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Fifth Circuit Grants Summary Judgment for Substitution of Pain Medication

Fifth Circuit Grants Summary Judgment for Substitution of Pain Medication

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a denial of summary judgment against jail medical officials who substituted ibuprofen for Percocet when treating a prisoner’s gunshot wound.

On September 12, 2008, Ronnie Burton was shot in the shoulder during a drive-by shooting. He was taken to a hospital, treated, admitted for a day, prescribed Percocet for pain and released. He was then arrested and taken to the Hinds County Detention Facility in Raymond, Mississippi, where he remained until he was released two days later. During his stay at the jail, Burton was denied Percocet and instead given 800mg of ibuprofen twice a day for pain. He alleged that was insufficient and he remained in pain.

Burton filed suit in state court alleging a violation of his Fourteenth Amendment right to medical care as a pretrial detainee. The case was removed to federal court. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging their actions did not violate Burton’s rights; the district court denied summary judgment to two medical officials at the jail, who filed an interlocutory appeal.

The Fifth Circuit noted that medical care standards for pretrial detainees under the Fourteenth Amendment are virtually identical to those used for convicted prisoners under the Eighth Amendment. It held that the reasonableness of the defendants’ conduct depended on “the severity of the gunshot wound and the comparative abilities of ibuprofen and Percocet to manage pain.” However, Burton had failed to introduce any evidence as to those issues.

Therefore, the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law even when the evidence was viewed in the light most favorable to Burton, accepting his claim that he complained to the medical officers that the ibuprofen was ineffective and he remained in pain. The district court’s judgment denying qualified immunity was reversed, and Burton’s petition for a writ of certiorari was denied in October 2013. See: Burton v. Owens,511 Fed.Appx. 385 (5th Cir. 2013), cert. denied.


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Related legal case

Burton v. Owens