most might establish constructive notice, which is insufficient for deliberate-indifference liability. A concurring judge opined that the jail cell's design was insufficient ground for finding a policy under Monell, and a dissenting judge opined that the plaintiff had proven deliberate indifference.