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Riggleman v. Clarke

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

February 13, 2018

Terry A. Riggleman, Plaintiff,
v.
Harold Clarke and Mark Amonette, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NORMAN K. MOON SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In this putative class action, a Virginia inmate claims he has been subjected to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment through the Virginia Department of Corrections' (“VDOC”) alleged refusal to treat his serious medical affliction, namely, Hepatitis C (“Hep C”). The defendants-VDOC's Director, Harold Clarke, and its Chief Medical Director, Mark Amonette-have moved to dismiss. They posit the complaint does not make out a claim for direct and supervisory liability under the Constitution's Eighth Amendment, and that they are entitled to qualified immunity.

         On the facts alleged, they are mistaken. The complaint contains ample facts demonstrating both the direct involvement of Defendants in the denial of medical treatment and Defendant Clarke's potential supervisory liability. Moreover, Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity because no reasonable prison official could have believed that the law permits him to fail to afford medical treatment for a prisoner's known, severe, and potentially life-threatening disease.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         To determine whether a Complaint states a legal claim, the Court must accept as true all well-pled allegations, draw reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff, disregard the complaint's legal conclusions and arguments, and ensure the plaintiff offers more than a formulaic recitation of the elements. See generally Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009).

         FACTS AS ALLEGED[1]

         Plaintiff Terry Riggleman (“Plaintiff”) has been a prisoner at a VDOC facility since at least 2005. (Complaint ¶¶ 3, 41). He has Hepatitis C. (Id.).

         Hepatitis C

         Hep C is viral infection of the liver that impairs its ability to assist with essential bodily functions and processes. (Complaint ¶ 6). Hep C can be either acute or chronic, but untreated acute Hep C often becomes chronic. (Id. ¶ 7). Chronic Hep C is a serious, long-term illness that causes liver cirrhosis and cancer; it is the most common cause of liver transplants. (Id. ¶ 8). It can also result in death. (Id.). Symptoms of Hep C-induced cirrhosis include swelling, bruising, jaundice, nausea, and memory or concentration difficulties. (Id. ¶ 9). “Every day without treatment increases the likelihood” of complications, ultimate liver failure, and death. (Id. ¶ 11). And a liver transplant is a painful, risky procedure that is rarely available to prisoners. (Id. ¶ 12).

         Historically, effective and safe Hep C treatment was difficult. (Complaint ¶ 16). In recent years, however, the Food and Drug Administration has approved “direct-acting antiviral drugs, ” or DAADs, that mark a significant improvement in treatment. (Id. ¶ 17; see Id. ¶¶ 18- 20). For instance, in 2014 the FDA approved Harvoni, a once-daily pill that eliminated the need for other drugs, which “were largely responsible for the adverse and difficult side-effects of treating Hepatitis C.” (Id. ¶¶ 21-22). Harvoni and other recent drugs have greater efficacy, reduced treatment time, and can be administered orally rather than intravenously. (Id. ¶ 23). Cure rates with these drugs exceed 90% over a three-to-six-months period. (Id. ¶ 24).

         The standard of care for Hep C is now well-established to include the latest DAADs. (Complaint ¶ 25). For instance, the CDC recommends them, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, in 2014, adopted guidelines that incorporates their use. (Id.). Prison systems in California, Illinois, Washington, Wisconsin, Oregon, and New York have also begun incorporating DAADs into their Hep C treatment regimens. (Id. ¶ 26).

         Defendants

         Defendant Harold Clarke is the Director of VDOC. (Complaint ¶ 4). He thus oversees operation and administration of Virginia's prisons, responsibilities which entail formulating policies and ensuring the provision of appropriate medical treatment to inmates. (Id. ¶ 4; see, e.g., Va. Code 53.1-10 (listing powers and duties of Director)). State law grants the Director authority over health-related issues in Virginia's prisons (such as promulgating rules to preserve inmate health) and requires VDOC to provide medical treatment and services to prisoners. (See Complaint ¶ 4; Va. Code §§ 53.1-10(7) (addressing collection of data on health-related problems of the prison population), 53.1-32(A)).

         Defendant Mark Amonette is VDOC's Chief Medical Director. (Complaint ¶ 5). He serves under Director Clarke's supervision. (Id.). He is responsible for knowledge of the laws and ...


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