COA declines to add omitted party to prison death case on rehearing

Court proceedings between the estate of a deceased inmate and her Department of Correction health care providers will continue as-is after the Indiana Court of Appeals declined to recognize as a party a defendant who was inadvertently left out of the appeal.

The COA in February reversed the Marion Superior Court’s grant of summary judgment to the DOC, Corizon Health and several Corizon providers after finding genuine issues of material fact as to whether the defendants had acted in a manner that caused inmate Rachel Wood’s death. Wood’s estate filed suit after Wood was not given her lupus medication and eventually died from her symptoms.

Corizon petitioned for rehearing, and in its response, the estate told the COA that it had inadvertently omitted Dr. Michael Mitcheff, a Corizon provider, from its appellate brief. The estate asked the appellate panel to clarify that Mitcheff continued to be a party in the case, despite the omission.

This we cannot do,” Judge Edward Najam wrote Wednesday. “The Estate’s brief on appeal contained no argument that the designated evidence warranted reversal of the court’s entry of summary judgment for Dr. Mitcheff. … In other words, we addressed the appeal as presented, and the Estate’s omission from its original briefing is not grounds for relief after the fact.”

The panel also wrote to clarify that the estate’s theory of liability against Corizon under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was a direct liability theory, not a theory of liability under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

Direct liability against an employer under § 1983 for deliberate indifference may exist if the facts show systemic and gross deficiencies such that the inmate population is effectively denied access to adequate medical care,” Najam wrote. “Our holding against Corizon was that the designated evidence, which was and is available against Corizon, met that standard. Accordingly, we clarify our holding to be that the Estate’s theory against Corizon is for direct liability under § 1983, not liability under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

Finally, in a footnote, the panel declined Corizon’s request for consideration of an additional claim raised by the estate against the DOC in the trial court but not raised by the state or DOC on appeal. “Corizon has no standing to raise issues on behalf of the Estate or the DOC,” Najam wrote, “and we have no opinion on the entry of summary judgment on those issues.”

The court’s original appeal was affirmed in all other respects.

The case is Sue Williams, Linda Wood, and Claude Wood, as the Co-Personal Representatives of the Estate of Rachel A. Wood, Deceased v. Indiana Department of Correction, Corizon, Inc., Georgeanne R. Pinkston, Dawn Renee Antle, Mary D. Grimes, Tina Icenogle, Daniel P. Rains, M.D., Richard M. Hinchman, M.D., and Vanca Raham, M.D., 19A-CT-1832.

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