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Appeals court upholds judgment against county, director

Olmsted County officials are pondering their next move after the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a nearly $1 million judgment against the county and the former director of the Olmsted County Adult Detention Center.

In a 2-1 decision, a panel of appeals court judges ruled on April 26 that former detention center director Steven VonWald falsely assured an Olmsted County District Court judge in 2003 of his ability to handle Phillip David Schaub's medical care. The Post-Bulletin just learned of the ruling this week.

"Obviously we disagree with their decision, and we're evaluating our options," said Gregory Griffiths, the Rochester attorney who represented the county and former detention center director Steven VonWald.

The county has asked for a review of the appeals court ruling by the full 11-member court, but that has been denied, County Attorney Mark Ostrem said this week. The county can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but that decision would have to be made by the Olmsted County Board, he said.

If the county doesn't proceed with an appeal, the county would cover the payment of damages for VonWald because he was acting as a public official, Ostrem said. The county is self-insured, he said, and has a fund set aside to cover liabilities such as this one.


Schaub was awarded $964,000 in damages in 2009 by a federal court judge in the Twin Cities. The county appealed that ruling to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

In ruling against VonWald, the appeals court concluded that he took no steps to acquire a pressure-relieving mattress for Schaub, who developed bed sores. Multiple surgeries were needed to close the sores, which took at least four years to heal, according to court documents. During that time, the judges concluded, Schaub endured significant pain and could not work.

Schaub was placed in a cell without grab bars or a shower he could use. As a result, he went five days without bathing or having his wound dressings changed, the judges concluded.

In the minority opinion, Judge C. Arlen Beam wrote that, while unfortunate, none of the medical issues Beam suffered were the result of breaches of duty by VonWald. Beam also refuted the majority's claim that VonWald's testimony to the district court judge showed deliberate indifference.

Beam also wrote that there was little evidence that a judge's order requiring Schaub to remain in jail rather than be allowed home detention was based on VonWald not telling the judge that  pressure-relieving mattresses were barred from the detention center.

The ruling places Eighth Amendment duties not previously recognized on jail administrators, Beam added, requiring them to provide immediate, personal, hands-on care to detainees who have been entrusted to medical professionals. The Eighth Amendment forbids the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment.


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