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Seventh Circuit: Failure to Provide Medical Accommodation is Deliberate Indifference

by Kevin Bliss

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held in a June 26, 2019 ruling that sufficient evidence existed for a reasonable juror to conclude that prisoner LeRoy Palmer’s congenital deformity constituted a serious medical condition, and that a prison medical employee’s knowledge of the heightened risk of harm and failure to prevent that harm qualified as deliberate indifference.

Palmer was born without his left hand, with his arm terminating at the wrist. When he was transferred on January 11, 2012 to the North Reception and Classification Center in Illinois for an upcoming court appearance, he underwent routine intake screening by Craig Franz.

Palmer stated that he told Franz, employed by private contractor Wexford Health Sources, of his condition and need to have a low bunk pass similar to the one he had at his previous facility, the Shawnee Correctional Center. He said Franz failed to issue the pass, and he was assigned to a top bunk.

Palmer then filed two requests to see the prison’s doctor, both of which were ignored. On January 22, 2012, he fell from the top bunk and seriously injured his knee.

He filed suit against Franz in U.S. District Court, alleging negligence and deliberate indifference. After the close of discovery Franz moved for and was granted summary judgment. He claimed Palmer grew up with his deformity and it did not classify as a serious medical need, that Palmer did not show Franz was aware of his medical needs and that Palmer failed to prove deliberate indifference.

Palmer appealed, and the Seventh Circuit held that his risk of injury was obvious; simply because he was born with the deformity did not mean he had adapted to it and did not need accommodation.

The Court of Appeals said the district court had erred in assessing credibility to testimony that Franz could not issue a low bunk pass as a basis for granting summary judgment. It was sufficient for Palmer to submit evidence to the contrary for the case to be decided by a jury. Further, evidence suggested that Franz was aware of the heightened risk due to Palmer’s medical condition and acted with deliberate indifference by declining to take steps to mitigate that risk. The case was reversed and remanded, and remains pending. See: Palmer v. Franz, 928 F.3d 560 (7th Cir. 2019). 

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Related legal case

Palmer v. Franz