§1983 Civil Rights: Claims for Deliberate Indifference & Medical Care – a Lawyer’s Count

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Denial of medical care under color of state law may state a claim for wrongful death or personal injuries under 42 U.S.C. §1983. A leading civil rights case of Avery T. “Sandy” Waterman, Jr., Esq., clearly establishes “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs” as a constitutional violation. Kane v. Hargis, 987 F.2d 1005, 1008-1009 (4th Cir. 1993).

“A duty to render medical care is generally thought of as arising under the Due Process Clause or the Eighth Amendment.” See, e.g., DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 200, 109 S. Ct. 998, 103 L.Ed.2d. 1134, 1139 (D. Minn. 2005). Under the Fourteenth Amendment, pretrial detainees are entitled to at least as much protection as under the Eighth Amendment.” Id. at 1141. Where an officer arrests by shooting and disabling and then denies the arrestee medical care, there is “no reason to carve out a separate standard for arrestees, a subset of pretrial detainees. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 523, 99 S. Ct. 1861, 1865-66, 60 L.Ed.2d. 249 (1989). Patrick v. Lewis, 397 F.Supp.2d. 447 (1979).” Nerren v. Livingston Police Dep’t, 86 F.3d. 469, 472-473 (9th Cir. 1996).

Hence, cases have denied qualified immunity for §1983 civil rights claims where defendants have denied arrestees medical attention. For example, in Nerren, supra, the arrestee had fled the scene of an automobile accident and unlawfully was denied requested medical attention upon apprehension. In Torres v. The City of Chicago, 123 F.Supp.2d. 1130 (N.D. Ill. 2000), plaintiff stated a §1983 claim where the police failed to secure a shooting victim the necessary immediate medical attention and he died. In Penilla v. City of Huntington Park, 115 F.3d. 707 (9th Cir. 1997), the police actually frustrated and delayed the victim receiving gravely needed medical care from paramedics, causing his death. To the same effect is Webb v. Stevens, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 61480 (E.D.N.C. Aug. 11, 2008), a wrongful death case litigated by Mr. Waterman, in which qualified immunity was denied under Rule 12 for allegedly conspiring officers delaying emergency medical treatment. Also, “G.S. 15A-503 imposes a duty on police who arrest an unconscious or semi-conscious person to make a reasonable effort to provide appropriate medical care.” Doerner v. City of Asheville, 90 N.C. App. 128, 130, cert. denied 323 N.C. 172 (1988).

No specific precedent for unconstitutionality is necessary for a §1983 civil rights claim where the unlawfulness indisputably is apparent. Factually dissimilar precedent does not entitle an offender qualified immunity where his misconduct is obviously unconstitutional.See, e.g., United States v. Lanier, 520 U.S. 259, 271 (1997). “[W]e must also keep in mind the Supreme Court’s warning that this is not a mechanical exercise, and that the test is not whether ‘the very action in question has previously been held unlawful,’ but rather whether pre-existing law makes the unlawfulness of an act ‘apparent.’ Accordingly, a constitutional right is clearly established for qualified immunity purposes not only when it has been ‘specifically adjudicated’ but also when it is ‘manifestly included with in more general applications of the core constitutional principle invoked.’ Thus, ‘when the defendants’ conduct is so patently violative of the constitutional right that reasonable officials would know without guidance from the courts that the action was unconstitutional, closely analogous pre-existing case law is not required to show that the law is clearly established.’ And to hold otherwise would allow an officer who understood the unlawfulness of his actions to escape liability simply because the incident case could be distinguished on some immaterial facts, or worse, because the illegality of the action was so clear that it had seldom before had been litigated.” Clem v. Corbeau, 282 F.3d. 543, 553 (4th Cir. 2002)(italics in original)(citations omitted).