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Failure to Treat Florida Prisoner's Agent Orange Disease Unconstitutional

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that prison officials' failure
to provide prescribed treatment to a prisoner suffering from effects of
Agent Orange violated his Eight Amendment rights. The Florida prisoner
was a Vietnam Veteran who was exposed to herbicides. Since 1976, he had
been treated for lesions on postulates at Veterans Administration (VA)
hospitals for Agent Orange disease. He advised prison officials of this
condition upon reception into the prison system.

The prisoner was transported to the VA hospital in Gainesville,
where doctors ordered that he be promptly brought to the VA when his
lesions were spontaneously draining, appeared infected, or if significant
fever was present. It was also ordered that he wear medically-prescribed
white clothing and that he have contamination bags. Upon return to the
prison, a medical technician ordered the prisoner to discard the clothing
and bags. Additionally, the prisoner was prescribed Domeboro soaks daily,
which were unable to be regularly given because the prison failed to
supply the medication. The district court granted summary judgment on all
issues to the defendant prison officials.

The Eleventh Circuit held that the failure to provide the treatment
ordered by the VA doctor, which the prison officials agreed was necessary,
could be found by a jury to be deliberate indifference to the prisoner's
serious medical needs. The Court found the prisoner endured pain and
suffering unnecessarily due to the failure to administer prescribed

Accordingly, the Court reversed in part and affirmed in part by holding
those prison officials that directly participated in the treatment denial
must show their actions were not deliberately indifferent to the
prisoner's medical needs. The supervisory defendants were dismissed from
the action. See: Washington v. Dugger, 860 F.2d 1018 (11th Cir. 1988).

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Related legal case

Washington v. Dugger

Washington v. Dugger, 860 F.2d 1018 (11th Cir. 11/28/1988)

[1] U.S. Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

[2] No. 87-3342

[3] 860 F.2d 1018, 1988

[4] November 28, 1988


[6] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

[7] Gardner F. Davis, Jacksonville, Florida, Attorneys for Appellant.

[8] Robert A. Butterworth, AG, Carl J. Zahner, AAG, Cecilia Bradley, AAG, Department of Legal Affairs, Tallahassee, Florida, Attorneys for Appellee.

[9] Anderson and Cox, Circuit Judges, and Tuttle, Senior Circuit Judge.

[10] Author: Tuttle

[11] TUTTLE, Senior Circuit Judge:

[12] John A. Washington, an inmate in the Florida prison system, appeals from an order of the district court granting summary judgment for all defendants in this Civil Rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983. In his complaint, Washington alleged that he had suffered pain and permanent injury from the defendants' "deliberate indifference to Washington's serious medical needs" while at the Lawtey Correctional Institute in the State of Florida.


[14] Plaintiff filed his complaint, acting pro se, alleging that he was suffering from Agent Orange disease. He alleged inadequate medical care by the prison officials, the appellees herein. He filed concurrently a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

[15] On November 28, 1986, the district court denied plaintiff's motion for a temporary restraining order and referred the motion for preliminary injunction to the United States magistrate for an evidentiary hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing, the magistrate offered the plaintiff an opportunity to supplement the record with any additional evidence he might have concerning the correction officials' wrongful refusal to allow him to remain at the Veterans Administration Hospital for treatment of Agent Orange disease.

[16] On January 6, 1987, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. On February 27, 1987, the magistrate filed his report to the district court recommending that the plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction be denied and that defendants' motion for summary judgment be granted. On May 8, the district court overruled the plaintiff's objections to the magistrate's report and recommendation. It adopted the magistrate's recommendation denying the plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction and granted defendants' motion for summary judgment.

[17] This appeal followed.


[19] The record before the trial court that was appropriate for it to consider deciding the motion for summary judgment, i.e., the affidavits, the testimony at the hearing for preliminary injunction, and the sworn complaint of the plaintiff, showed the following:

[20] Washington is a veteran of the Viet Nam conflict who was found by the Veterans Administration to be suffering from disabilities which the Administration found were service connected. He was treated as a veteran who had been exposed to "herbicides." He had been treated in Veterans Administration hospitals in several cities around the country, beginning as early as 1976. The medical records from these visits, which included both inpatient and outpatient treatment, disclosed that during the entire period of time up until the filing of this action, his disabilities included the following: pydoerma with cellulitis and lymphaginitis, in his lower extremities. From time to time the records disclose that Washington had lesions and open pustules on his legs. The treatment administered and recommended to be followed upon discharge, as reflected by the Veterans Administration's medical records from Gainesville, Florida, Houston, Texas, New Orleans, Louisiana and Tuskegee, Alabama, as well as by a private doctor in Pensacola, Florida, remained fairly constant.

[21] These medical records were submitted to the appropriate Florida officials when Washington was placed in the custody of the Department of Corrections on September 26. While at the Reception and Medical Center (RMC), the doctors there told Washington that due to the complexity of his disease they were unable to treat him but would arrange appointments for him to see a dermatologist and an internist. His first appointment with the dermatologist took place approximately six weeks after his arrival at RMC.

[22] Treatment by the dermatologist caused serious and potentially dangerous side effects and was discontinued. The internist, whom he saw next, stated that he had no understanding as to why Washington should have been sent to him, and he was sent back to the dermatologist. Thereafter, the plaintiff repeatedly asked the medical personnel at RMC to arrange for his transfer for diagnosis and treatment to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Gainesville, Florida. Finally, after having communicated with non-medical prison officials, an appointment was arranged for him to visit the VA Hospital on December 26, exactly three months after he had first arrived at RMC. Following a stay of approximately a week in the VA Hospital, he was returned to the correctional institution at Lawtey. He was told, as was the security officer accompanying him, that if Washington's lesions continued to erupt and become infected, he should immediately return to the VA Hospital for treatment. When spontaneous eruptions later occurred, he went to the prison medical clinic and requested that he be sent back to VA for treatment. This was met by a refusal. However, he was sent back for further treatment on April 10, 1987. His medical file records include a letter from the Veterans Administration stating: "When lesions are spontaneously draining, appear infected, or if significant fever is present it is imperative that he be transported to the VA Medical Center in Gainesville for appropriate medical care." Washington suffered severe pain and discomfort during the period before he was sent back to the VA in Gainesville.

[23] Among the instructions and prescriptions given by the VA, was an instruction that he should have contamination bags and medically prescribed white clothing for use in the prison. On January 10, 1986, a medical technician at Lawtey, William Reeder, made him discard the contamination bags and the other medically prescribed clothing. Again, on January 13, 1986, he was denied access to these articles which a doctor had said were necessary.

[24] The dermatologist at the VA prescribed Domeboro soaks to relieve the inflammation of plaintiff's legs. He was sent by the institution at Lawtey to RMC daily for these soaks. However, on several occasions, he discovered upon arrival that the Domeboro solution, the medication, was not available. On at least one occasion, the medicine was not available for a period of five days.