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Fourth Circuit Reverses Judgment in Favor of BOP in Deliberate Indifference Case

by Christopher Zoukis

The Fourth Circuit has reversed a district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Bureau of Prisons (BOP) officials on a prisoner’s claim that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated.

Paul Scinto, Sr. was incarcerated at the Federal Prison Camp in Butner, North Carolina between June 2005 and March 2006. He suffered from a myriad of medical conditions at the time, including hepatitis C, high blood pressure and insulin-dependent diabetes. His conditions were well-documented in his medical file.

Scinto claimed that he was subjected to deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs on multiple occasions. Specifically, despite acknowledging high blood sugar levels, Scinto’s medical provider, Dr. Derick Phillip, refused to provide him with insulin. Dr. Phillip also allegedly declined to provide treatment to Scinto during a medical emergency in which he experienced extreme stomach pain, “was throwing up vomit and blood ... [and] became incontinent.” Not only did Dr. Phillip refuse to treat Scinto, but in concert with FCI Butner Camp Administrator Susan McClintock, had him thrown in the Special Housing Unit (SHU), where he spent the next six months.

Scinto sued everyone involved, including then-BOP Director Harley G. Lappin, Mid-Atlantic Regional Director Kim White, FPC Butner Camp Warden Patricia Stansberry, McClintock, other prison staff and, of course, Dr. Phillip. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding there were no genuine issues of fact in dispute and the case should be dismissed.

The Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that Scinto had established genuine factual disputes as to his medical care, and that Dr. Phillip knew of Scinto’s condition but deliberately refused to treat him. Moreover, the Court of Appeals rejected the district court’s determination that expert testimony was required to establish a failure to treat chronic diabetes could lead to serious injury, noting “a jury is capable of understanding, unaided, the risks of failing to provide insulin to a diabetic and of a trained doctor’s denial of a diabetic’s known need for insulin.”

The appellate court also reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of McClintock and Dr. Phillip on Scinto’s claim of cruel and unusual punishment resulting from their failure to treat his medical emergency by sending him to the SHU. Again, the Fourth Circuit found Scinto had presented facts from which a jury could easily conclude that those actions amounted to deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.

Interestingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of Scinto’s claim that he was not provided a medically necessary diet while in the SHU. As a diabetic, Scinto argued, he required a diet light on sugars and starches. The Court found that because he had been “educated” about how to “select foods appropriate for [his] medical conditions,” he could pick and choose what he ate. In its November 4, 2016 decision, however, the appellate court did not explain how Scinto could replace the calories lost due to his “choosing” not to eat medically inappropriate food, when no other food was available to him in the SHU.

The case remains pending on remand. See: Scinto v. Stansberry, 841 F.3d 219 (4th Cir. 2016).

Related legal case

Scinto v. Stansberry


 

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