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Michigan Prison Doctor Liable for Late Prostate Cancer Diagnosis

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a prisoner stated sufficient facts to defeat dismissal of his claim alleging a prison doctor was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. However, the appellate court affirmed judgment in favor of three other doctors named as defendants in the suit.

Before the Sixth Circuit was the appeal of Michigan prisoner James Scott, who claimed that four doctors were deliberately indifferent in connection with his diagnosis of and treatment for prostate cancer.

Scott was advised in March 2002 by Dr. Nitin Ambani that he had an elevated prostate specific antigen (PSA), indicating possible prostate cancer. A biopsy did not find cancer.
Dr. Ambani failed to follow policy of placing Scott in a “chronic care clinic” and putting him on a therapeutic diet, and Scott later came under the care of Dr. Ardeshir Faghihnia, who denied him an annual health screening in 2002 and refused additional cancer testing and lab work at his 2003 screening.

An October 2005 screening revealed an elevated PSA level. A second biopsy by Dr. Ambani revealed prostate cancer, which was treated by Dr. Molly Sullivan. Despite Scott’s requests on religious grounds to ensure that his seminal vesicle was not exposed to radiation, such exposure occurred.

When his radiation treatment was complete, Scott came under the care of Dr. Audberto Antonini. In February 2006, Scott developed a hard testicular lump that caused him great pain. Dr. Antonini denied Scott’s requests to see Dr. Sullivan and his requests for pain medication, and instead ordered a colonoscopy.

When Scott reported to a nurse in May 2006 that he had a lump on his eyelid and was still in great pain from the testicular lump, Dr. Antonini told the nurse he did not have time to examine Scott. A June 2006 colonoscopy indicated that Scott’s previous pain was due to radiological effects of the cancer treatment that had dissipated. Finally, in August 2006, Dr. Antonini used an ultrasound to examine the testicular lump, finding it was caused by a cyst that had burst.

Scott filed suit in January 2007, and the district court granted motions to dismiss by Drs. Faghihnia, Antonini and Ambani. The court also granted Dr. Sullivan’s summary judgment motion. Scott appealed.

The Sixth Circuit agreed that the claim against Dr. Ambani, which was based on events occurring in 2002, was barred by Michigan’s three-year statute of limitations.
Additionally, the failure to timely file administrative grievances required dismissal of Scott’s claims against Dr. Faghihnia. And since Dr. Sullivan worked for the University of Michigan and not the DOC, she was not a state actor for § 1983 purposes.

The claim against Dr. Antonini, however, was improperly dismissed by the district court. The Sixth Circuit found that Scott’s allegations demonstrated Dr. Antonini was aware he had been recently treated for testicular cancer and had severe leg and back pain, as well as a testicular lump that was hard and painful. A trier of fact could find that Dr. Antonini’s failure to treat the pain with medication and refusal to examine the lump for three months exposed Scott to “undue suffering or the threat of tangible residual injury.” As such, Scott stated a claim of deliberate indifference against Antonini.

The district court’s judgment was therefore affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case remanded to proceed on Scott’s claims involving Dr. Antonini. See: Scott v. Ambani, 586 F.3d 219 (6th Cir. 2009).

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Related legal case

Scott v. Ambani