by Matt Clarke
On June 2, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that facts alleged in a supplemental administrative report which a district court requested from prison officials may not be relied upon if they conflict with factual allegations in a prisoner’s complaint. Such a report is known as a Martinez report because the procedure for requesting it was laid out in Martinez v. Aaron, 570 F.2d 317 (10th Cir. 1978).
Texas prisoner Donald Lloyd Davis, Jr. was held at the state’s Polunsky Unit in September 2017 when a guard allegedly subjected him to “an unwarranted use of force,” as the Court later recalled, “intentionally fractur[ing] his foot and ankle.” Two days later, he hobbled to have it X-rayed, despite the pain in his foot. When a prison medical provider said there was no fracture, Davis figured it was to cover up for the guard. He was given crutches and ibuprofen and returned to his cell.
The injury allegedly caused him so much pain that he “lost his will to live,” according to the complaint he later filed. A suicide attempt followed, and he was transferred to Jester IV Unit — without crutches — for mental health treatment. There Davis complained of pain to medical personnel, who ordered additional X-rays. But before any could be taken, he was transferred again to the Huntsville Unit.
There, nine days after the injury, X-rays were taken. But medical personnel allegedly relied on the original determination from the Polunsky Unit medical provider to find that there was no fracture. Davis filed grievances and was eventually returned to Jester IV, where medical personnel referred him to the prison hospital in Galveston for a CAT scan.
That scan was taken 20 days after the injury, and it showed Davis had a sprained ankle and a broken toe. He was issued a medical boot, but he continued to experience pain. He then filed suit pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in federal court for the Southern District of Texas, alleging deliberate indifference to his serious medical need, in violation of his Eighth Amendment guarantee of freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.
To help develop the factual record, the district court asked the state Attorney General to investigate the claims and submit a Martinez report, for which the procedure was adopted by the Fifth Circuit in Norton v. Dimazana, 122 F.3d 286 (5th Cir. 1997). After reviewing the report, the district court then dismissed the complaint as legally frivolous and for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Davis appealed.
The Fifth Circuit began by noting that a prisoner’s complaint survives dismissal “‘if it contains sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face,’” quoting Legate v. Livingston, 822 F.3d 207 (5th Cir. 2016). In his complaint, Davis accused the medical providers of deliberate indifference that caused his delayed treatment. But this allegation was refuted by the Martinez report, which faulted Davis’ mental health treatment for the delay in treating his foot. Based on that, the district court dismissed his complaint.
The Fifth Circuit said this was error. “[I]f the Martinez report conflicts with the pro se plaintiff’s allegations, the district court must accept the plaintiff’s allegations as true, not … the report,” it said. Therefore, the district court’s judgment was vacated with respect to the medical providers and the case remanded. See: Davis v. Lumpkin, 35 F.4th 958 (5th Cir. 2022).
It has now returned to the district court, and PLN will report developments as they are available. See: Davis v. Davis, USDC (S.D. Tex.), Case No. 4:19-cv-01729.
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