Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Pro se inmate wins appeal against U.S. Department of Justice

The Court of Appeals has ruled that a federal inmate has enough evidence for trial on the claim that jail officials were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. The inmate wins his appeal pro se against the big guns in Washington, D.C.

The case is Rodriguez v. Maneti, a summary order decided on July 10. Plaintiff had a knee injury. The district court said plaintiff had enough evidence for trial and that defendant was not entitled to qualified immunity. That qualified immunity ruling allows defendant to file an immediate appeal to the Second Circuit, which sides with the plaintiff.

We look at the inmate's version of the facts in deciding if he has enough evidence for trial, and if the defendant has a legitimate qualified immunity argument. As stated by the Court of Appeals (Pooler, Lohier and Carney), "Defendant was aware that Plaintiff’s knee injury caused him chronic pain and that intermittent knee locking led to a periodic inability to walk. Plaintiff also produced evidence that Defendant denied or delayed surgery approval for over a year after learning that Plaintiff’s treating physician, at least, recommended surgery to alleviate Plaintiff’s symptoms."

The Court notes that "At the time of the alleged violation, it was clearly established that 'that the
Eighth Amendment forbids not only deprivations of medical care that produce physical torture
and lingering death, but also less serious denials which cause or perpetuate pain.' Taking the record in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, we therefore conclude that a reasonable juror might find that a reasonable official would have realized that denying Plaintiff’s surgery request would 'cause or perpetuate [his] pain' for an intolerably long period."

Finally, the Court of Appeals says, the jury could find that defendant knew about but disregarded an excessive risk to plaintiff's health by denying his surgery request. The Jail acted contrary to the recommendation of the orthopedic surgeon to whom the Bureau of Prisons had referred plaintiff. This was not a mere disagreement with plaintiff about the appropriate course of action. Instead, the jury could find that medical professionals would "find it obvious" that plaintiff needed the treatment.

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