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Kansas: Prison Healthcare Officials Engaged in Continued Deliberate Indifference

Kansas: Prison Healthcare Officials Engaged in Continued Deliberate Indifference


by Robert Warlick


The Kansas Court of Appeals held that employees of Correct Care Solutions at the Lansing Correctional Facility (LCF) committed continuing Eighth Amendment violations by withholding a prisoner’s medical restrictions.

LCF prisoner Ernest Lee Thomas, Jr., 61, had broken his ankle prior to his incarceration in 1989, resulting in arthritis and a permanent deformity. Consequently, he was granted a number of medical restrictions by prison healthcare staff: He was not to climb stairs, had a lower bunk restriction and was allowed to wear tennis shoes rather than regular prison-issued footwear.

Those restrictions continued until January 27, 2011, when Lamont Lane, an LCF nurse, removed them after Thomas failed to attend a medical appointment. Thomas was subsequently moved to a different housing unit that required him to climb a steep hill to reach his cell.

Thomas filed a petition in Leavenworth District Court that alleged deliberate indifference to his “chronic and continuing medical conditions.” The court held his Eighth Amendment rights had been violated when Nurse Lane removed his restrictions without permission from a physician, and noted the punishment for missing a medical appointment evidenced a “total ‘disregard for the excessive risk to inmate health and safety.’”

However, the district court found that such deliberate indifference had been rectified and cured because a subsequent decision not to restore Thomas’ medical restrictions was based on evaluations by two doctors and a review by Correct Care Solutions’ regional medical director.

On appeal, Thomas argued that the removal of his medical restrictions should not have been upheld because the doctors’ evaluations were not based on a change in his medical condition or healthcare procedures. The appellate court agreed, finding that Thomas’ Eighth Amendment rights had continued to be violated when prison healthcare staff decided not to reinstate his longstanding medical restrictions.

“In the final analysis, we hold that because of the district court’s initial finding and holding of an Eighth Amendment violation in the removal of all medical restrictions as conditions of Thomas’ incarceration, it was legally erroneous to find and hold that the Eighth Amendment violation was rectified and extinguished by testimony that was not based on any objective change in Thomas’ condition or some known institutional change in the medical standards of the [Department of Corrections].”

The Court of Appeals directed the district court to order the reinstatement of Thomas’ medical restrictions. Thomas had not sought monetary damages, only injunctive relief. See: Thomas v. McKune, 298 P.3d 1138 (Kan. Ct. App. 2013).


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Related legal case

Thomas v. McKune