In 1999, plaintiff, a New York state prisoner, was diagnosed by prison medical staff as having Hepatitis C virus ("HCV"). Based on prison policies, treatment of the condition was denied him at least twice--first, because prison officials thought he was to be released within a year (he was not, however) and, then, because he was not enrolled in a prison substance abuse program. (A third denial resulted from his liver condition.) In late 2002, he enrolled in a prison substance abuse program and was approved for HCV treatment beginning in January 2003; however, by then his medical condition had deteriorated and he was too weak to continue treatment. He exhausted his administrative remedies and, on July 19, 2001, filed a pro se suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. On November 16, 2001, he moved for a permanent injunction, enjoining delay of his medical treatment by a specialist. On March 5, 2002, District Judge P. Whitman Knapp denied plaintiff's motion. On July 29, 2003, the matter was reassigned to District Judge Harold Baer, Jr. Plaintiff then filed an amended complaint, with the assistance of pro bono private counsel, on August 21, 2003.
The new complaint alleged a series of failures to test for plaintiff's condition despite known danger signs of his disease, failure to initiate treatment when the need for treatment was apparent, failure to send plaintiff for follow-up visits ordered by doctors, and denial of treatment on the basis of inapplicable or flawed prison policies. The new complaint sought an order (a) requiring defendants to provide plaintiff with medical treatment for his HCV, including treatment by a specialist in HCV and cirrhosis, (b) declaring that defendants violated his Eight Amendment rights, (c) declaring that defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to substantive due process, (d) enjoining defendants from conditioning medical care on non-medical criteria, (e) requiring defendants to pay compensatory damages of no less than $3,000,000, (f) requiring defendants to pay punitive damages of no less than $3,000,000, (g) requiring defendants to pay plaintiff's attorneys' fees and costs; and (h) providing any further relief that the district court deemed fair and equitable.
On October 3, 2003, the defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Their motion asserted lack of personal involvement as to some defendants, qualified immunity as to all defendants, and insufficiency of the constitutional claims. In an unpublished ruling on January 24, 2004, the district court (Judge Baer) dismissed the Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim, dismissed the complaint as to one defendant for lack of personal involvement, upheld the sufficiency of the Eighth Amendment claim, and rejected the qualified immunity defense as to all other defendants (given the preliminary stage of the litigation). The defendants filed an interlocutory appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
On October 18, 2004, a panel of the Second Circuit issued its' opinion. First, it held that the defendants could raise a defense of qualified immunity as part of their motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim but, in that procedural setting, it would be very difficult for a court to have sufficient information to rule that the defense warranted dismissal. Next, the appellate court agreed with the district judge that, based on the amended complaint's allegations, the plaintiff had made a sufficient claim that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Such a claim, if proven, establishes an Eighth Amendment violation based on denial of adequate medical care for prisoners. Because the availability of the qualified immunity defense could not then be established as a matter of law, the appeal was dismissed and the case remanded to the district court. McKenna v. Wright, 386 F.3d 432 (2d Cir. 2004) (Circuit Judge Jon O. Newman).
Just prior to the remand, the case had been administratively reassigned on September 3, 2004, at the district court to District Judge Kenneth M. Karas. Discovery procedures continued over the following months but, also, in October 2005, DOCS revised its policy regarding HCV treatment. No longer would such treatment be conditioned on a prisoner's participation in a DOCS substance abuse program. Likely in anticipation of this policy change, on September 9, 2005, Judge Karas referred the case to Magistrate Judge Theodore H. Katz for settlement. The PACER docket sheet shows that on November 17, 2005, Judge Karas signed an order of settlement and dismissal, in accordance with the parties' stipulation for dismissal. The order was filed by the clerk on November 28, 2005, together with a directive from the court that the defendants pay $100,000 to the plaintiff, as part of the settlement.
We do not have a copy of the settlement or further details as to its terms, nor any information indicating further activity in this case.
Other cases in the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse database addressing similar claims in New York federal and state courts include PC-NY-51, -52, and -53.Mike Fagan - 05/01/2008