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Lawsuit Against New York Jail, CCS Survives Motion to Dismiss

by Derek Gilna

A federal civil rights complaint brought by the estate of deceased Monroe County, New York pre-trial detainee Pedro Sanchez, Jr. has survived a motion to dismiss filed by the county jail’s medical provider, Correct Care Solutions (now known as Wellpath), and several of the company’s medical staff, according to a December 2018 ruling. The district court’s rejection of the defendants’ motion means that discovery can continue preparatory to a jury trial.

According to the court’s order, Sanchez was admitted to the Monroe County Jail around January 20, 2015, where he remained until he was taken to a hospital in an unresponsive state less than two weeks later. 

“On the morning of February 1, 2015, at or about 7:30 AM,” the court wrote, “Mr. Sanchez was assaulted by two inmates at the Monroe County Jail who repeatedly punched him, including in the abdominal region ... [and] he was discharged back to the jail at or around 12:00 PM with his arm in a sling.

“On February 2, 2015, Mr. Sanchez died after bleeding internally from a lacerated spleen,” the court continued. “In the twenty-seven (27) hours preceding his death, and with increasing frequency in the hours leading up to his death, Mr. Sanchez exhibited medical symptoms commonly associated with a ruptured spleen and internal bleeding, including severe pain and burning in his abdomen and near his rib cage,” as well as other serious medical problems.

Despite the fact that there is “a high recovery rate for splenal injuries when the condition is timely treated,” the court noted that did not happen here. “[Plaintiff’s] Second Amended Complaint indicates that he essentially bled to death internally at the jail in full view of the individual defendants over a period of many hours in which the only medical care that he received was the administration of two doses of pain medication and the taking of his vital signs through the bars of a cell several times. This was the only care he was provided, despite the fact that he was screaming, writhing on the floor, threatening to kill himself due to the extreme pain.”

In concluding that a viable cause of action had been pleaded against CCS and its agents, the court found the “Defendants recognized that Sanchez needed a doctor but chose to make him wait until a doctor would be at the facility during regular office hours, rather than calling a doctor at home or having Sanchez transported back to the hospital.

“Moreover, while the medical defendants may not have known exactly what was wrong with Sanchez, they had enough information to conclude that his condition was potentially quite serious inasmuch as it was an excruciatingly painful condition in the left side of his chest affecting his breathing, blood pressure, heart rate and skin color.”

However, the district court also found the complaint failed to establish a Monell claim against Monroe County, which requires the existence of a formal policy endorsed by the local government agency, or a practice so persistent and widespread that it constitutes a custom or usage of which supervisory authorities were aware or one that can be inferred from evidence of deliberate indifference. The court further dismissed a medical malpractice claim for failure to obtain a certificate of merit prior to filing.

The district court concluded that concern for CCS’s ‘“profit margin’ ... creates an incentive to ‘delay or deny care’ and to ‘reduce labor costs’ by hiring too few staff and/or inexperienced staff; Correct Care ‘routinely’ has nurses perform ‘medical diagnoses of detainees’ even though diagnosing is ‘outside the scope of their practice’; Correct Care does not allow nurses to send detainees to the hospital without the approval of a doctor or Health Services Administrator....” 

This policy, to “maximize profits at the expense of detainee health needs,” sufficiently substantiated the remaining claims in the complaint, the court stated in its order denying the motion to dismiss. The case remains pending. See: Sanchez v. New York Correct Care Solutions Medical Services, U.S.D.C. (W.D. NY), Case No. 6:16-cv-06826-CJS-MWP. 

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Related legal case

Sanchez v. New York Correct Care Solutions Medical Services