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Medically Unacceptable Biopsy States Eighth Amendment Claim

In an unpublished ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held the estate of California prisoner Robert Staggs stated a claim that prison doctors were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs.

The matter was before the Ninth Circuit after the district court dismissed the case at the pleading stage for failure to state a claim. On appeal, the parties agreed that “Staggs had serious medical needs in the form of Hepatitis C, cirrhosis of the liver, and complications from undiagnosed liver cancer, among other ailments.”

The only issue was whether the defendants, despite their awareness of Staggs’ condition, were deliberately indifferent in denying medical treatment or in providing medically unacceptable care.

“Plaintiffs have alleged that prison doctors continued to recommend and eventually arranged a three-pass core liver biopsy even after two hospitals refused to perform the procedure under any circumstances because of an elevated risk of internal bleeding,” the Ninth Circuit wrote in its June 26, 2015 decision. “That fact, accepted as true, plausibly suggests that the decision to order the biopsy was ‘medically unacceptable under the circumstances.’”

That finding supported the estate’s claim that prison doctors consciously disregarded a substantial risk of serious harm to Staggs. As such, the district court’s dismissal order was in error; the Ninth Circuit vacated the order and remanded the case for further proceedings. The case remains pending, and on March 8, 2016 the district court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss. See: Staggs v. Doctor’s Hospital of Manteca, 608 Fed.Appx. 514 (9th Cir. 2015). 

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Related legal case

Staggs v. Doctor’s Hospital of Manteca