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Connecticut Prisoner Survives DOC’s Summary Judgment Motion in Mental Health Suit

by Ed Lyon 

Raudell Mercado initially entered the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) in 2013 as a youthful offender at the Manson Youth Institution. In March 2015, he was formally admitted to the DOC as a pre-trial detainee; soon afterward he was transferred to the Cheshire Correctional Institution due to his assaultive behavior. After two days, he was sent to the Garner Correctional Institution for a psychiatric evaluation, then finally moved to the Northern Correctional Institution for management of his mental health issues.

Initially diagnosed as suffering from bipolar and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Mercado was treated in part with drug therapy that included lithium and trazodone. After extensive interviews, defendant doctors Frayne and Gagne decided Mercado suffered from antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic disorder rather than the earlier bipolar and ADHD diagnosis; they discontinued his prescribed medications and instead ordered a behavior modification program.

Mercado sued the two doctors and other prison officials in federal court, raising claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 12132 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The defendants moved for summary judgment, claiming Mercado had not exhausted administrative remedies, relief was not available on respondeat superior claims and the change in diagnosis did not constitute deliberate indifference.

In a May 25, 2018 order, the district court noted that “Bipolar Affective Disorder has been recognized as a disability under the ADA.”

Because Mercado provided no copies of the grievances he submitted regarding the change in his diagnosis and alleged retaliation by the doctors due to his use of the grievance system, the defendants argued he had not exhausted his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Pointing out that “it is often difficult to prove a negative” and there is no “authority that requires Plaintiff to offer on summary judgment copies of written grievances,” the district court accepted Mercado’s sworn statement that he had filed grievances and a doctor’s affidavit that said grievance submissions would be consistent with Mercado’s “character pathology.” Accordingly, the court denied summary judgment on exhaustion grounds.

Further, the district court found a triable issue on the subjective prong of Mercado’s deliberate indifference claim, due to the absence of written notes to support the doctors’ different diagnosis and decision to stop medication therapy. Summary judgment was denied as to that claim.

Likewise, Mercado’s placement on behavioral observation status (a DOC euphemism for administrative segregation) after he began submitting grievances concerning the different diagnosis of his mental health condition was not supported by written medical notes.

Finding no causal link between the doctors’ actions and supervisory prison officials, however, summary judgment was granted on the respondeat superior claim. 

In conclusion, the court dismissed all of Mercado’s claims except those related to deliberate indifference and retaliation, along with all defendants except doctors Frayne and Gagne. The case remained pending as of January 2019. See: Mercado v. Dep’t of Corr., U.S.D.C. (D. Conn.), Case No. 3:16-cv-01622; 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87681. 

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Related legal case

Mercado v. Dep’t of Corr.