Justia Civil Rights Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Medical Malpractice
Dean v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc.
Dean, incarcerated since 2012, developed kidney cancer. Seven months after he first presented symptoms, Dean had kidney-removal surgery. The cancer had already spread to his liver, Dean remains terminally ill. Dean sued his doctors and their employer, Wexford, a private corporation that contracts to provide healthcare to Illinois inmates, alleging deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Dean cited delays in his diagnosis and treatment, caused by his doctors’ failure to arrange timely off-site care, and on a policy that requires Wexford’s corporate office to pre-approve off-site care.A jury awarded $1 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages, which was reduced to $7 million. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Dean has endured great suffering, but he did not produce enough evidence to hold any of the defendants liable for violating the Eighth Amendment. Dean’s claim against Wexford hinged on two expert reports from another case that critique the medical care, and process for medical care, that Illinois provides, through Wexford, to its prisoners. Those reports are hearsay, but the district court allowed Dean to use them for a non-hearsay purpose: to prove that Wexford had prior notice of the negative assessments of its review policy. One report postdated all events relevant to Dean and could not have given Wexford prior notice. The other report alone was insufficient to hold Wexford liable under the exacting “Monell” requirements in this single-incident case. View "Dean v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc." on Justia Law
Robinson v. Waterman
Inmate Robinson was offered new medication. Unaware of any prescription, he questioned the officer who gave it to him and followed up with the health services manager and others. Despite learning that there was no record of any new prescription for him, Robinson took the medication. Days later, Robinson passed out. A nurse advised him to keep taking the medication. Robinson then was sent to an outside hospital, where doctors surmised that he might be allergic to the medication. The prescription was meant for a different inmate. Robinson sued. The defendants moved for summary judgment; 20 days after his deadline for filing a brief in opposition, Robinson filed a brief to support his own request for summary judgment, supplemented by a proposed statement of facts. He did not respond to the defendants’ statement of facts. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court permissibly applied Eastern District of Wisconsin Local Rule 56(b)(4) to deem the defendants’ facts unopposed, regardless of Robinson’s later filings. Based on those facts, no reasonable jury could find deliberate indifference to a serious medical risk. Nor could a jury conclude that the health‐services manager violated his constitutional rights by failing to intervene. Robinson’s state‐law negligence claims were barred by Wisconsin’s notice‐of‐claim statute. The defendants were not entitled to summary judgment based only on Robinson's failure to timely respond. View "Robinson v. Waterman" on Justia Law
Rogers v. Bagley
The Supreme Court held that claims pleaded under 42 U.S.C. 1983 that were asserted against a state mental health facility and its employees arising from the death of a patient are health care liability claims subject to the Texas Medical Liability Act (TMLA) and that section 1983 does not preempt the TMLA's expert report requirement.Plaintiff sued Rio Grande State Center (RGCS) and ten individual defendants after his son died in RGSC's care. As to RGSC, Plaintiff alleged negligence, and as to the individual defendants, Plaintiff asserted claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Defendants moved to dismiss the claims for failure to serve an expert report under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 74.351(b). The trial court denied the motion to dismiss, and Plaintiff nonsuited the negligence claim against RGSC. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the expert report requirement of the TMLA was preempted by section 1983. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Plaintiff's claims were health care liability claims subject to the TMLA; and (2) section 1983 does not preempt the TMLA's expert-report requirement. View "Rogers v. Bagley" on Justia Law
Peterson v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc.
