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Archer v. Dutcher

April 17, 1984


Appeal from a dismissal by grant of summary judgment of civil rights action alleging violation of prisoner's Eighth Amendment rights said to result from appellees' "deliberate indifference" to her medical needs.

Oakes and Cardamone, Circuit Judges, and Bonsal, District Judge.*fn* Bonsal, District Judge, dissenting.

Author: Oakes

OAKES, Circuit Judge:

Appellant's civil rights case was dismissed by grant of summary judgment, thereby making the determinative question here whether there is a genuine issue of material fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The action involves alleged deliberate indifference to the medical needs of the then-pregnant prison inmate, which, appellant asserts, rises to an Eighth Amendment violation under Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104, 50 L. Ed. 2d 251, 97 S. Ct. 285 (1976). Paying heed to the teaching of Heyman v. Commerce and Industry Insurance Co., 524 F.2d 1317, 1320 (2d Cir. 1975), that a court "must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought . . . with the burden on the moving party to demonstrate the absence of any material factual issue genuinely in dispute" (citations omitted), we must reverse the judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Henry F. Werker, Judge, and allow appellant to attempt to prove her charges.

Appellant Nanette Archer had been convicted of possession of stolen property in the third degree and sentenced to six months in prison. She was admitted to Dutchess County Jail (DCJ) on March 18, 1981, at which time she may well have been a heroin addict, was without doubt obese (5' 7", 240 pounds), and was also, as it developed, pregnant. Archer alleges that she was denied her Eighth Amendment rights by Dutchess County defendants-appellees*fn1 as a result of their alleged "deliberate indifference" to her safety and medical needs. According to Archer's brief, prison officials and staff demonstrated wanton disregard for her as "she lay in her prison cell, large with child and suffering torturous cramping and vaginal bleeding." She ultimately miscarried.

Following the submission by both sides of affidavits and Local Rule 3(g) statements, on August 24, 1983, Judge Werker granted defendants-appellees' motion for summary judgment. The judge first noted that the applicable test for a violation of a prisoner's medical rights, as set forth by the Supreme Court in Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. at 104, was that of "deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs," but also quoted Estelle that "[m]edical malpractice does not become a constitutional violation merely because the victim is a prisoner." Id. at 106. The judge then observed that Archer did not claim a total denial of medical care and that the "undisputed hospital records" showed that Archer was not denied treatment. According to Judge Werker, Archer's complaint really was about the "quality of the care" she received, and she was "thus seeking to substitute her own judgment for that of the prison's medical staff." Finding from the "uncontroverted evidence of an almost daily monitoring of [Archer's] condition by the prison's medical staff" that no reasonable person could find a "wanton disregard" or "deliberate indifference" of her medical needs, the district court concluded that there were no material disputed facts and dismissed the causes of action based on the alleged inadequate care. This appeal followed.

It appears from the affidavits filed by appellees that Archer's case may well be without merit. As Judge Werker observed, appellant received extensive medical attention, and the records maintained by the prison officials and hospital do substantiate the conclusion that appellees provided Archer with comprehensive, if not doting, health care. Nonetheless, Archer's affidavit in opposition to the motion for summary judgment does raise material factual disputes, irrespective of their likely resolution. For example, Archer identifies intentional efforts on the part of defendants to delay her access to medical care at a time she was in extreme pain. Specifically, her affidavit alleges that after she was returned to Dutchess County Jail on April 23, 1981, following an alleged beating at Albany County jail:

2. . . . I asked the admitting office for medical help due to the pain in my stomach, arms and back.

3. Despite numerous requests, I was not taken to a hospital for approximately five hours. During that delay, I told a doctor and several matrons or correction officers that I needed emergency attention for myself and my baby.

4. During this delay, I was the subject of a disciplinary hearing. I told the hearing committee I was in pain from a beating at Albany County Jail and needed to go to the hospital. They continued the hearing.

11. . . . I told the hearing committee I wanted to lay down because I was in a lot of pain and was worried about my baby. They continued the hearing.

12. I had cramps and pain in my stomach from the time I arrived at Dutchess County Jail on April 23, 1981 until I was taken to the hospital on May 4, 1981.

13. During those twelve days of pain, I started vaginal bleeding and was told that there was no need to go to a hospital because if I was going to have a miscarriage I would have it wherever I was.

14. During those twelve days of pain, I told Dr. Teclaw that I felt something was wrong with my baby because I wasn't feeling any movement and I asked to be taken to the Hospital. ...

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