Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Health Law
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Catherine Brennan, after being prescribed psychotropic medications due to a stressful job transition, began to experience symptoms of akathisia, a neuropsychiatric syndrome associated with psychomotor restlessness often seen in individuals using antipsychotic medications. Despite having no prior history of mental illness, Brennan was treated by multiple providers and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, depression, and generalized anxiety disorder between 2015 and 2018. In 2019, Brennan was committed due to displaying signs of mental health decompensation. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder involving current manic episodes with psychotic features, suicidal ideations, and medication noncompliance. Brennan was committed for a period of six months. After this commitment, she commenced a federal action alleging wrongful commitment and unlawful forced medication, arguing that her symptoms were side effects of the prescribed medications and were mistaken for psychosis and mania.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, however, upheld the district court's dismissal of Brennan's claims. The court held that Brennan could not proceed with her wrongful commitment claim because her commitment order was still valid, as per the precedent set in Heck v. Humphrey and Thomas v. Eschen. Regarding Brennan's claim of forcible administration of neuroleptic medications, the court found that Brennan failed to show deliberate indifference on the part of the defendants. The court noted that deliberate indifference is more than negligence and requires a plaintiff to show that an objectively serious medical need was knowingly disregarded by the defendants. The court ruled that Brennan did not adequately plead deliberate indifference as she failed to identify how her care exceeded gross negligence or demonstrate when the defendants knew or should have known that her psychiatric problems were the result of akathisia and not mental illness. The court thus affirmed the district court's judgment dismissing Brennan's claims. View "Brennan v. Cass County Health" on Justia Law

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A pregnant inmate, Lidia Lech, filed a lawsuit against several healthcare providers and staff at the Western Massachusetts Regional Women's Correctional Center (WCC), alleging that they ignored her serious medical symptoms and denied her requests to go to the hospital, resulting in the stillbirth of her baby. The district court permitted most of Lech's claims to proceed to trial, but granted summary judgment in favor of one of the correctional officers. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defense. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit found that the district court abused its discretion in two evidentiary rulings. The first error was allowing the defense to use Lech's recorded phone calls to impugn her character for truthfulness. The second error was excluding testimony from Lech's friend, which would have corroborated her version of events. The court concluded that at least one of these evidentiary rulings was not harmless, vacated the jury verdict, and remanded for a new trial against most of the defendants. However, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the correctional officer, as well as the jury verdict in favor of one of the medical providers. View "Lech v. Von Goeler" on Justia Law

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A group of current and former inmates, or their representatives, filed a class action lawsuit against Kate Brown, the Governor of Oregon, and Patrick Allen, the Director of the Oregon Health Authority, claiming that the state's COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan, which prioritized corrections officers over inmates, violated their Eighth Amendment rights. The defendants moved to dismiss the claim, asserting immunity under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act. The district court denied the motion, and the defendants appealed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's decision, finding that the defendants were immune from liability for the vaccine prioritization claim under the PREP Act. The court held that the statutory requirements for PREP Act immunity were met because the "administration" of a covered countermeasure includes prioritization of that countermeasure when its supply is limited. The court further concluded that the PREP Act's provisions extend immunity to persons who make policy-level decisions regarding the administration or use of covered countermeasures. The court also held that the PREP Act provides immunity from suit and liability for constitutional claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, even if those claims are federal constitutional claims. View "MANEY V. BROWN" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska ruled that the extended pre-evaluation detentions of two individuals, Abigail B. and Jethro S., violated their substantive due process rights. Both individuals were detained at local hospitals after suffering psychiatric emergencies. Court orders authorized immediate transportation of each individual to an available bed at an evaluation facility for further examination. However, due to a lack of available beds, neither individual was immediately transported, resulting in prolonged detentions. Abigail B. was detained for 13 days before transportation for evaluation, while Jethro S. was detained for 17 days. Both individuals appealed the detention orders, arguing that their prolonged detentions violated their substantive due process rights. The court agreed, citing a recent decision (In re Hospitalization of Mabel B.) that stated pre-evaluation detentions must bear a reasonable relation to the purpose of facilitating immediate transportation for evaluation. The court concluded that the nature and duration of Abigail's and Jethro's detentions were not reasonably related to their purpose, thereby violating their substantive due process rights. View "In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of: Abigail B." on Justia Law

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In this case, a man identified as Sergio F. was taken into emergency custody after his religious delusions led him to walk naked along a road during the winter. Following this incident, the Superior Court of the State of Alaska ordered his evaluation at a treatment facility, and subsequently involuntarily committed him for up to 30 days of treatment. A subsequent petition led to the superior court ordering a 90-day involuntary commitment to the treatment facility, as it found that the man was gravely disabled and needed additional treatment.On appeal, the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska vacated the superior court’s 90-day commitment order. It agreed with the man's argument that there was insufficient evidence to show he was gravely disabled and that the court failed to determine whether his commitment to the treatment facility was the least restrictive alternative for his treatment. The Supreme Court emphasized that less restrictive alternatives to hospitalization must be considered before ordering involuntary commitment and that it was the state’s burden to show that those alternatives do not exist or are not feasible. The Supreme Court found that this did not happen in this case, as neither the parties nor the court engaged in the specific inquiry required to address the petition’s allegations that less restrictive alternatives were considered and rejected by the treatment facility. Therefore, the Supreme Court vacated the 90-day commitment order. View "In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of: Sergio F." on Justia Law

