by David M. Reutter
On March 31, 2022, the federal court for the Southern District of Mississippi granted a state prisoner’s petition and enjoined the state Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide him total hip revision surgery. He was also awarded damages and attorney fees totaling over $386,000.
Since age two, prisoner Thad Everett Delaughter has suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis. As a result, he received a bilateral hip replacement and a bilateral knee replacement prior to his imprisonment in 2006. Four years later, Delaughter began complaining about severe pain in his left prosthetic hip. He was referred to Dr. Elliot Nipper, an orthopedic specialist.
In July 2011, Dr. Nipper found that Delaughter’s prosthetic hip had failed. Surgery was scheduled for October 2011, but it was cancelled and never rescheduled. When no surgery had happened 30 months later, Delaughter filed suit pro se in January 2014. The Court then granted summary judgment to Defendants, DOC, Dr. Ronald Woodall (an employee of its privately contracted health care provider, Wexford Health Sources), and South Mississippi Correctional Institution Medical Administrator Dr. Michael Hatten. Delaughter appealed the judgments in favor of Woodall and Hatten, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the former and reversed the latter. See: Delaughter v. Woodall, 909 F.3d 130 (5th Cir. 2018).
On remand, the district court appointed attorneys Christopher E. Smith and Grady M. Holder of Smith & Holder PLLC in Gulfport to provide counsel for Delaughter. They filed an amended complaint for him against Hatten and DOC’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Gloria Perry. A jury then found them deliberately indifferent to the prisoner’s serious medical needs on December 15, 2021, awarding him $382,000 in compensatory damages.
Following trial, the district court had to decide whether Delaughter was entitled to prospective injunctive relief from Perry’s successor, Dr. Donald Faucett. The Court found Faucett has “some connection” and authority to compel the provision of surgery because he is the one responsible for finding a willing surgeon and coordinating treatment. Thus, the exception to sovereign immunity laid out in Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), applied to Faucett, so the Court had authority to enter injunctive relief.
It then found Delaughter was suffering an ongoing constitutional violation. There was no dispute that “total hip revision surgery is medically necessary.” Yet, the record showed continued delays or inaction to obtain the surgery for Delaughter.
To end the ongoing injury, which caused Delaughter’s condition to progressively worsen and make surgery harder, the Court found injunctive relief was necessary. It therefore ordered Dr. Faucett to “obtain and coordinate Delaughter’s total hip revision” and report his efforts to the Court every three weeks “until … revision and post-surgical treatment is complete.” That order on March 31, 2022, also included the jury’s verdict. See: Delaughter v. Hatten, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59601 (S.D. Miss.).
Perry then moved for Judgment as a Matter of Law or, alternatively, a New Trial or Remittitur of the award. Faucet filed a motion to Alter or Amend Judgment.
Since there was ample evidence presented to the jury that both Perry and Nipper denied Delaughter access to outside specialists and reconstructive surgery they deemed too expensive, the Court said “the facts and inferences do not ‘point so strongly and overwhelmingly in favor of the moving party that reasonable jurors could not arrive at a contrary verdict,’” the standard to overturn a judgment laid out in Carmona v. Sw. Airlines Co., 604 F.3d 848 (5th Cir. 2010).
Nor was Remittitur appropriate since the jury’s award wasn’t “contrary to right reason” nor “entirely disproportionate to the injury sustained,” the Court added, quoting Caldarera v. Eastern Airlines, Inc., 705 F.2d 778 (5th Cir. 1983). Moreover, the fact that Delaughter’s hip revision had begun did not count as “new evidence” that might moot his request for injunctive relief, since mootness can’t occur before “the event sought to be enjoined takes place,” the Court noted, citing Harris v. City of Houston, 151 F.3d 186 (5th Cir. 1998).
Thus both motions were denied by the Court on July 6, 2022. See: Delaughter v. Hatten, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 118294 (S.D. Miss.).
That same day, the Court also awarded Plaintiff attorney fees and costs totaling $99,627.05, with $4,127.05 paid directly by Perry and the remainder coming from Delaughter’s compensatory damages award, as set out in U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(2). See: Delaughter v. Hatten, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 118292 (S.D. Miss.).
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Related legal cases
Delaughter v. Hatten
|Cite||2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59601 (S.D. Miss.)|
Delaughter v. Hatten
|Cite||2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 118294 (S.D. Miss.)|
Delaughter v. Hatten
|Cite||2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 118292 (S.D. Miss.)|
Delaughter v. Woodall
|Cite||909 F.3d 130 (5th Cir. 2018)|
|Level||Court of Appeals|
|Appeals Court Edition||F.3d|