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Tyson v. Keller

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division

December 11, 2018





         This case is before me on defendants' motion (Doc. No. 19) for summary judgment. Plaintiff James Tyson has not filed a resistance and the time to do so has expired. Oral argument is not necessary. See N.D. Ia. L. R. 7(c).


         Tyson has filed multiple pro se cases in Iowa's federal courts. On April 25, 2018, I entered an initial review order (Doc. No. 2) on three of Tyson's cases (C18-0013-LTS, C18-0039-LTS, C18-0045-LTS). In that order, I granted Tyson's application to proceed in forma pauperis, found that the complaint in C18-0013-LTS should be dismissed as frivolous and ordered that the remaining two cases be consolidated. Doc. No. 2 at 6-8. Regarding the consolidated complaint, I allowed Tyson's suit to proceed on a claim that his due process rights have been infringed related to his mental health treatment:

In the supplemental complaint from C18-0045-LTS, Tyson states that the defendants gave “false statements” that caused him to be civilly committed as a mental health patient. Tyson also complains about increased medication as a result of this “commitment” and states that he has the right “to refuse chemical treatment.” However, I note that Tyson is not civilly committed. He is an inmate serving a sentence for attempted murder at the Anamosa State Penitentiary. See Tyson v. State, 2017 WL 363224 (Iowa Ct. App. 2017); James Charles Tyson, Sr., Iowa Department of Corrections, Offender Information, 1035241, last accessed on April 23, 2018.
I assume Tyson is referring to a prison determination that he was in need of mental health treatment or transfer to a mental health unit. Regardless, he is correct that in some situations prisoners have the right to refuse treatment, and that they also have a due process interest in having forced mental health treatment comport with constitutional safeguards. See Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210 (1990) (noting a liberty interest in avoiding unwanted medical treatment); see also Green v. Dormire, 691 F.3d 917, 923 (8th Cir. 2012) (analyzing a prisoner's claim that transfer to a mental health unit and forced medication violated his due process rights). At this early stage of the case, a plausible claim must be allowed to proceed. There is no indication in Tyson's complaint about what process was used regarding his alleged transfer and forced use of psychotropic medication, except his allegation that “false statements” were used against him. Accordingly, I will allow Tyson's claim that his due process rights have been infringed related to his mental heath treatment to proceed past initial review.

Doc. No. 2 at 7-8. I directed the Clerk of Court to file the pro se complaint from CR18-0045-LTS as a supplemental complaint in CR18-0039-LTS.[1]

         On June 25, 2018, defendants filed an answer (Doc. No. 11) denying Tyson's claims and asserting various immunities. Defendants then filed their motion for summary judgment.


         The following facts are undisputed:[2]

Tyson is an inmate at the Anamosa State Penitentiary (ASP) in Anamosa, Iowa, serving a 40-year sentence for Attempted Murder, Assault on an Employee of a Correction Facility and Habitual Offender. Doc. No. 19-3 at 3. However, from March 6 to March 27, 2018, Tyson was transferred to the Iowa Medical and Classification Center (IMCC) in Coralville, Iowa. Id. at 4. Dr. Gary Keller is a psychiatrist at IMCC and Matthew Sperfslage is a social worker at IMCC. Doc. No. 19-2 at ¶ 3. Both defendants were involved with the court-ordered involuntary medication at the center of Tyson's complaint.

         Tyson has a history of chronic mental health diagnoses dating back to the early 1990s. Doc. No. 21 at 3.[3] On March 6, 2018, Sperfslage filed an Application in the Johnson County District Court to have Tyson civilly committed under Iowa Code chapter 229. Id. at 6-7. A statement from Dr. Keller in support of the petition was attached in accordance with Iowa Code § 229.6(c)(1). Id. at 8-9; see generally In re James Charles Tyson, Sr., No. 06521 MHMH015845 (Johnson Cnty., Iowa). Dr. Keller described the basis for civil commitment as follows:

Mr. Tyson while at Anamosa has been followed regularly by our mental health staff. Over the course of time he has been noted to struggle with compliance, an issue noted during his prior incarceration culminating in 2008 with a commitment. He has struggled with receiving behavioral reports while in the system, most recently 8 major reports and 23 minor reports this past year. He is noted that at the timing of the reports he has often had stretches of non-compliance with medication. Most recently concerns about his overall well-being ar[ose] again this December. On 12/12/2017 as part of a minor report sanction, he was asked to write an essay and what he turned in was delusional loose thoughts about religion and sexual connotations. In turn, he became agitated when confronted about this on 12/13/2017 and ended up on mental health status after he became agitated, broke his desk, and threaten[ed] to kill people saying he was “Al-Qaeda.” It was noted that 11 of the 13 days before that incident he had not been taking medications. Following that, he had a period of improved compliance and it appeared his symptoms did improve. With the end of December he complained again that the medications were making him sleepy, and had been skipping doses again of it, so in hopes of more consistent compliance his dose was lowered hoping that he would be consistent about taking it. He has been intermittent with compliance since then, noting 11 missed doses in January, 8 missed doses in February, and now already one dose in March.
Most recently, and what has prompted his transfer back to [IMCC] today, Mr. Tyson received a report for having 2 shanks found in his cell. It was noted in that same day he had been complaining about feeling like another offender had been in his cell and he was going to figure out who it was. In turn, he threatened to hurt the person when he found out. It was later that day they found 2 toothbrush handles with razors attached to them. He proceeded to become threatening and upset when he was placed in a security segregation status after this and threatened to fight everybody when handcuffs were removed. It was noted that he had refused 2 days of medication preceding the incident.
In talking with him today about his mental illness, he denied that he really has a mental illness, and believes he is normal. He reported that he has been taking medic actions since 1996 and he will only take the low dose of the medications, or he won't take it at all. He reports he “sleeps all the time” when on more medications. He agreed that he believes people were messing with his stuff in his cell, and denies anything about the shanks. I did attempt to explain my concerns reviewing his history with him and current events, and he cut me off again stating that he will only take this dose as he “knows his body” and this is what works for him.
In all, Mr. Tyson has a long history of mental illness, and a long history of aggression, assaults, and violent behavior. With this, he has a history of mental health and non-compliance with treatment of such. In the past he has been committed due to his non-compliance and dangerousness. When appropriately treated with consistent medications, he has been manageable. Unfortunately, he continues to lack insight in to his medications and their effectiveness when taken regularly as demonstrated by his non-compliance followed by clear episodes of decompensation.

Id. at 8-9.

         A hearing was held before a Judicial Hospitalization Referee on March 9, 2018. Id. at 10. Tyson was represented by counsel at the hearing but refused to attend. Id. at 11. The Referee found by clear and convincing evidence that Tyson was “seriously mentally impaired.” Id. at 10. Specifically, she found that he was “unable to make reasonable decisions regarding his treatment” and that he “is a danger to himself and others in his current state” because of his mental illness. Id. Additionally, the Referee found that Tyson is “treatable with medications, if he is at a therapeutic dose.” Id. The hearing officer ordered that Tyson be placed for a complete psychiatric evaluation and ...

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