Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western
District of Texas
HIGGINBOTHAM, SMITH, and HIGGINSON, Circuit Judges.
E. SMITH, Circuit Judge.
patrolling the administrative segregation unit of a state
prison, Officer John Calhoun saw that inmate Richard Tavara
was hanging from a noose around his neck with a bedsheet
suspended from the ceiling sprinkler head. Because he was
unable to see Tavara's feet through the small window in
the cell door, Calhoun could not tell whether Tavara was
actually hanging and in need of medical assistance or was
staging suicide to draw officers into the cell for an ambush.
Instead of rushing into a potentially dangerous situation,
Calhoun immediately summoned backup and waited for his
supervisor to determine when it was safe to open the door. By
the time the officers entered the cell nearly seven minutes
later, Tavara was dead.
Arenas sued Calhoun in his individual capacity under 42
U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that he had violated her
son's Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual
punishment. The district court granted summary judgment for
Calhoun. Because his actions did not amount to deliberate
indifference, we affirm.
struggled with severe depression throughout his twenty-four
years. He dropped out of high school, had trouble sleeping,
and often refused to eat. After he attempted suicide in 2008
by cutting himself, Tavara was diagnosed with bipolar
disorder and hospitalized for about six weeks. He moved to
Georgia to work on a construction project with his brother
and, while there, was convicted of robbery by intimidation
and sentenced to three years in prison.
stood five feet, five inches tall and weighed 150 pounds. He
had no incarcerations, gang affiliation, or violent
disciplinary history. Upon entering the Georgia Department of
Corrections ("GDOC"), he received a routine
physical and mental health examination. The psychologist
found that Tavara had not taken any medication in the past
two years and appeared stable. As a result, he was classified
as a "Level I" mental health inmate, indicating
that no mental health services were necessary. When Tavara
was transferred to Smith State Prison, the intake sheet
showed that he had no chronic medical problems, was taking no
medications, and was not a mental health patient.
December 2014, Tavara complained of chest pains and was
examined by medical staff. Having refused to go to the
hospital or return to the general-population dormitory, he
was temporarily placed in administrative segregation pending
further investigation. The following evening, Calhoun was in
charge of monitoring Tavara's cellblock. Standing five
feet, eleven inches tall and weighing 180 pounds, Calhoun was
equipped with a stab-proof vest and a can of pepper spray.
Calhoun had never seen Tavara before his shift and knew
nothing of his mental issues or why he had been placed in
about 10:49 p.m., Calhoun discovered Tavara with the noose
around his neck. Though the noose appeared "pretty
tight," Calhoun was unable to see Tavara's feet
through the small window in the cell door. Because Tavara
might have been standing on a bed or a pile of books, Calhoun
could not be sure whether the apparent suicide was genuine or
feigned. Rather than rush headlong into a precarious
situation, Calhoun immediately made four radio calls for
assistance. Upon being assured that help was on its way,
Calhoun retrieved the key to Tavara's cell from the
control room. Unbeknownst to Calhoun, however, the officer at
the control room had mistakenly handed him the wrong key.
Over the next few minutes, Calhoun paced the cellblock and
completed some paperwork while awaiting backup.
around 10:54, Sergeant Mark Shelby appeared and began to yell
and pound on the cell door in an effort to get Tavara to
respond. When Officer Adam Haas came about ten seconds later,
Calhoun returned to his desk to fetch the key that he had
inadvertently left there. Lieutenant Marvin Dickson then
arrived, assessed the scene, and ordered the cell door
opened. After unsuccessfully trying to unlock the door,
Calhoun realized he had the wrong key and ran to the control
room to collect the correct one. Nearly seven minutes after
Calhoun first saw Tavara hanging, the officers finally
entered the cell. They removed Tavara from the noose,
attempted CPR, notified emergency medical services, and
videotaped their actions in accordance with prison policy.
But by then, it was too late to resuscitate Tavara.
sued in the Western District of Texas, where Calhoun was then
residing. As proof of deliberate indifference to her
son's serious medical needs, Arenas alleged Calhoun had
flouted a GDOC standard operating procedure that requires an
officer to "call for backup . . . and then immediately
cut down the hanging inmate . . . and initiate CPR
procedures." Ga. Dep't of Corr., Standard Operating
Procedures VG68-0001, at 12 (2005). Calhoun insisted that the
policy was inapplicable and that he was instead required to
wait for at least one other officer before entering
filed a motion to dismiss, which the district court denied.
After discovery, Calhoun moved for summary judgment on the
underlying merits and on the basis of qualified immunity
("QI"). The court granted summary judgment for
Calhoun because, before that evening, he had lacked
subjective knowledge of a substantial risk to Tavara's
life. Additionally, the court held that Calhoun's
response to the suicide did not amount to deliberate
indifference but was, at most, grossly negligent.
review a summary judgment de novo, applying the same
standards as the district court. Milton v. Tex. Dep't
of Criminal Justice, 707 F.3d 570, 572 (5th Cir. 2013).
We construe all facts and inferences in the light most
favorable to the nonmovant. Id.
Eighth Amendment prohibits "cruel and unusual
punishments." Bucklew v. Precythe, 139 S.Ct.
1112, 1123 (2019). Originally it was understood to
"proscribe tortures and other barbarous methods of
punishment" but was extended to ban "punishments
which are incompatible with the evolving standards of decency
that mark the progress of a maturing society" or
"involve the unnecessary and wanton infliction of
pain." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102-03
(1976) (cleaned up). Though the "Constitution does not
mandate comfortable prisons," "prison officials
must ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing,
shelter, and medical care, and . . . take reasonable measures
to guarantee the safety of the inmates." Farmer v.
Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (citations and
internal quotation marks omitted).
prevail on an Eighth Amendment claim, an inmate must
establish two elements. First, he must demonstrate that the
alleged deprivation was objectively serious, exposing him
"to a substantial risk of serious harm" and
resulting "in the denial of the minimal civilized
measure of life's necessities."Second, an inmate
must prove that the official possessed "a subjectively
culpable state of mind" in that he exhibited
"deliberate indifference to serious medical
indifference is an extremely high standard to meet."
Domino v. Tex. Dep't of Criminal Justice, 239
F.3d 752, 756 (5th Cir. 2001). A prison official displays
deliberate indifference only if he (1) "knows that
inmates face a substantial risk of serious bodily harm"
and (2) "disregards that risk by failing to take
reasonable measures to abate it." Gobert, 463
F.3d at 346 (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 847).
Medical treatment that is merely unsuccessful or negligent
does not constitute deliberate indifference, "nor does a
prisoner's disagreement with his medical treatment,
absent exceptional circumstances."Rather, an inmate
"must show that the officials 'refused to treat him,
ignored his complaints, intentionally treated him
incorrectly, or engaged in any similar conduct that would
clearly evince a wanton disregard for any serious medical
is an objectively serious harm implicating the state's
duty to provide adequate medical care. See Hare v. City
of Corinth, 74 F.3d 633, 644 (5th Cir. 1996) (en banc).
Calhoun acknowledges that he knew Tavara faced a substantial
risk of harm upon seeing him with a ligature around his neck.
Thus, the only question is whether ...