On August 22, 2019, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals decided Bracey v. Huntingdon County et al.[i], in which the court examined the process by which the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections obtained a non-consensual blood sample to test an inmate for HIV and hepatitis after he exposed a correctional officer to his blood during an altercation in prison. The relevant facts of Bracy, taken directly from the case, are as follows:
Bracey, a Pennsylvania state prisoner, was formerly incarcerated at SCI Huntingdon. On November 17, 2012, Corrections Officer Adam Park suffered a wound during an altercation between Bracey and SCI Huntingdon prison staff, and feared that he had been exposed to Bracey’s blood. That same day, a physician examined Park and determined that a significant exposure had occurred. Two days later, SCI Huntingdon staff requested Bracey’s consent to undergo HIV and hepatitis testing. He refused, and again refused the next day.
Lacking Bracey’s consent, the Department of Corrections (DOC)—represented by Assistant Counsel Travis S. Anderson—filed a lawsuit in the Huntingdon County Court of Common Pleas on November 20, 2012. The lawsuit sought to compel Bracey to give blood for purposes of HIV and hepatitis testing pursuant to Pennsylvania’s Confidentiality of HIV-Related Information Act (“HIV Act”), 35 Pa. Stat. §§ 7601-12. Judge Stewart L. Kurtz presided over the case and held a hearing on November 26, 2012, at which Park, a doctor, and a nurse testified on behalf of the DOC. Bracey represented himself and cross-examined those witnesses. Bracey decided not to testify after he was informed that his testimony could be used against him in any criminal proceedings stemming from the altercation with Park. At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Kurtz ruled in the DOC’s favor and ordered Bracey to submit to a blood draw for HIV and hepatitis testing. Judge Kurtz denied Bracey’s request for a stay pending appeal. Bracey was then transported back to SCI Huntingdon, where he was restrained and a blood sample was taken. The test results came back negative for HIV and hepatitis.[ii]
Bracey subsequently filed suit against the correctional officer, Huntingdon County, the judge that issued the order, and the Department of Corrections. The district court ultimately granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants and dismissed the lawsuit. Bracey appealed the dismissal of his suit to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
On appeal, Bracey alleged three claims: (1) an abuse of process claim, (2) a Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process claim, and (3) a Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim.
The court of appeals first discussed the abuse of process claim under federal law. The court stated in order to prevail on this claim, the
[P]laintiff must show that the defendant used legal process against the plaintiff in a way that constituted a perversion of that process,” meaning it was used “primarily to accomplish a purpose for which the process was not designed,” Gen. Refractories Co. v. Fireman’s Fund Ins. Co., 337 F.3d 297, 304 (3d Cir. 2003).[iii]
Bracey conceded that the state HIV Act allowed for testing and disclosure of HIV status in situations such as his. However, this claim focused on the fact that the defendants used the same state HIV Act to also obtain the order to test for hepatitis. He argued that this was a purpose for which the HIV Act was not designed. To this argument, the Third Circuit stated
[E]ven assuming that the defendants made a legal error in their pleading or citations, no evidence in the record suggests that their lawsuit was used “primarily to accomplish a purpose for which the process was not designed.” Gen. Refractories Co., 337 F.3d at 304. The record shows that the defendants transparently sought an order to test Bracey’s blood for hepatitis as well as for HIV, and, again, Bracey concedes that there was a valid legal basis for the state court to enter such an order.[iv]
The Third Circuit also noted that there was other legal authority under state law by which the Department of Corrections could have compelled Bracey to submit to a non-consensual test for hepatitis.
Therefore, the Third Circuit held that all defendants were entitled to summary judgment on the federal abuse of process claim.
The Third Circuit next examined the Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process claim. The court noted that under Supreme Court precedent,
The fundamental requirement of due process is the opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner. Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 333 (1976).[v]
The court noted that Bracey was provided notice and a pre-deprivation hearing. At the pre-deprivation hearing, Bracey had the opportunity to testify and to cross-examine witnesses. Bracey also conceded that state law allowed the defendants to test his blood for hepatitis. The court further noted that Bracey provided no evidence or precedent that showed that the state court proceeding with hepatitis testing under the HIV Act was inadequate to protect his procedural due process rights. In other words, the use of the HIV Act still provided Bracey with the required notice and hearing, which protected his constitutional rights.
Therefore, the Third Circuit held that all defendants were entitled to summary judgment on the procedural due process claim.
Lastly, the Third Circuit examined the Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim. In order to prevail on this claim, Bracey must show that the defendants the use the HIV Act to compel a hepatitis test deprived him of a constitutionally protected interest in a manner that “shocks the conscience.”[vi] The court noted that, while they have previously held that person has a Fourteenth Amendment right to privacy in medical information in prison, there are exceptions to that right. Specifically, the court stated
[T]he right “may be curtailed by a policy or regulation that is shown to be ‘reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.'” Id. at 317 (quoting Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987)).[vii]
Bracey conceded that under the HIV Act and the law related to hepatitis, the defendants had the legal right to disclose his medical information as they did. Additionally, Bracey provided no evidence that the disclosure of his medical information to the person that was exposed to his blood was “in any way unrelated to a legitimate state interest.”[viii]
Therefore, all defendants were entitled to summary judgment on the substantive due process claim.
[i] No. 18-3224 (3rd Cir. Decided August 20, 2019 Unpublished)
[ii] Id. at 2-3
[iii] Id. at 4-5 (emphasis added)
[iv] Id. at 5-6
[v] Id. at 6 (emphasis added)
[vii] Id. at 7 (emphasis added)