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Fifth Circuit Holds Denial of Diabetic Diet During Lockdowns States Claim

by Matt Clarke

On January 29, 2018, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held a diabetic prisoner’s allegation that he was denied a medical diet and required to repeatedly eat high-sugar meals during prison lockdowns stated a claim of deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs sufficient to show a likelihood of success on the merits for the purpose of a preliminary injunction.

Carl David Jones, a Texas state prisoner, moved for a preliminary injunction after filing a pro se 42 U.S.C. § 1983 federal civil rights action. He claimed prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs when, during prison lockdowns, they repeatedly denied him the diet he was prescribed because he has diabetes and had suffered a stroke, and instead gave him high-sugar meals. The motion was denied and Jones appealed.

The Fifth Circuit noted that Jones asserted he had suffered a stroke just before a three-week lockdown. During the lockdown, Food Services Manager Greg Cruise replaced his medical diet with a “sugar-based diet” that caused Jones’ blood sugar level to exceed 500. Seventeen days into the lockdown, he said he experienced a heart attack.

According to Jones, about two months later the prison was again placed on lockdown, during which his medical diet was again replaced with a high-sugar diet. That forced him to inject more than his normal dose of insulin to reduce his blood sugar level, which, he argued, exposed him to a risk of injury by increasing the probability of his blood sugar falling too quickly. During the third week of that lockdown, Jones filed his motion for a preliminary injunction – which was summarily denied by a magistrate judge.

The Court of Appeals noted that in his appellate brief, Jones alleged a third lockdown had occurred and his medical diet was again replaced with a high-sugar diet.

The Court held that, although the magistrate judge had correctly taken Jones’ allegations of fact as true, the conclusion that his claims at most established negligence on the part of prison officials was in error. Further, the magistrate’s conclusion that it was “improbable that Jones could establish that the grant of an injunction would not disservice the public interest” was “without any basis in the record.” Rather, the appellate court wrote, the district court “cannot simply assume that providing necessary medical care to a prisoner would be too much of an inconvenience to prison officials.”

The Fifth Circuit found that liberally construed, Jones’ pro se pleadings “allege a pattern of knowing interferences with prescribed medical care for his diabetes, despite his multiple complaints and his official grievance, which were all essentially ignored.”

Those allegations were sufficient to state a claim of deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, such that “Jones has shown a sufficient likelihood of success on the merits” for the purpose of his motion for a preliminary injunction. In addition, he had alleged a substantial threat of serious injury to his health.

Accordingly, the denial of a preliminary injunction was vacated and the case remanded to the district court for further proceedings. See: Jones v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice, 880 F.3d 756 (5th Cir. 2018). 


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Related legal case

Jones v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice