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Eighth Circuit Reverses Denial of Qualified Immunity; Prisoner Proved Neglect, Not Deliberate Indifference

Eighth Circuit Reverses Denial of Qualified Immunity; Prisoner Proved Neglect, Not Deliberate Indifference

by Mark Wilson

On March 25, 2014, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s denial of qualified immunity on a prisoner’s claims that a delay in providing blood pressure medication caused him to go blind.

Broderick L. Fourte did not receive a medical screening when he was booked into the jail in Faulkner County, Arkansas on September 25, 2009.

On October 3, he asked jail staff to contact his family for his high blood pressure medication. They failed to do so.

Two days later, guards began a daily log of Fourte’s blood pressure. Nurse Tamara R. Lumpkin’s name appeared on the log, which was reviewed weekly by jail physician Garry Stewart.

It was Dr. Stewart’s practice to monitor blood pressure for at least 30 days before prescribing medication, unless an emergency level of 180/120 was reached. Throughout October, “Fourte’s median blood pressure was 150/104, with most readings between 140/95 and 160/110.”

Fourte complained of vision loss and repeatedly requested blood pressure medication. His blood pressure hit 180/121 on October 30, 2009, and Lumpkin gave him a pill. The next day Fourte wrote, “Thanks for the blood pressure pill but I need it every day and I am losing my eye. I don’t see that good. It’s getting bad. I need help please I need help bad.”

On November 5, 2009, Stewart prescribed Hydrochlorothiazide, to start two days later. Stewart had to issue a second prescription, so Fourte did not begin receiving the medication until November 18.

On September 23, 2010, Fourte was diagnosed as being legally blind. He then filed suit, alleging that his blindness was due to being denied blood pressure medicine while at the jail. The district court held that factual disputes precluded qualified immunity for the defendants.

The Eighth Circuit reversed. The appellate court first concluded that failing to provide a medical screening, standing alone, does not constitute deliberate indifference: “There is no clearly established right to a general medical screening when admitted to a detention center; admitees have the same right as inmates: not to have known, objectively serious medical needs disregarded.”

Second, the Court of Appeals held that Fourte had failed to prove jail employees were deliberately indifferent when they did not prescribe medication after several high blood pressure readings. “At best, Fourte’s experts show that Dr. Stewart and Nurse Lumpkin should have known they were committing malpractice – but medical malpractice is not deliberate indifference,” the Court found.

Finally, failing to give Fourte the prescribed medication between November 7 and November 18, 2009, when his median blood pressure was 143/99, was negligent at most, “but deliberate indifference is ‘more even than gross negligence,’” the Eighth Circuit wrote. See: Fourte v. Faulkner County, 746 F.3d 384 (8th Cir. 2014).


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Related legal case

Fourte v. Faulkner County