District Court Rejects All Claims by Self-Admitted “Hypochondriac” Detainee

March 3, 2022

Medical practice is difficult and uncertain under the best of circumstances, let alone in the midst of a global pandemic. Patient complaints are inevitable. But a disgruntled patient, does not equate to defective medical care. Federal District Judge Sara Darrow made this point well in a recent decision, in which she granted summary judgment in favor of a Physician’s Assistant and Nurse Practitioner who treated the plaintiff for over a year in a jail’s medical clinic.

The plaintiff, who conceded in his deposition he was “a bit of a hypochondriac,” insisted that the care he received was unconstitutionally deficient. He also claimed that the Chief of Corrections and the elected County Sheriff failed to protect him from being assaulted by a fellow detainee. The Court reject all those arguments.

As to the medical claims, the Court held that the Physician’s Assistant made a professional judgment call in reducing the dose of one medication due to the risk of side effects, and that he did the same thing with respect to a second medication, substituting a similar drug when the initially prescribed drug was no longer available. There was nothing unconstitutional in this conduct. The plaintiff also insisted that the medical staff violated his rights in treating his gastrointestinal issues and his sleep apnea. He insisted that the medical staff unreasonably delayed sending him to an outside provider for treatment. The Court disagreed, noting that COVID restrictions, not the defendants’ inaction, caused these months-long delays. Moreover, the plaintiff had no evidence the delays made his condition worse.

Finally, the plaintiff insisted that staff acted unreasonably in treating a temporary loss of vision in one eye. But the plaintiff reported this loss of vision at night, and the next morning he was seen in the clinic and sent to the ER.  Even those doctors—and subsequent specialists to whom the plaintiff was sent—could not diagnose the problem. Plaintiff’s vision gradually began to improve on its own. Judge Darrow made clear that the defendants, as mid-level medical providers, did the right thing in sending plaintiff to specialists, and they could hardly be faulted for not solving a problem that stumped specialists.

As to the failure to protect claim, the Court summarily rejected it. The plaintiff admitted that he was surprised when a fellow detainee sucker punched him at a card table. Thus, he could hardly fault the Chief or Corrections or Sheriff for not protecting him from a fight that he himself did not see coming.

The defendants were represented by Hervas, Condon, and Bersani partners Mike Condon and David Mathues.

Sanders v. Downey, et al. No. 20-2160

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