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Prisoner’s Death from Methadone Over-Prescription Results in Summary Judgment, Settlement

by David Reutter

In a November 30, 2018 decision, the Seventh Circuit upheld a summary judgment order in favor of county defendants in a lawsuit alleging they were deliberately indifferent to the medical needs of a pretrial detainee who died.

On March 30, 2010, Patrick McCann assaulted and threatened his mother and then set her home in Polo, Illinois on fire. He was severely burned and spent the next three weeks in a hospital. Upon his release, he was booked into the Ogle County Correctional Center (OCCC). His hospital discharge papers included a list of prescriptions and instructions for future treatment.

At the jail, McCann was under the care of Dr. Stephan Cullinan, a contractor with Health Professionals, Ltd. A week after he entered OCCC, McCann was examined by Dr. Cullinan, who changed McCann’s pain medication to 60 mg of methadone twice a week – which a federal district court subsequently said was “much too high a dose.”

Three days later, McCann was found unresponsive and OCCC staff were unable to revive him. An autopsy revealed he died due to an over-prescription of methadone. His estate sued.

Dr. Cullinan and Health Professionals agreed to a confidential settlement. The claims against individual jail staff, nurse Cindy Mongan, Sheriff Gregory Beitel and Ogle County continued. The court granted them summary judgment, and McCann’s estate appealed.

As to the county, the Seventh Circuit agreed there was no policy at issue that created Monell municipal liability, and the individual county defendants involved, with the exception of Mongan, had no role in McCann’s care or were entitled to rely on the treatment provided by Dr. Cullinan. Thus, they were not deliberately indifferent to McCann’s medical needs

Further, the appellate court found that the record showed Nurse Mongan “provided extensive care and treatment for McCann and was anything but deliberately indifferent to his medical needs.” She was unaware that the methadone dosage level would prove toxic, and was entitled to rely on Dr. Cullinan’s prescription. She “even voluntarily came in on a weekend to assist McCann with taking a shower,” and asked her colleagues to call her if his condition worsened.

Accordingly, the district court’s summary judgment order was affirmed. See: McCann v. Ogle County, 909 F.3d 881 (7th Cir. 2018). 

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Related legal case

McCann v. Ogle County