Cedric J. Smith, Plaintiff-Appellant,
United States of America, Defendant-Appellee.
April 18, 2017
from the United States District Court for the Central
District of Illinois. No. 4:14-cv-4009 - Harold A. Baker,
EASTERBROOK, KANNE, and ROVNER, Circuit Judges.
ROVNER, Circuit Judge.
Smith brought suit against the federal government under the
Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671, et
seq., for injuries he sustained when he fell off a stool
at the federal courthouse in Rock Island, Illinois. Smith
relies on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur to impute
negligence to the government. The district court concluded
that Smith had not made a showing sufficient to trigger the
res ipsa loquitur inference of negligence. R. 12. We find to
the contrary and reverse and remand for further proceedings.
case was decided on summary judgment, we take the facts in
the light most favorable to Smith. E.g., Vega v. New
Forest Home Cemetery, LLC, 856 F.3d 1130, 1131 (7th Cir.
morning of January 18, 2013, Smith was transported from the
Rock Island County Jail to the U.S. District Courthouse in
Rock Island to be arraigned on a federal weapons charge.
Following the arraignment before Judge Darrow, deputy U.S.
marshals took Smith to an interview room so that he could
meet with his appointed counsel to discuss the case.
U.S. Marshals Service maintains two secure attorney interview
rooms in the courthouse where lawyers may confer with clients
who are in the government's custody. The Marshals Service
inspects the furniture and equipment in the rooms on a weekly
basis. The room to which Smith was taken is divided in half
by a wall with a large screened opening that enables the
lawyer sitting on one side of the screen to speak with his
(detained) client sitting on the other. On the detainee's
side of the room there is a metal stool attached to the wall
by means of a swing-arm that permits the stool to be
positioned in front of the wire screen or moved out of the
way to accommodate a detainee in a wheelchair. The Marshals
Service controls access to the room, escorting a detainee
like Smith into his side of the room and separately buzzing
the attorney into the other half of the room by means of an
electronic lock. Typically, a detainee's handcuffs are
removed when he is brought into the room, but his leg irons
are left in place.
to Smith, when he entered the interview room and sat down on
the stool (which was already positioned in front of the
screen), the stool "broke" and tilted backwards,
with the front of the stool rising and the back descending,
causing him to fall to the floor and strike his head. As he
looked up from the floor at the underside of the stool, he
could see that there were bolts missing. When he tried to
balance himself on the stool as he lifted himself from the
floor, it wobbled again.
attorney summoned a court security officer to help Smith, and
he was sent back to the Rock Island County Jail with
instructions that he be seen immediately by the jail nurse.
When the nurse examined Smith and noted that his speech was
slurred, she arranged for him to be taken to the emergency
room at a local hospital. There he was treated for a stroke.
By his own account, Smith continues to suffer a variety of
adverse effects from the incident, including weakness on the
left side of his body, difficulty speaking, headaches, and
avers that when he returned to the Rock Island courthouse at
a later date and used the same interview room, he examined
the stool and found that it had been welded into place. The
stool no longer wobbled.
filed an administrative tort claim against the Marshals
Service alleging that the stool was broken on January 18,
2013, and that he had fallen and struck his head as a result.
That claim was denied.
then brought suit against the government under the
FTCA. The district court recruited counsel to
represent him pro bono. Smith asserted multiple claims below,
but the sole claim that he pursues on appeal is one of
ordinary negligence. That claim is premised on the theory
that the government breached the duty of care that it owed to
Smith to maintain reasonably safe premises at the courthouse
and in particular to keep the stool in the interview room in
a condition safe for use. Smith relied on the doctrine of res
ipsa loquitur to impute negligence to the government. Smith
reasoned that the government (through the Marshals Service)
controlled access to the room; that it inspected the
equipment in the room and was responsible for maintenance of
that equipment, including the stool; and that the ...