Ruling for doctor reversed in inmate’s gluten-free diet suit

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A doctor made “misleading, inaccurate, and perhaps even false statements” in an inmate’s lawsuit that alleges the doctor intentionally failed to provide a medically prescribed gluten-free diet, a northern Indiana federal judge has ruled.

Judge Philip P. Simon on Monday reversed his earlier order of summary judgment for Lake County Jail Dr. William Forgey in a lawsuit brought by Robert L. Holleman, who was jailed for six days in 2013. Holleman, who has celiac disease, claims he suffered great distress including diarrhea, bloating and bloody hemorrhoids as a result of being denied gluten-free meals.

More than a year ago, Forgey moved for summary judgment that Simon granted. Forgey swore in a declaration that the Lake County Jail had a special gluten-free diet, that Forgey had ordered that Holleman receive the diet, and that Forgey didn’t cause the problems with Holleman’s meals.

But Holleman filed a motion to reconsider, which Simon granted, reversing the earlier ruling in favor of Forgey and setting a trial date for Aug. 1. Simon wrote that Holleman’s court-appointed counsel had discovered evidence refuting Forgey’s declaration.

“Here’s what the new evidence reveals. In 2012, Dr. Forgey created a ‘Restricted Diet’ at the jail, which he directed to be served to those inmates requiring a gluten-free diet, such as Holleman. … But Holleman has now submitted persuasive evidence — scientific testing — that the ‘Restricted Diet’ actually is not gluten free,” Simon wrote.

The judge rejected defense claims that the new evidence could not be considered, and he wrote that justice demanded the motion to reconsider be granted and Holleman’s suit against Forgey be reinstated. “(T)he issue in this case involves more than just ‘newly discovered evidence,’” Simon wrote. “It involves Dr. Forgey making misleading, inaccurate, and perhaps even false statements in his earlier declaration that led me to believe that certain facts were true, when it is now clear that they are not.

“(T)here is evidence that the jail did not have an available gluten-free diet in 2013. Moreover, it does not appear as though Dr. Forgey did everything he could be expected to do to ensure Holleman received a gluten-free diet. In stark contrast, it appears he personally caused Holleman to be served meals containing gluten,” Simon wrote.

“If I would have been aware of these facts when originally considering Dr. Forgey’s motion for summary judgment, I would have denied it,” the judge wrote. “I do not know why Dr. Forgey directed the jail’s kitchen staff to provide food containing gluten to inmates who require gluten-free diets. It is unclear whether Dr. Forgey was confused, mistaken, or simply deliberately indifferent to Holleman’s needs. To succeed, Holleman will ultimately have to prove to a jury that Dr. Forgey was deliberately indifferent. … But that is a decision left for the jury.”

The case is Robert L. Holleman v. John Buncich, et al., 2:14-cv-19.

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