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In the State of Alaska, a man diagnosed with bipolar disorder stopped taking his medication, experienced a manic episode, and was hospitalized as a result. The hospital staff petitioned for him to be involuntarily committed for 30 days, which the superior court granted. The man appealed, arguing against the court's decision that he was likely to cause harm to others, was gravely disabled, and that there was no less restrictive alternative to involuntary commitment. The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska held that the man's rights were violated because there was a feasible, less restrictive alternative to the involuntary commitment. The court also ruled that even if the suggested outpatient treatment proposal was not feasible, the State had failed to meet its burden of proving that no less restrictive alternative existed, as it did not consider any other treatment options beyond the man's proposal. The commitment order was vacated on these grounds. View "In the Matter of the Necessity of the Hospitalization of Declan P." on Justia Law

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The appellants in this case filed an action to permanently enjoin enforcement of five Acts of the Oklahoma Legislature. Each Act concerned the termination of a pregnancy. The appellants' challenges were based upon Oklahoma law and not federal law. They argued there was a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy under the Oklahoma Constitution. The trial court denied a temporary injunction on three of the Acts, which was the basis of this appeal. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted a temporary injunction pending appeal, vacated the trial court's order denying temporary injunction, directed it to grant a temporary injunction and remanded the matter for further proceedings on the merits. View "Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice v. Drummond" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are individual physicians based in Arizona, joined by several Arizona medical and advocacy groups. The named Defendants are Arizona Attorney General Kristin Mayes, all Arizona County Attorneys, and various state enforcement agencies. The Attorney General declined to defend this lawsuit, and the district court allowed Warren Petersen, President of the Arizona Senate, and Ben Toma, Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, to intervene. This suit by Arizona physicians, medical associations, and advocacy groups claims that an Arizona law criminalizing the performance of certain abortions is unconstitutionally vague. The district court denied a preliminary injunction, finding that Plaintiffs lacked standing.   The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded. The panel held that the physician plaintiffs had demonstrated both actual and imminent injuries sufficient for standing. Plaintiffs suffered an actual injury—economic losses— because they lost money by complying with the laws, which forbade them from providing medical services they would otherwise provide, and these economic losses were fairly traceable to the statute. A favorable decision would relieve plaintiffs of compliance with the laws and restore the revenue generated by the prohibited procedures. Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged two imminent future injuries that affected interests protected by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments: (1) a liberty interest that was imperiled because violating the statute could result in imprisonment; and (2) a property interest that was threatened because a statutory violation could result in revocation of plaintiffs’ licenses, loss of revenue, and monetary damages. Finally, plaintiffs satisfied the causation and redressability requirements with respect to their imminent future injury. View "PAUL ISAACSON, ET AL V. KRISTIN MAYES, ET AL" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the orders entered by the circuit court granting summary judgment to Defendants in the underlying action brought after investigators identified unsafe, non-sterile injection techniques, holding that the circuit court did not err.Plaintiffs, a pain management clinic and its physician, brought the underlying action alleging that the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, and its former Commissioner and State Health Officer (collectively, the DHHR Defendants) breached their duty of confidentiality when they issued a press release announcing that Defendants used unsafe injection practices and encouraging Plaintiffs' patients to be tested for bloodborne illnesses. Plaintiffs also sued the West Virginia Board of Ostseopathic Medicine and its executive director (together, the BOM Defendants), asserting a due process claim for failing to timely provide a hearing after their summary suspension of the physician's medical license. The circuit court concluded that the DHHR defendants were entitled to qualified immunity and that the claim against the BOM defendants was barred by res judicata. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there was no error in the circuit court's judgment. View "Chalifoux v. W. Va. Dep't of Health & Human Resources" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing the complaint brought by Appellant, a certified nursing assistant at Soldiers' Home, a state-funded healthcare facility housing veterans, alleging violations of his constitutional substantive due process rights to a safe work environment, to be free from a state-created danger, and to bodily integrity, holding that there was no error.Appellant brought this action pursuant to 24 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that Appellees violated his substantive due process rights during the COVID-19 pandemic by failing to protect him from harm, to provide safe working environment, and to provide adequate medical and nursing equipment. Appellees filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, claiming qualified immunity. The district court dismissed the suit. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that where Appellant pointed to no precedent establishing that Appellees' COVID-19 response violated clearly established law, Appellees were entitled to qualified immunity. View "Ablordeppey v. Walsh" on Justia Law