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8th Circuit Court of Appeals Dismisses Missouri Jail Failure to Protect and Medical Neglect Case

On December 23, 2008, William Holden filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against guards in the Marion County, Missouri Jail alleging failure to protect and failure to provide adequate medical treatment. This claim was the consequence of a fight that erupted on October 15, 2007 between Holden and three cell-mates in the protective custody pod where he was being held for failure to report a change of address as a convicted sex offender.

A guard broke up the fight after a minute and noted on examination that Holden had minor swelling to his leg, some bruising and a cut lip. There was not significant bleeding and no stitches required. Holden’s gums were not bleeding and he did not have any loose teeth.

A few hours later, Holden complained of increased pain, cramping of his neck and shoulder, back pain, a loose tooth, bruising and dizziness. Guards gave him ibuprofen and offered an ice pack. Holden declined the ice pack.

The next day Holden requested Sick Call, complaining of back and leg pain. The nurse evaluated Holden’s vital signs, his physical person, and found all normal. The nurse prescribed ice packs, rest and ibuprofen.

Holden made multiple complaints of pain over the following months and received medical attention. He was observed walking and eating without difficulty.

Beginning October 23, 2007, and continuing through October 2008, Holden complained of tooth pain. On June 20, 2008, then in the custody of the Missouri Department of Corrections, Holden was given opportunity to have the tooth extracted. He refused at that time but later had it done.

Prison officials moved for summary judgment in Holden’s § 1983 claim before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, which the court granted. The court found that Holden was not held under conditions posing a substantial risk to his safety, that prison officials did not know of any threat to Holden, that the guards did not know Holden had a serious medical need, they were entitled to rely on the opinions of medical professionals, and they were entitled to qualified immunity. This appeal followed.

The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s finding citing Holden’s placement in the protective custody pod provided greater supervision and security, and that Holden offered no proof of documentary evidence to support his claims. Likewise, the court held that Holden cited cases that diminished his cause by the severity of the cases cited compared to the apparent lack of severity of his own instance. The court held that Holden’s Sick Call request forms were insufficient to impose the culpability of deliberate indifference on the Marion County Jail guards. See: Holden v. Hirner, 663 F.3d 336 (8th Cir, 2011), Case No. 10-3656.

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Related legal case

Holden v. Hirner