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The Eleventh Circuit holds that Corrections Officers were not Deliberately Indifferent to Prisoner’s Medical Needs when Prisoner Caused the Delay in his Treatment

March 19, 2019

            In July 2010, officers arrested Javon Thomas for assault and interference with custody of a minor child. The next morning, Corrections Officer Randy Avery was concluding his patrol duties when “[he] was informed that there was a medical emergency where an inmate was possibly having a seizure.” Avery then, “saw inmate Javon Thomas sitting on the top bunk,” “sweating profusely” with “mucous coming out of his nose and saliva coming out of his mouth.” The officers attempted to have Thomas come down off the bunk, but he became aggressive. After the officers got Thomas to the ground, Thomas “became extremely aggressive and combative,” requiring the help of several officers. At this time, a nurse confirmed that Thomas had not suffered a seizure and speculated that “[p]ossible toxic ingestion” may have caused his erratic behavior.

 

            The officers finally restrained Thomas and transported him to the health clinic.  At the clinic, Thomas received a shot of Zyprexa, a drug often used as an “emergency treatment order for a person who is psychotic or acting psychotic.” Shortly after receiving the shot, Thomas suffered a grand mal seizure and died while being transported to the nearest hospital. According to the Medical Examiner’s Office, “[Thomas’] cause of death was ruled a seizure disorder of unknown etiology and the manner of death was ruled natural.”

 

            Mozelle Thomas and Jalynne Santiago, personal representatives of Thomas's estate, brought action against the city, sheriff, and various correctional officers and medical personnel in individual capacities, alleging various state-law violations and violations of Thomas's Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights under a deliberate indifference theory. Thomas v. City of Jacksonville, 731 Fed. Appx. 877 (11th Cir. 2018). A deliberate-indifference theory comprises a three-part inquiry, requiring that a plaintiff show “(1) subjective knowledge of a risk of serious harm; (2) disregard of that risk; (3) by conduct that is more than mere negligence.” Plaintiffs allege that Defendants “unreasonably delayed administering medical attention and treatment,” and also that Defendants’ use of restraints and their administration of Zyprexa were inappropriate.

 

            The district court found that nothing in the record suggests that Defendants delayed in their response to Thomas’ ailments. Specifically, the officers had significant difficulty pacifying Thomas when they arrived in his cell.  In addition, Plaintiffs never explained how the alleged delay harmed Thomas, and thus they fail to “establish the detrimental effect of delay,” an essential component of their claim.  Plaintiffs also failed to provide any expert witnesses to support a finding of the deliberate indifference rather than mere negligence, thus failing to meet the requirements of their claim. The only testimony from someone qualified to render medical opinions came from the nurse that concluded that “[Thomas] did not suffer a seizure before the Zyprexa.” As a result, the district court granted summary judgment to Defendants on the basis of qualified immunity, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

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