Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Inmate wins medical indifference claim

You may not realize how many lawsuits are filed by inmates claiming their constitutional rights were violated by their jailers. Most of these cases are dismissed, but some survive the initial motion to dismiss. This is one of the survivors.

The case is Abreu v. Lipka, a summary order issued on August 5. The district court dismissed the claim under Rule 12 for failure to state a plausible claim. State of New York did not participate in the appeal because the district court dismissed the case sua sponte, before the State even made an appearance in the case. Still, someone at the Attorney General's office submitted an amicus brief to the Second Circuit, though it did not help. The case is reinstated.

The Court of Appeals says plaintiff has a legitimate medical indifference claim. These cases are hard to win, as the inmate must show the jailers were deliberately indifferent to a serious medical condition. The inmate also has to show the bad-guys acted with subjective intent to deny their rights. Here is the law governing this case:

An Eighth Amendment claim predicated on inadequate medical care requires a plaintiff to demonstrate a defendant’s “deliberate indifference to [his] serious medical needs.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). The medical need is considered “serious” where the denial of treatment “could result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” Harrison v. Barkley, 219 F.3d 132, 136 (2d Cir. 2000). “Deliberate indifference” requires allegations of the defendants’ subjective state of mind: that the prison official “kn[ew] of and disregard[ed] an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.” Smith v. Carpenter, 316 F.3d 178, 184 (2d Cir. 2003).
 Abreu has a case, at least on the pleadings, because a multitude of people at the jail ignored his doctor's reccomedations about his medical treatment and that "he subsequently experienced daily chronic pain, bleeding and the exacerbation of his tuberculosis and mental health problems." What is more, plaintiff alleges, the prison doctor refused to review his medical records and "screamed racial epithets at him and told him he didn’t 'care [about Abreu’s] pain.'” A nurse, meanwhile, denied plaintiff necessary over-the-counter pain medication. While "the district court characterized Abreu’s allegations as 'vague' because they 'lack dates,'" the Second Circuit (Livingston, Carney and Berman [DJ.]) notes that "'the failure to allege specific dates does not necessarily run afoul of [federal pleading requirements], especially where, as here, the plaintiff lacks ready access to his medical records.'” The case now proceeds to discovery, where plaintiff will have a chance to prove his claims.

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