In 2015, inmate Peterson suffered from genital warts. Davida, a Stateville Correctional Center physician employed by Wexford, prescribed a topical medication (Podocon-25), which is caustic and should be applied sparingly, then removed thoroughly. PODOCON-25's packaging states that “PODOCON-25© IS TO BE APPLIED ONLY BY A PHYSICIAN” and warns of multiple potential “ADVERSE REACTIONS.” Davida did not apply the Podocon-25, nor did the nurses, who instructed Peterson to apply the treatment himself. He did so and suffered personal injuries.In 2016, Peterson filed a pro se complaint against Davida, the nurses, and Illinois Department of Corrections officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983. He alleged that the officer-defendants destroyed his shower pass permits, issued as part of his treatment, or failed to intervene to correct the situation. The court granted Peterson leave to proceed in forma pauperis and dismissed his claims except as to three correctional officers. After obtaining counsel, Peterson filed an amended complaint, adding Wexford. The parties stipulated to dismissal without prejudice on January 25, 2018. On January 21, 2019, Peterson filed the operative complaint, claiming deliberate indifference under section 1983 and negligence under Illinois law against Davida, the nurses, and Wexford. The district court dismissed, finding that the complaint failed to sufficiently allege that the defendants had the requisite state of mind for deliberate indifference and that Peterson’s negligence claims were untimely because his 2016 complaint did not contain those allegations; the relation-back doctrine governs only amendments to a complaint, not a new filing.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the section 1983 claims but reversed as to the negligence claims. The court did not consider 735 ILCS 5/13-217, under which plaintiffs have an “absolute right to refile their complaint within one year” of its voluntary dismissal. View "Peterson v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc." on Justia Law
Crowson v. Washington County State, Utah
Martin Crowson was an inmate at the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility (the “Jail”) when he began suffering from symptoms of toxic metabolic encephalopathy. Nurse Michael Johnson and Dr. Judd LaRowe, two of the medical staff members responsible for Crowson’s care, wrongly concluded Crowson was experiencing drug or alcohol withdrawal. On the seventh day of medical observation, Crowson’s condition deteriorated and he was transported to the hospital, where he was accurately diagnosed. After Crowson recovered, he sued Johnson, LaRowe, and Washington County under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court denied motions for summary judgment on the issue of qualified immunity by Johnson and LaRowe, concluding a reasonable jury could find both were deliberately indifferent to Crowson’s serious medical needs, and that it was clearly established their conduct amounted to a constitutional violation. The district court also denied the County’s motion for summary judgment, concluding a reasonable jury could find the treatment failures were an obvious consequence of the County’s reliance on LaRowe’s infrequent visits to the Jail and the County’s lack of written protocols for monitoring, diagnosing, and treating inmates. Johnson, LaRowe, and the County filed consolidated interlocutory appeals, raising threshold questions of jurisdiction. Johnson and LaRowe challenged the denial of qualified immunity, while the County contended the Tenth Circuit should exercise pendent appellate jurisdiction to review the district court’s denial of its summary judgment motion. The Tenth Circuit exercised limited jurisdiction over Johnson’s and LaRowe’s appeals pursuant to the exception to 28 U.S.C. 1291, carved out for purely legal issues of qualified immunity through the collateral order doctrine. The Court held Johnson’s conduct did not violate Crowson’s rights and, assuming without deciding LaRowe’s conduct did, the Court concluded LaRowe’s conduct did not violate any clearly established rights. The Court's holding was "inextricably intertwined with the County’s liability on a failure-to-train theory," so the Court exercised pendent appellate jurisdiction to the extent Crowson’s claims against the County rested on that theory. However, under Tenth Circuit binding precedent, the Court's holdings on the individual defendants’ appeals were not inextricably intertwined with Crowson’s claims against the County to the extent he advanced a systemic failure theory. The district court's denial of summary judgment to Johnson, LaRowe, and the County on the failure-to-train theory was reversed, and the remainder of the County’s appeal was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. View "Crowson v. Washington County State, Utah" on Justia Law
Donald v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc.
Donald has glaucoma and keratoconus, a thinning of the cornea that causes distorted vision. To treat his keratoconus, Donald had left-eye corneal transplant surgery in 2011. A few years later, Donald was convicted of drug crimes. He began his prison sentence at Illinois River Correctional Facility in 2014. His eye problems started flaring up, causing redness and poor vision. He was subsequently seen by Illinois River’s optometrists and at Illinois Eye Center several times. Ultimately, he was diagnosed with a rupture of the globe, an irreversible loss of vision in his left eye. After surgery, pathological tests revealed that the infection that led to the ruptured globe was caused by bacteria that can act very quickly and cause perforation in as few as 72 hours. Donald filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need.The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The undisputed evidence shows that the defendants did not act with deliberate indifference toward an objectively serious medical condition and the district court appropriately exercised supplemental jurisdiction to dispose of the malpractice claim. View "Donald v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc." on Justia Law
