By: David Darr

Today, in Bradford v. Clem, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court for the District of Maryland’s decision to order summary judgment in favor of the defendants on the plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment claims.

Eighth Amendment Violation?

At issue in this case was whether an Eighth Amendment claim for “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain” can proceed when a prison doctor does not renew the plaintiff’s pain medication prescriptions for two weeks due to changes in the prison medical staff.

Defendant Not Renewing Prescriptions

The plaintiff, Steven Karl Edward Bradford, suffered from severe damage to his left intraorbital nerve and, as a result, developed severe chronic pain on the left side of his face, migraines, and double vision. This greatly impaired Bradford’s abilities to do normal activities.  In 2010, after some unsuccessful attempts to treat these symptoms, Bradford was put on regimen of Tramadol, Depakote, and Lyrica. This regimen proved to be relatively successful and Bradford was able to engage in regular activities for two years on this regimen. Bradford had to be reevaluated every ninety days for prescription renewals. In 2012, the prison that Bradford was incarcerated in a prison that switched health care providers and, as a result, the doctor who regularly treated Bradford no longer worked at the prison. Bradford was treated by a physician’s assistant the next time he went in for an evaluation. One of the defendants, Physician’s Assistant Oltman, only renewed Bradford’s Lyrica prescription because the other two drugs were narcotics and not in Oltman’s power to renew. As a result, Bradford ran out of Depakote and Tramadol. Over a two week period without the drugs, Bradford wrote the other defendant, Dr. Jason Clem, to renew his other two prescriptions because he was in intense pain. Bradford claimed these letters were ignored. After filing a grievance with the warden, Bradford’s prescriptions were renewed. He was without them for about two weeks.

Bradford brought an action a violation of his Eighth Amendment protection against “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain” in the District of Maryland. The defendants filed for summary judgment and the District of Maryland granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants in this opinion. Bradford then appealed the decision.

Need Subjective Recklessness for an Eighth Amendment Violation

The District Court, whose reasoning the Fourth Circuit adopted, ruled that there must be some intent or subjective recklessness to inflict pain for an Eighth Amendment violation and that Bradford’s claim showed no such recklessness.

No Eighth Amendment Violation Found by the District Court

The Fourth Circuit used the District Court’s reasoning in affirming this case. An Eight Amendment claim for “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain” for denial of medical care requires an action or inaction by the defendants that amounts to deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. Objectively, the medical condition must be “serious” and, subjectively, there must be recklessness. Subjective recklessness requires knowledge of the risk and that the conduct is inappropriate in relation to the risk.  The District Court found ample evidence that Bradford’s condition was objectively “serious.” Thus, if Bradford provided evidence of subjective recklessness his claim would prevail. However, the District Court found no evidence of an intent to cause harm to Bradford or that Bradford was intentionally deprived his medicine. The speed of the response to Bradford’s letters was demonstrative of this lack of intent. The District Court also found that the fact that this incident occurred as the prison was changing health care providers showed a potential alternative reason for this error. Because of this lack of evidence of intent, there was no subjective recklessness and therefore not enough to establish an Eighth Amendment claim. While the District Court found that the Bradford’s pain could have easily been avoided, it ultimately grated the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

Fourth Circuit Finds No Reversible Error

In affirming the case, the Fourth Circuit found that the District Court made no reversible error in its decision.