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$8,000 Settlement for Medical Maltreatment by BOP; Court Finds Experts Not Required

Federal prisoner Michael Alan Crooker filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act alleging “malicious prosecution, negligence, and medical maltreatment by the United States Marshal’s Service (USMS) and the United States Bureau of Prisons (BOP).” Proceeding pro se, he survived a motion for summary judgment and eventually obtained an $8,000 settlement from prison officials.

Crooker complained that the USMS and the BOP “had failed to abide by a court order requiring Crooker’s pre-trial detention at a facility where he could be treated for liver disease, failed to provide him eyeglasses for one year, denied him non-emergency dental treatment for nine-and-one-half years, and had denied him cataract surgery for four years,” according to a February 3, 2015 ruling by a Massachusetts federal district court that denied in part the BOP’s summary judgment motion. Crooker also complained that a BOP psychologist had improperly revealed confidential medical information to non-authorized personnel, in violation of BOP policy.

The court dismissed the claims regarding malicious prosecution and treatment for liver disease, as well as claims related to allegedly inadequate eye and dental care that arose before December 2010; remaining was Crooker’s claim for the delay in receiving eyeglasses.

Prior to filing suit, Crooker was a diligent advocate for his own health care, refusing to tolerate a continuing pattern of inadequate BOP medical treatment. He then had to endure the BOP’s common practice of making life difficult for any prisoner who dares to challenge medical indifference – prison staff denied him proper corrective eyewear, and he had good time taken in a questionable disciplinary proceeding.

The district court noted that the BOP “contends that plaintiff will necessarily be unable to meet his burden of proof, because he has no supporting expert witness opinion. However, where a plaintiff’s claim is based primarily on a claim of negligent delay on the part of medical personnel, expert testimony is not necessarily required.”

The court further explained that Crooker had not raised claims regarding “negligent techniques” or a breach of “the standard of care” with respect to his eyeglasses. “[R]ather, he claims that a 15-month delay in providing him with eyeglasses was a breach of BOP’s duty to provide ‘decent, timely health care to its constituency.’” Because the “nature of this alleged breach is ‘sufficiently obvious as to lie within the common knowledge of the jury,’” expert testimony was not needed.

After the defendants failed to have the suit dismissed, they commenced settlement negotiations. According to Crooker, “I then offered to settle all claims for no money at all providing that my 41 days of forfeited good time be restored which had been taken as a disciplinary sanction as a direct result of the psychologist’s unlawful disclosure to the SIS investigators of my drug addiction.” In the end, the BOP elected to keep the good time and pay an agreed $8,000 settlement into Crooker’s prison trust account. The settlement was finalized and the case dismissed in March 2015. See: Crooker v. United States, U.S.D.C. (D. Mass.), Case No. 3:13-cv-30199-FDS; 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12386.

Crooker also prevailed in a wrongful conviction claim against the BOP, resulting in a settlement in a separate lawsuit. [See: PLN, March 2016, p.23]. 

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Related legal case

Crooker v. United States