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Federal Court Denies Summary Judgment to Both Sides in Louisiana Prisoner's Medical Indifference Lawsuit

On June 6, 2016, Judge John W. deGravelles of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana issued an order denying summary judgment for both the prisoner plaintiff and the state defendant in a lawsuit alleging denial of adequate medical care. The court ruled that neither side proved the uncontroverted facts were in its favor, and set the case for trial.

Jason Hacker, a prisoner at the Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP), filed his first complaint on January 30, 2014, alleging, in essence, that he was receiving inadequate medical care with respect to his failing eyesight and worsening cataracts. Hacker sued former LSP warden N. Burl Cain, former Louisiana Governor. Bobby Jindal, LSP medical director Dr. Rehm Singh, and others, alleging Eighth Amendment violations under 42 U.S.C. Sect, 1983 for failing to provide required cataract surgery. In an amended complaint, Hacker says his eyesight has progressively worsened during his incarceration and he has been diagnosed with severe cataracts in both eyes.

Hacker was transported numerous times to outside eye specialists. One specialist from the Charity Hospital in New Orleans ordered "immediate cataract surgery in both eyes" and assured Hacker that he would include in his report to the LSP doctors that his cataract condition was the reason for him going blind as well as the pain and burning in his eyes and that cataract surgery would "correct and restore his vision."

In June of 2013 Hacker was seen by an LSP doctor who told him he was legally blind but that no surgery would be provided due to a lack of funds. According to Hacker's complaint, the doctor blamed LSP's medical director, who had said "that the only way ... (Hacker) would receive … eye surgery is if he was bleeding from the eyes," and that no surgery would be provided absent a "life or death situation."

Hacker sued in federal court, seeking to force LSP officials to provide the surgery, and seeking damages. Hacker moved for summary judgment, arguing that no reasonable jury could find that defendants accommodated his medical condition or provided constitutionally-adequate medical care. Defendants also moved for summary judgment, raising numerous issues, including a claim of immunity, failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and that the evidence was "overwhelming" that Hacker's medical needs were not ignored`

The court rejected both summary judgment motions, holding that a "fair review of this case reveals that both Parties have provided more than a modicum of evidence for their respective yet incompatible positions." Because a court reviewing a motion for summary judgment must view the facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, the court said "it was impossible to conclude that a reasonable jury would incontestably find in either's favor."

Specifically, the court found that the issue of whether Hacker was losing his eyesight by virtue of the delay in surgery or that his condition was predictable and unavoidable, was a fact-intensive question "for which juries are empaneled."

Similarly, the court found that whether the defendants' actions were objectively reasonable thereby entitling them to qualified immunity was also a "fact-intensive inquiry" for which the court simply could not resolve on this record.

The court finally dismissed defendants' claim that Hacker did not exhaust his administrative remedies, noting that Hacker gave ample notice to defendants regarding his allegations when he filed a grievance complying with LSP's grievance procedures, which only require the prisoner to write a letter to the warden that sets out the basis for his claim and the relief sought. Hacker's letter/grievance complaining about his "impending blindness" and his inability to perform "daily living activities" and his need for surgery was "more than sufficient to fulfill the PLRA's exhaustion requirement," the court found.

PLN will report the outcome of this case when it becomes available. See Hacker v. Cain, No. 3:14-00063-JWD-EWD (U.S.D.C. M.D. LA), June 6, 2016.

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Hacker v. Cain