Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Summary Judgment for Massachusetts DOC Medical Provider Reversed

The Appeals Court of Massachusetts has reversed a grant of summary judgment in favor of a Massachusetts Department of Corrections (DOC) contract medical provider, subcontractor and contract staff alleged to have provided inadequate dental care.

John Sullivan, a prisoner at the DOC’s MCI-Norfolk facility, sued Correctional Medical Services, Inc. (CMS), various CMS personnel and Quality Plan Administrators, Inc. (QPA), a CMS subcontractor responsible for providing dental care to state prisoners. Sullivan alleged that the defendants had violated his Eighth Amendment right to adequate dental care by refusing to clean his teeth. Additionally, Sullivan raised a breach of contract claim arguing that he was the intended beneficiary of CMS’s subcontract with QPA (known as a third-party beneficiary claim).

The Superior Court granted summary judgment to the defendants. According to the court, Sullivan could show no Eighth Amendment violation due to his “repeated[] fail[ure] to accept personal responsibility for his dental hygiene,” and because he had failed to obtain an expert witness. Further, the court rebuffed Sullivan’s repeated requests for discovery and the convening of a medical malpractice tribunal. Sullivan appealed, raising three arguments.

First, Sullivan argued that the lower court had erred in granting summary judgment to the defendants on his Eighth Amendment claim. The Appeals Court agreed. Sullivan’s dental records did not show a “repeated failure” to maintain good dental hygiene as the lower court had stated. Rather, the records included only “two references to Sullivan’s ... care for his teeth,” one of which, the appellate court noted, indicated that Sullivan’s “home care appears good.” Summary judgment was thus inappropriate on that basis.

Second, Sullivan argued that the Superior Court had erred in failing to convene a medical malpractice tribunal. Once again, the appellate court agreed. The convening of a medical malpractice tribunal is required in “[e]very action for malpractice, error or mistake against a provider of healthcare,” the Appeals Court wrote.

Finally, Sullivan took issue with the lower court’s insistence that he provide an expert witness to support his Eighth Amendment claim. The appellate court agreed, stating, “With regard to Eighth Amendment claims, our ... research has [not] revealed a case that requires the use of an expert.”

Accordingly, the judgment of the Superior Court was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings. See: Sullivan v. Correctional Medical Services, Inc., 889 N.E.2d 450 (Mass. App. Ct. 2008) (unpublished), appeal denied.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Sullivan v. Correctional Medical Services, Inc.