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North Carolina Prisoner Prevails in Claim Related to Paruresis, AKA “Shy Bladder”

The North Carolina Department of Correction (NDOC) has agreed to settle a prisoner’s lawsuit that accused NDOC officials and guards of exhibiting deliberate indifference to his medical diagnosis of “paruresis.” The settlement includes a monetary payment, attorney fees, and a guarantee of accommodating the prisoner’s condition during the remainder of his incarceration.

While at Scotland Correctional Institution (SCI), prisoner Johnny Ollis was diagnosed with paruresis, also known as “shy bladder,” which is when “the sufferer is unable to urinate in the real or imaginary presence of others.” Due to this diagnosis, SCI guards were ordered to accommodate Ollis’ medical condition during drug testing procedures by allowing him to use a dry cell to produce a urine sample.

Things went downhill when Ollis was subsequently transferred to Marion Correctional Institution (MCI). There, guards ignored Ollis’ requests to produce a urine sample in a single cell, and “even threatened him with punishment” if he could not provide a sample on demand.

The failure of MCI guards to accommodate Ollis’ paruresis “caused pain in his bladder by straining to produce a urine sample. This mental and physical state would last for the duration of the drug test (two hours) and would not subside until hours after Plaintiff returned to his cell,” wrote Ollis’ attorney, Mindy L. Vervais. “The two hours of abuse while trying to submit to a drug test, and the hours it would take Plaintiff to calm down following the test, did not occur just once, but on four (4) separate occasions while Plaintiff was incarcerated at Marion.”

This conduct occurred despite “a court order, a warning from the Attorney General’s office, doctors’ orders, and Plaintiff’s own pleas for accommodation” of his medical condition. To receive accommodation while at Nash Correctional Institution, Ollis intentionally disobeyed guards’ orders so he could be placed in segregation where he would have a private toilet.

In a settlement reached on January 7, 2010, Ollis agreed to voluntarily dismiss his civil rights action. The NDOC agreed to pay Ollis $10,000 plus $5,000 in attorney fees, amend its “Prisons Drug Testing Policy” to allow two hours in a private cell when a prisoner has paruresis, and ensure that Ollis is housed in a single cell except in emergency situations. See: Ollis v. Byrd, U.S.D.C. (W.D. NC), Case No. 1:08-cv-00549-GCM.

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Related legal case

Ollis v. Byrd