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California Prisoner Settles Medical Suit for $35,000

Eighteen months after surviving a motion for summary judgment, California prisoner William Milton agreed to a settlement of $35,000 in a case involving denial and delay of medical treatment. Though unpublished, the district court’s March 2007 order denying defendants’ motion for summary judgment includes an insightful discussion of why, despite the general bar against supervisory liability in § 1983 suits, a supervisor may be directly liable for executing a policy that clearly disregards a plaintiff’s rights.

In 2003, Milton filed a pro se civil rights complaint alleging that his constitutional rights were violated when a prison doctor initially ignored his pleas for treatment of a painful ear infection, then belatedly referred him to an ear specialist; before he could be seen by the specialist, he was transferred, over his objections, to a different prison.

On summary judgment, the court utilized the now-standard analysis, articulated in Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976) whereby “deliberate indifference” to a prisoner’s serious medical needs constitutes cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. Citing Hutchinson v. United States, 838 F.2d 390, 394 (9th Cir. 1988), it noted that improper denial or delay of treatment, without justification, can constitute deliberate indifference.

Particularly noteworthy here is the court’s resounding rejection of the defense of the treating physician’s supervisor that he could not be held liable for the fact that, despite being referred to a specialist in January 2003, Milton was not actually seen by one until after he was transferred. Citing Redman v. County of San Diego, 942 F.2d 1435, 1447 (9th Cir. 1991) (en banc), the court held that where no one is responsible because the system is set up to provide for no accountability, the system’s supervisor may be held liable for managing a system that clearly does not work.

After surviving summary judgment, Milton was ably represented, pro bono, by attorneys Samantha Grant and Kimberly Talley of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, LLP, in Los Angeles. See: Milton v. Alameida, No. CV 03-7731-RGH (PJW) (C.D. Cal.), docs. 138 and 231.

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Related legal case

Milton v. Alameida

Please see the brief bank for documents related to this case.