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Eighth Circuit Revives Missouri Prisoner’s Claim Against Prison Food Manager for Denying Renal Diet

by David M. Reutter

On June 14, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment to a Missouri prison food service director accused of interfering with a prisoner’s medical diet and then retaliating against him for filing grievances.

Before the Court was the appeal of Northeast Correctional Center (NCC) prisoner Kenneth Charron, whose multiple medical conditions include cancer, kidney disease and renal failure, as well as pain in his arms, legs and back. Dissatisfied with his ongoing treatment for those conditions, and particularly alarmed by an April 2018 decision to discontinue his prescribed renal diet, Charron filed a pro se civil rights complaint in federal court for the Eastern District of Missouri on May 7, 2018.

On July 24 that same year, the district court allowed Charron to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) on his claims against NCC Food Service Director Larry Allen and Dr. Miguel Paniagua, an employee of the prison’s privately contracted healthcare provider, Corizon Health LLC. Allen moved for summary judgment, arguing he was not responsible for the April 2018 decision. The district court agreed and granted the motion. Still proceeding pro se, Charron appealed to the Eighth Circuit.

Before reaching the merits of his case, the Court noted that Charron was a “three striker” under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. That amended 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) to prevent a federal prisoner from proceeding IFP after having three federal suits dismissed, unless in “imminent danger of serious physical injury that is fairly traceable to a violation of law that the complaint asserts.” Failing that, Charron could not proceed without prepaying the filing fee.

The district court used a claim-by-claim approach to assess the “imminent danger” exception, resulting in dismissal without prejudice of some claims. The Eighth Circuit noted this approach was approved in McAlphin v. Tobey, 375 F.3d 753 (8th Cir. 2004), but it was later rejected in Chavis v. Chappius, 618 F.3d 162 (2d Cir. 2010) and Andrews v. Cervantes, 493 F.3d 1047 (9th Cir. 2007). Yet the district court granted IFP to Charron on his claims against Allen only and dismissed those against other defendants. Since Charron did not appeal those dismissals, it was left for another day to resolve the conflict on the “imminent danger” exception.

Turning to the merits, the Court said that the district court erred in dismissing all of Charron’s claims against Allen. It may be true that Allen didn’t make the April 2018 decision to discontinue Charron’s renal diet. But Charron made other claims against the food service director, who mischaracterized them as an attempt by Plaintiff to “[switch] horses midstream and [pursue] a new theory.”

So had Allen “repeatedly discontinued and interfered with Charron’s medical diets from June 2015 to April 2018, a period in which they were doctor-prescribed[?]” That question needed to be answered, the Court said. Thus it vacated the district court’s order and remanded the case for further proceedings. See: Charron v. Allen, 37 F.4th 483 (8th Cir. 2022). 

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