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Federal Judge Orders Prison Doctor to Face Deliberate Indifference Claims

by Chad Marks

A federal judge in Indiana ruled on June 12, 2018 that prison doctor Paul Talbot must answer a complaint filed by state prisoner Billy J. Lemond.

Lemond was incarcerated at the Pendleton Correctional Facility when he required back surgery. On August 24, 2015, he underwent decompressive laminectomy surgery at an outside hospital. Dr. Gautam Phookan, who performed the procedure, prescribed a 30-day supply of pain medication and physical therapy. Two days later, Lemond was discharged and returned to Pendleton. 

Once at the prison, Dr. Talbot, employed by private medical contractor Corizon, changed Lemond’s pain medication from Norco to Tramadol, and from 30 days to just five days. He also decided that physical therapy was not needed.

Lemond filed suit arguing that Dr. Talbot had violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment by being deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Specifically, the doctor had failed to provide him with prescribed pain medication and failed to order physical therapy for eight months; as a result, Lemond suffered unnecessary pain and loss of mobility.

Dr. Talbot moved to have the suit dismissed on summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate when the movant shows there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). To survive a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must set fourth specific, admissible evidence showing there is a genuine issue of material fact in dispute. The facts are considered “in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the non-movant’s favor.”

U.S. District Court Judge William T. Lawrence found there were eight material facts in dispute. Those included whether Dr. Talbot had ever conducted a physical examination of Lemond; whether the doctor prescribed Tramadol “because he was concerned about long-term use of opioid and opioid-like medications”; whether Lemond’s pain had been properly treated, including whether Tylenol was a reasonable substitute for other medications; whether Dr. Talbot believed Lemond continued to have pain or needed physical therapy; and whether Lemond “was adversely affected by the delay in providing of physical therapy.”

Accordingly, Judge Lawrence ordered the claims against Dr. Talbot to be resolved at trial or through a settlement, though the motion for summary judgment was granted as to Corizon’s health service administrator at Pendleton, Aleycia McCullough. Following its order, the court granted Lemond’s request for assistance in recruiting counsel; a settlement was reached in December 2018 but has not yet been finalized. See: Lemond v. Talbot., U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ind.), Case No. 2:17-cv-00113-JRS-DLP; 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98216. 

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Related legal case

Lemond v. Talbot