by Matt Clarke
A lawsuit filed by a Texas prisoner with a wool allergy, who has spent a decade trying to get a blanket that will not cause an adverse reaction, has survived the state’s attempt to have the case dismissed.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) prisoner Calvin E. Weaver, 73, said he was diagnosed as “hyper-allergic” to wool in 2001. At that time, the TDCJ’s policy was to give allergic prisoners a medical pass for a cotton blanket. But in 2009 the agency changed its policy, rescinded the medical passes and took back the cotton blankets. Instead, according to court documents, prisoners with wool allergies were given non-wool synthetic blankets made of “a recycled blend of waste by-products.” According to Weaver, the replacement blankets “caused itching, open sores, and sleep deprivation resulting in hypertension and anxiety.”
Weaver filed a pro se lawsuit in federal court against the TDCJ’s executive director, the warden, a prison major, the medical director of the prison’s infirmary and a prison doctor, arguing that forcing him to use the replacement blankets, which he called “contaminated,” violated his Eighth Amendment rights. The defendants filed two motions to dismiss.
In a March 29, 2019 order, the district court noted that Weaver alleged only that the prison doctor, Kwabena Owusu, “failed to report an inhumane policy instituted by contaminated blanket use.” But Weaver did not show how the blankets were contaminated, or how they have caused widespread health problems. Therefore, he did not identify any unreasonable conduct by Owusu.
TDCJ executive director Brian Collier, Warden Mary Ann Comstock and Major James Blake claimed they were not doctors and could do nothing to help Weaver because his problem was a medical issue. The district court found their argument disingenuous, pointing out that each of them was in a position of authority and could presumably order that Weaver receive a different blanket or a medical evaluation. The court also rejected the defendants’ claim that Weaver’s cause of action had accrued in 2009, when the medical passes were rescinded and the cotton blankets confiscated, instead agreeing with Weaver that this was a continuing violation with the defendants repeatedly denying his requests for medical attention. Therefore, the statute of limitations had not run.
Weaver claimed that Terrell Unit Senior Medical Practice Manager Jose Gonzalez had repeatedly ignored his pleas for relief from the extreme pain and suffering he experienced from the replacement blankets. He alleged that Collier, Gonzalez and Blake had personal knowledge of his medical needs, with Collier having denied his request for an alternate blanket, and Gonzalez and Blake ignoring his repeated requests for medical care. That was sufficient to state a claim against those three defendants.
However, Weaver failed to state a claim against Dr. Owusu or Warden Comstock, as he did not show they had any direct involvement in the denial of a medical evaluation or alternate blanket. The district court therefore granted the motions to dismiss with respect to Comstock and Owusu; it also dismissed Weaver’s claims for monetary damages against the remaining defendants in their official capacities, as well as his due process claims. The motions were denied with respect to his Eighth Amendment claims for an injunction and for monetary damages against Collier, Gonzalez and Blake in their individual capacities.
Weaver has since been moved to the Pack Unit, and his lawsuit remains pending. See: Weaver v. Collier, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Tex.), Case No. 4:18-cv-01652; 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 54883.
Additional sources: chron.com, reason.com, New York Times
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Related legal case
Weaver v. Collier
|U.S.D.C. (S.D. Tex.), Case No. 4:18-cv-01652; 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 54883