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Sixth Circuit Reverses Summary Judgment for Dentist Who Failed to Provide Temporary Filling

Genuine issues of material fact precluded granting summary judgment to a prison dentist accused of providing deliberately indifferent dental treatment, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found.

Gregory T. McCarthy, while incarcerated at Ohio’s Chillicothe Correctional Institute in 2002, had a painful cavity in one of his teeth. Dr. Maitland Place, a contract dentist at the prison, provided McCarthy with ibuprofen for pain but refused to supply a temporary filling. According to Dr. Place, McCarthy had to wait to get a filling until several of McCarthy’s other teeth were extracted. McCarthy endured significant pain from his cavity for seven months until Place finally filled the tooth.

McCarthy filed suit in federal court, arguing that Dr. Place’s refusal to temporarily fill his tooth constituted deliberate indifference in violation of the Eighth Amendment. According to McCarthy, Place regularly performed temporary fillings on other prisoners. Place’s decision, then, to give McCarthy only ibuprofen was deliberate indifference because it was a “less efficacious treatment route.” The district court granted summary judgment to Dr. Place; McCarthy appealed, and the Sixth Circuit reversed.

“McCarthy ... presented evidence that Dr. Place was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs by showing that Dr. Place was aware of the significant pain McCarthy was experiencing due to his cavity,” the Court of Appeals wrote, “yet he failed to relieve this pain for over seven months.” Further, the appellate court held, McCarthy “demonstrated that Dr. Place could have prescribed a temporary filling inasmuch as he had done so for other inmates....” Thus, it was error for the district court to grant summary judgment in favor of Dr. Place.

The judgment of the district court was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. See: McCarthy v. Place, 313 Fed.Appx. 810 (6th Cir. 2008) (unpublished).
Unfortunately, McCarthy, who had been released from prison, died while the appeal was pending. The district court therefore dismissed the case on June 17, 2009, following remand from the Sixth Circuit.

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Related legal case

McCarthy v. Place