The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has ruled against a prisoner who claimed that his serious medical needs were treated with deliberate indifference at an Illinois prison.

Nathaniel Harper was imprisoned at Centralia Correctional Center when he became ill with stomach pains, vomiting and constipation. Harper alleged that nurse Terri Dean laughed at him during the course of his initial evaluations. He was ultimately seen by Dr. Venerio M. Santos and admitted to St. Mary’s Good Samaritan Hospital for treatment of suspected intestinal blockage.

Harper was operated upon to repair a bowel obstruction, and remained hospitalized for 38 days due to complications. He eventually underwent nine surgeries, and left the hospital with a colostomy bag.

Harper also left with a recommended course of treatment that included use of the pain management drug Vicodin. But Dr. Santos immediately discontinued the Vicodin, substituting the “correctional cure-all” — Tylenol. The doctor also refused to order the follow-up ultrasound recommended by treating physicians, and refused to provide him with an appropriate diet. Harper further complained that Nurse Dean stole his pillow and refused to change his colostomy bag.

Harper sued for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming deliberate indifference. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed.

The court found that neither Dr. Santos nor nurse Dean “acted with a ‘sufficiently culpable state of mind’ in failing to provide adequate care or treatment [of Harper].” Specifically, the court found that Harper provided no evidence that Tylenol did not alleviate his pain, that Dr. Santos’ provision of nutritional supplements instead of the preferred eggs was proper, that bloodwork instead of an ultrasound was proper medical judgment, and that nurse Dean may have acted with insensitivity, but she did not act with deliberate indifference.

Case: Harper v. Santos, et al., United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Case No. 15-1903 (February 13, 2017).

Originally published in Prison Legal News on January 8, 2018.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).