JAILS / CORRECTIONS
9th Circuit: Dental Care in Jail / Detention Center
by Jack Ryan, J.D.
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In Meeks v. Allison, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reviewed a lawsuit brought against a jail doctor who failed to order dental care for Meeks, a prisoner who made numerous complaints of pain to a doctor.i
The facts of the case were outlined as follows:
It is factually undisputed that Dr. Parsons saw Meeks as a patient more than twenty times in six months, and Meeks repeatedly informed him that he was in pain and implored him to provide relief. In light of these circumstances and the fact that Parsons had the authority to seek immediate treatment of Meeks' dental needs, it is reasonably inferable from Meeks' evidence that his serious dental problems were left untreated while in Dr. Parsons' care for approximately six months.
Meeks further contends that the district court erred in requiring him to present expert testimony on the issue of whether his dental condition constituted a serious medical need. However, the parties do not disagree about the nature of Meeks' condition or the proper course of treatment for him, only about whether Dr. Parsons was deliberately indifferent to the need to obtain that treatment in a more timely manner. Meeks' verified complaint and the medical records show that, after Meeks left the infirmary, his teeth became infected, he was losing weight due to his difficulty in chewing, and he was suffering considerable pain. This was sufficient evidence without the necessity of expert medical testimony to create a genuine issue of fact regarding deliberate indifference by Dr. Parsons to Meeks' serious dental needs.
The court concluded that the law in the Ninth Circuit is clearly established that corrections/jail officials, including health service professionals cannot be deliberately indifferent to the dental needs of a prisoner where the need is serious in nature.
i Meeks v. Allison, 290 Fed. Appx. 4 (9th Cir. 2008)