Eighth Amendment complaint splits 7th Circuit

A prisoner’s attempt to seek remedy for injuries he sustained from falling out of the bunk bed in his cell split the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. The majority found the inmate did not sue the individuals who were responsible.

However, Judge Richard Posner dissented, asserting a dog deserved better treatment than the prisoner had received.

William Miller, incarcerated in the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute after being convicted of bank robbery, initially filed his suit pro se after he fell from his top bunk and broke his back. He named Gary Rogers, a guard, and Helen Marberry, then the warden of the Terre Haute facility, as defendants, charging them with deliberate indifference to his medical problems in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Miller claimed he repeatedly told Rogers and Marberry that he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and been given a medical directive requiring him to be assigned to the lower bunk. Still, he was not reassigned to a different bed and twice fell. The first time he hit his head and lost consciousness and the second time he severely injured his spine in the upper and middle regions of his back.

In June 2016, Miller died but his estate continued the lawsuit in Estate of William A. Miller by its representatives Patrick T. Chassie and Linda Wilkerson v. Helen J. Marberry and Gary Rogers, 15-1497.
The 7th Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment for the defendants from the District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. In part, the appellate and district court found that neither Marberry nor Gary was responsible for the bunk assignments.

Writing for the majority, Judge Frank Easterbrook held that Miller’s argument that he should have been given the lower bunk because he told the two defendants about his medical condition is deficient.

“Prisons respond to the risk of manipulative conduct by exploiting the division of labor – for example, by allocating bunk-assignment duties to guards who have computer terminals that enable them to check prisoners’ assertions,” Easterbrook wrote. “Miller made his assertions about a brain tumor and lower-bunk pass to Rogers, who could not verify them, while never complaining to the guard with bunk-assigning duties and access to the SENTRY database. … A lower-bunk assignment may have been well justified, but neither Rogers nor Marberry knew the details, consequences, and appropriate accommodations of Miller’s medical condition.”

Posner argued the 7th Circuit should have reversed. He pointed out that the record shows Rogers and Marberry knew of Miller’s medical needs and while they each could have done something, neither did anything.

Referring to Perez v. Fenoglio, 792 F.3d 768,781 (7th Cir. 2015), Posner wrote, “The Bureau (of Prisons) failed in this case. Quarters with upper-bunk assignment are not suitable for someone with the kind of brain tumor that Miller had; he was denied both safekeeping and care. This is a classic case of turning a blind eye to ‘a substantial risk of serious harm to a prisoner.’”

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