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Lawsuit Filed by Prisoner with Food Allergy is Dismissed

by David M. Reutter

A Michigan federal district court has dismissed a civil rights action alleging a prisoner was repeatedly and deliberately exposed to peanut butter and fish, which were known to cause serious allergic reactions. The court found the complaint failed to allege specific actions or involvement by the individual defendants.

Michigan state prisoner Carlo Vartinelli sued Aramark Correctional Services, the food service contractor for the Michigan Department of Corrections at the time, and several of the company’s employees. He alleged that his medical records reflected he had allergies to peanut butter, fish and iodine. Even the smell of fish could cause an allergic reaction. Between 1998 and 2014, Vartinelli experienced allergic reactions after being exposed to those foods in prison meals; on several occasions, he was taken to a hospital for treatment.

Prison officials made accommodations and issued orders that he be fed in his cell and that the allergic food items not be included in his diet. Yet he was allegedly served those items on numerous occasions. Vartinelli claimed that Aramark employees were aware of his allergies but were deliberately indifferent to them.

The defendants moved to dismiss his lawsuit. However, they conceded for the purposes of that motion that Vartinelli had met the objective component of the deliberate indifference standard, which was that his allergies were a serious medical condition.

Turning to the subjective component, which required Vartinelli to show that each defendant had personal knowledge of and involvement in the violation of his rights, the district court found that he referred to the defendants collectively throughout the complaint. He made no distinction “among the individual Defendants as to the circumstances surrounding any specific alleged incident or exposure to an allergen.” While the defendants knew about his allergies, Vartinelli failed to allege in his complaint that they knew food service workers were serving him fish and peanut butter, or exposing him to those foods.

Based on this pleading defect, the court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss on March 28, 2019. Vartinelli has since appealed the dismissal. See: Vartinelli v. Aramark Correctional Services, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Mich.), Case No. 2:18-cv-10964-PDB-RSW. 

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Related legal case

Vartinelli v. Aramark Correctional Services