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Eighth Circuit Reverses Dismissal on Wrong Medication Claims

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court?s grant of summary judgment to prison officials, related to erroneous administration of another prisoner?s psychotropic medication.

On January 26, 2004, Nurse Assistant Lorna Bell mistakenly required Missouri prisoner James Spann to take another prisoner?s psychotropic medication, even through Spann protested that the pills weren?t his.

Once Bell realized her mistake, she ordered Spann to return the pills, but he had already swallowed them. ?Bell did not immediately take Spann for medical attention, however, or tell her supervisors of the incident.?

Soon after taking the pills ?Spann felt his legs collapse and the room spin, he pushed the emergency call button in his cell, hit his head on the toilet and fainted. He awoke in pain in another room with a sore throat and dried blood on the back of his head.? Three hours after taking the pills Spann was admitted to the infirmary for observation.? A doctor told him that he had been lying unconscious in his cell for three hours. Spann complained that he could barely talk or see, and that there was a knot on the back of his head; the doctor told Spann to sleep.

The next morning another doctor diagnosed Spann as having overdosed on mental health medication and ordered his discharge. Later that day, Spann was returned to his cell, still in pain but with no other apparent complications.

Spann brought suit in federal court against Bell and her supervisor, Sharon Roper, alleging deliberate indifference and a due process violation. The district court granted summary judgment to both defendants.

The Eighth Circuit agreed with the lower court that ?Bell did not exhibit deliberate indifference by forcing Spann to take another inmate?s medication because it is undisputed that this was a mistake.? The court found, however, that ?a jury could conclude that Bell was deliberately indifferent to Spann?s serious medical needs when she left him in his cell for three hours after she was aware that he had taken a large dose of mental-health medications prescribed for another inmate.?
Additionally, ?a jury could find that the three-hour delay allowed the medication to fully enter Spann?s system, whereas immediate medical attention would have enabled medical staff to pump Spann?s stomach or take another action to remove the medication from Spann?s system before it was totally absorbed.?

The court also found ?it incongruous that the district court denied Spann?s motion for an expert witness and then granted summary judgment in part based on Spann?s failure to provide verifying medical evidence that the delay had detrimental effects.?

The court upheld summary judgment to Roper based upon a failure to show her personal involvement. Finally, the court rejected Spann?s due process claim, because ?this case involves the inadvertent administration of psychiatric medication, not a decision to treat an unwilling patient with psychiatric medication.? See: Spann v. Roper, 453 F.3d 1007 (8th Cir. 2006). 2006).

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Related legal case

Spann v. Roper