Machicote v. Roethlisberger
Machicote, a Wisconsin inmate underwent surgery to remove damaged bone, tissue, and cartilage in his ankle after he suffered an injury while playing basketball in the prison yard. After the procedure, the surgeon supplied Machicote with oxycodone and warned that he would be in “extreme pain” when the medication wore off. He was discharged with instructions recommending narcotic-strength painkillers every six hours. At the prison, Dr. Herweijer ordered Tylenol #3, as needed every six hours for three days. Because of Nurse Stecker’s scheduling of the doses, Machicote woke at 3:30 a.m. in “excruciating pain.” Machicote continued to have trouble accessing the medication that had been ordered; the prison’s medication distribution schedule did not match Machicote’s prescription. Concerned about pain during the night, Machicote was told: “That’s how it will go.” Machicote’s medication order ran out completely and he began experiencing agonizing pain around the clock. Nurse Stecker refused to contact a doctor. Five days later, Dr. Hoffman prescribed him another painkiller, Tramadol. Machicote did not receive the medication for two more days, and his medical records show that the pain required management for several more weeks.In Machicote’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed as to the other defendants but vacated in part; a factual issue remains as to the deliberate indifference of Nurse Stecker. View "Machicote v. Roethlisberger" on Justia Law
Israel v. Alaska, Department of Corrections
Psychiatrists employed by the Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) diagnosed inmate Adam Israel with paranoid schizophrenia. The inmate disputed his diagnosis, contending that his claimed rare genetic ability to see the electro-magnetic radiation of poltergeists was misunderstood as a delusion. The inmate brought a medical malpractice action against the psychiatrists and DOC seeking rescission of his diagnosis and damages. DOC filed a motion for summary judgment supported by an affidavit from DOC’s chief medical officer. The affidavit confirmed the inmate’s diagnosis and asserted that the inmate received treatment consistent with his diagnosis. After notifying the inmate that he needed expert testimony to oppose the motion for summary judgment, the superior court granted DOC’s summary judgment motion because the inmate failed to provide expert testimony to rebut DOC’s evidence. Israel appealed, arguing that DOC’s medical director was not qualified to testify about the standard of care under AS 09.20.185. The Alaska Supreme Court determined Israel failed to create a genuine issue of material fact about the correctness of his diagnosis. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court’s grant of summary judgment. The Supreme Court also rejected Israel's other arguments raised on appeal. View "Israel v. Alaska, Department of Corrections" on Justia Law
Vierk v. Whisenand
The Drug Enforcement Administration investigated Dr. Ley and his opioid addiction treatment company, DORN, conducted undercover surveillance, and decided Ley did not have a legitimate medical purpose in prescribing Suboxone. Indiana courts issued warrants, culminating in arrests of four physicians and one nurse and seven non-provider DORN employees. Indiana courts dismissed the charges against the non-providers and the nurse. Ley was acquitted; the state dismissed the charges against the remaining providers. DORN’s providers and non-provider employees sued, alleging false arrest, malicious prosecution, and civil conspiracy. The district court entered summary judgment for the defendants, holding probable cause supported the warrants at issue. The Seventh Circuit affirmed as to every plaintiff except Mackey, a part-time parking lot attendant. One of Ley’s former patients died and that individual’s family expressed concerns about Ley; other doctors voiced concerns, accusing Ley of prescribing Suboxone for pain to avoid the 100-patient limit and bring in more revenue. At least one pharmacy refused to fill DORN prescriptions. Former patients reported that they received their prescriptions without undergoing any physical exam. DORN physicians prescribed an unusually high amount of Suboxone; two expert doctors opined that the DORN physicians were not prescribing Suboxone for a legitimate medical purpose. There was evidence that the non-provider employees knew of DORN’s use of pre-signed prescriptions and sometimes distributed them. There were, however, no facts alleged in the affidavit that Mackey was ever armed, impeded investigations, handled money, or possessed narcotics. View "Vierk v. Whisenand" on Justia Law
Knight v. Grossman
Knight, a Wisconsin prisoner, sought treatment for a knee injury. Dr. Grossman, who worked at a hospital that provided medical services to state prisoners, diagnosed Knight with a tear in his anterior cruciate ligament and performed reconstruction surgery. A few years later, Knight reinjured his knee and returned for treatment. Dr. Grossman examined Knight, ordered x-rays, and, without consulting an MRI, diagnosed him with a torn ACL revision. Dr. Grossman offered Knight the option of undergoing a revision procedure to repair the tear. During surgery, he determined that Knight did not have a tear but had degenerative joint disease or arthritis. Not knowing when Knight would be available for surgery again, Grossman performed an alternate procedure, which he had not discussed with Knight. Knight did not learn of the change in course until his follow-up visit. In Knight’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Dr. Grossman. The court stated that prisoners retain a liberty interest in refusing forced medical treatment while incarcerated, with an implied right to the information necessary to make an informed decision about treatment. Knight did not establish a violation of that right because no reasonable jury could find that Dr. Grossman acted with deliberate indifference to Knight’s knee condition or to his right to refuse treatment. View "Knight v. Grossman" on Justia Law