Prisoner cannot sue jail medical authorities for delay in diagnosing cancer
Joshua Reilly attempted to sue the jail doctor and nurses who failed to diagnose the bone cancer that developed around his eye. He argued that over the months he was jailed, the doctor and nurses were negligent in responding to his developing symptoms and thus failed to interrupt the progress of the cancer in a timely manner. He argued that the medical staff were "deliberately indifferent" to his health condition, resulting in a violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
Reilly first noticed swelling around his eye and reported it to jail medical staff on February 13, 2007. He was given Tylenol and a warm compress. On June 6, he submitted another formal request for treatment, citing the "bump" over his left eye. The Doctor concluded it was a "calcium deposit" and offered no treatment. Reilly sought treatment again in July and again in October, before he was sent to an optometrist. The optometrist prescribed eye drops and glasses. On December 27, a physician from "Correctional Medical Services" treated Reilly for the "11-month history" of problems, a nodule under the left eyebrow and vomiting. He was told to take Tylenol and told to return if he continued vomiting. Reilly was released from prison soon afterward and had the good sense to go to the Kellogg Eye Center at the University of Michigan. There, he was diagnosed with bone cancer and treatment was commenced.
Within the statutory limitation period, Reilly filed suit against the jail medical service private agents, arguing that their negligent care complicated his cancer treatment by unreasonably delaying the proper diagnosis of Ewing's Sarcoma. The Defendants sought summary disposition, arguing that they were immune from liability for negligence. The District Court denied this motion and the Defendants appealed to the Sixth Circuit.
The appellate judges concluded that Michigan's governmental immunity statute affords individual actors immunity that is similar to Section 1983's federal standard: in order to be liable for their misdeeds, the Defendant public actors must have demonstrated a "wanton" disregard for the Plaintiff's well-being that is not "mere negligence." Looking at the history of visits to each of the individual defendants, the Court ruled as a matter of law that Reilly had not established a question of fact regarding liability. It concluded that while it was unquestioned that "a substantial risk of serious harm existed," Reilly had not established a "sufficiently culpable state of mind in denying medical care."