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Fifth Circuit Partially Reinstates Mississippi Prisoner’s Suit Over Inadequate Mental Health Care

On September 29, 2017, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated part of a Mississippi state prisoner’s lawsuit complaining of inadequate mental health treatment at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution (SMCI).

Johnny Carl Grogan was incarcerated at SMCI when he allegedly attempted to commit suicide by drug overdose on July 4-5, 2014. He had previously been diagnosed with depression and suicidal ideation, and had received treatment for his mental health disorders for six years at another Mississippi prison before being transferred to SMCI. He filed a pro se federal civil rights suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that SMCI had insufficient mental health staff and policies, and that various mental health care providers had performed inadequately when evaluating and treating him – especially in regard to his suicide attempt.

The district court granted summary judgment to all the defendants, including Dr. Parveen Kumar, psychiatrist; a mental health counselor; a medical administrator; a lieutenant; and several unidentified nurses. Grogan appealed.

The Fifth Circuit held that, although Grogan attacked SMCI’s general mental health care policies, he failed to show how, for example, having only two counselors for about 3,000 prisoners or failing to have a psychiatrist on site 24/7 proved that the named defendants were deliberately indifferent to his mental health care needs. Further, his medical records showed a good faith attempt to provide him with treatment.

In an apparent copying error, Grogan had failed to attach to his response to the defendants’ motion for summary judgment the complete grievance form that showed he had exhausted his administrative remedies with respect to the lieutenant. That precluded him from pursuing his claims against that defendant.

The appellate court found a “genuine dispute exists as to whether Grogan attempted suicide July 4-5, 2014 and, if he did, whether Kumar and the defendant nurses responded in a reasonable manner.” The evidence was in dispute because Grogan’s medical records indicated that Kumar had examined him on July 5, 2014 and he was reportedly “doing well” and “calm,” but Grogan’s verified pleading and sworn statements – backed by the sworn declarations of six other prisoners who witnessed the events – said he was “laid out on the floor, not able to eat, drink, [or] walk, and barely able to talk,” and did not see Kumar that day.

For those reasons, the Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s grant of summary judgment except with respect to claims against Kumar and the nurses related to the alleged suicide attempt. The Court reversed summary judgment on that limited basis and remanded the case. It also vacated the lower court’s denial of Grogan’s motion to subpoena video recordings relevant to his alleged suicide attempt. The case remains pending on remand. See: Grogan v. Kumar, 873 F.3d 273 (5th Cir. 2017). 


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Related legal case

Grogan v. Kumar