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Lawsuit Challenges Dental Care in Michigan Prisons

Lawsuit Challenges Dental Care in Michigan Prisons

by David Reutter

A lawsuit alleging the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) fails to provide prisoners with adequate and constitutional dental care was filed in federal court in April 2014.

“How do you eat with one tooth?” asked Daniel E. Manville, director of the Michigan State University College of Law Civil Rights Clinic, one of the attorneys representing the prisoners. “Dental care has always been a problem with MDOC going back over 30 years.”

The complaint, which sought class-action status, detailed the history of dental care received by the lead plaintiff, prisoner Robert Johannes, from May 2009 to June 2013. That history included numerous dental exams, fillings, X-rays and extractions. Johannes requested, on numerous occasions, to receive “partial bridges and/or dentures due to his loss of teeth and inability to eat hard foods or chew hard foods.” His requests were denied.

The suit alleges the care provided to Johannes is typical of that provided to other prisoners, and has resulted in a serious inhibition of “the ability to eat and chew chewy and/or hard foods, inability and/or loss of ability to masticate, causing pain and suffering, debilitated general health, deterioration of the teeth and inability to engage in normal life activities, including chewing, eating, swallowing, unnecessary loss of bone, cosmetic deformities, facial deformities, loss of weight, [and] deficiencies to general health, including nutrition deficiencies from inability to eat and chew.”

The complaint seeks injunctive relief. “We aren’t asking for monetary damages,” said Manville. “We just want the MDOC to provide proper care.” The prisoners are also represented by attorney Robert Gittleman.

The district court denied without prejudice the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification on September 25, 2015, and the case remains pending. See: Johannes v. Washington, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Mich.), Case No. 4:14-cv-11691-LJM-MKM.

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Related legal case

Johannes v. Washington