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Federal Court Refuses to Dismiss Colorado Warden from Prisoner's Inadequate-Medical-Care Suit

On June 26, 2015, a Colorado federal court denied a warden's motion to dismiss him from a prisoner's lawsuit claiming near-fatal deliberate indifference to his serious medical. The warden was included in the suit for failure to train guards who ignored the prisoner's medical condition.

Christopher Tantlinger, 33,   a Colorado state prisoner, was incarcerated at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Center when he had his wisdom teeth extracted.  He  began  experiencing  severe  pain  the  next  day  and his cellmate--who had previously experienced an untreated infection that left him seriously ill following a dental procedure--informed  a  guard  who  refused  to help. Two days later, Tantlinger visited the infirmary, where a moderate swelling of the lower jaw, a fever and elevated blood pressure were noted. He was given ibuprofen and told to wait for a dental appointment.

The next day, he saw a nurse.  The swelling had spread to his lower jaw and neck. He could not swallow properly and had difficulty breathing.  He also had a fever and was spitting up bloody phlegm.  He  was  taken to  a  Pueblo hospital  and  given  medication  for  a  sore  throat.

The following day, he was in great pain and unable to get out of his bunk. His cellmate asked numerous guards to help him, but was ignored. Near death two days later, he was finally taken back to the hospital and diagnosed with Ludwig's angina, a serious connective tissue infection of the floor of the mouth.

He was transported by helicopter to a Denver hospital, where emergency mouth surgery and a tracheotomy were performed and a feeding tube inserted. He remained in the hospital for six weeks and continues to suffer from near paralysis of the tongue which causes a severe speech impairment.

Tantlinger  filed  a  federal  civil  rights  lawsuit  pursuant to  42  U.S.C. §1983, alleging guards Louis Duchaine and Burleigh Castello were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs and warden Steve Hartley had  failed to properly train and supervise the guards with respect to proper attention to prisoners' medical needs. Hartley filed a motion to dismiss him from the suit, alleging it had failed to state a proper supervisory liability claim against him.

The court noted that the complaint alleged Tantlinger's medical distress was ignored by at least five named members of the prison staff and additional unnamed staff members. This “plausibly suggests at least a failure to train or supervise employees regarding prisoners' medical needs.” The court also ruled that the “formulaic recitation of the elements” of supervisory liability in Tantlinger's pleadings were conclusory, but nonetheless minimally sufficient to state a claim for relief in this case. Therefore, the motion was denied. See: Tantlinger v. Duchaine, U.S.D.C.-D.Col., Case No. 14-cv-2503-WJM-KMT. Additional sources: Pueblo Chieftain, Denver Post.

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Related legal case

Tantlinger v. Duchaine