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Fifth Circuit Reinstates Part of Louisiana Prisoner's Failure-to-Protect, Medical Indifference Lawsuit

by Lonnie Burton

On February 9, 2017, the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmedin part and reversed in part a district court's order granting summary judgment to prison officials in a case where a state prisoner claimed he was misclassified, assaulted, and then denied timely, adequate medical care. Only the prisoner's claims that a lieutenant denied him access to prescribed medications and refused to allow him to seek medical attention were reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

Larry Dupree Alderson was a pretrial detainee who, in December 2014, was housed in the Concordia Parish. Correctional Facility (CPCF) awaiting trial. According to his complaint, Alderson was housed in CPCF's G-Dorm, a unit that houses state DOC prisoners. On December 22, 2014, Alderson was attacked and beaten for three-to-five minutes by two DOC prisoners who did not like Alderson's charges. After the attack, instead of sending Alderson for medical care, CPCF lieutenant Harvey Bryant sent him to a lockdown cell with other DOC prisoners. It was not until Alderson and his family made numerous complaints did Bryant return to Alderson's cell, take pictures of his injuries with his personal phone, and then force Alderson to wait for yet another hour for medical treatment.

Alderson was prescribed antibiotics and painkillers for the bruised and broken ribs and puncture wounds to his face, head, and body he suffered during the attack. When Alderson asked Bryant for his medication, Bryant told him to "Man up & wait til [sic] medical staff return from Christmas holiday." Alderson did not receive any meds until January 2, 2015, during which time he stated his only injury was an "excruciating amount of pain." Since the incident Alderson said he has been in "constant fear for my life from" prisoners and staff.

Alderson sued, pro se, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His claims included that CPCF officials failed to provide him adequate security resulting in the assault, and that they impermissibly delayed and denied him medical care. CPCF officials moved for summary judgment, which the court granted for failure to state a claim, and Alderson appealed.

For the most part, the Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court's dismissal of Alderson lawsuit, and affirmed. The appellate court did, however, reverse the dismissal of Alderson's claims against Bryant for refusing to give him his medications and for denying and delaying medical treatment after the assault.

As for Alderson's failure-to-protect ground, the court held that claim failed because the misclassification of Alderson's custody status "is not a sufficient allegation that any specific defendant had knowledge of a substantial risk of serious harm to Alderson based on his classification." The court found that Alderson failed to state a claim because he did not link their "misclassification to deliberate indifference toward that risk." Accordingly, Alderson's supervisory liability claims relating to the same issue similarly failed, the court ruled.

Alderson's claims against Bryant, however, were not properly dismissed, and should survive for trial, the Fifth Circuit held. "Bryant's initial response to Alderson's medical needs was to refuse treatment and ignore his complaints, which constitutes deliberate indifference," the court wrote, while further finding that Bryant's flippant response to Alderson's request for his medications "evinc[ed] wanton disregard for his serious medical needs."

Finally, the appellate court, ruled that Alderson should be allowed, if he chose, to amend his complaint with more specific allegations to rectify his failure to state a claim on the failure-to-protect issue.. The district court had dismissed that claim with prejudice.

Thus, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of all Alderson's claims except those against Lieutenant Bryant, and remanded for further consideration "of the previously unconsidered claim that Bryant impermissibly delayed Bryant's initial medical evaluation." See: Alderson v. Concordia Parish Correctional Facility, No. 15-30610 (5th Cir. 2017).

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Related legal case

Alderson v. Concordia Parish Correctional Facility