Newman v. State of Ala.

Decision Date08 November 1974
Docket NumberNo. 73-2033,73-2033
Citation503 F.2d 1320
PartiesN. H. NEWMAN et al., Respondents-Appellees, v. STATE OF ALABAMA and Bill Baxley, Attorney General for the State of Alabama, Petitioners-Appellants, United States of America, Amicus Curiae.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

William J. Baxley, Atty. Gen., Herbert H. Henry, George Beck, Thomas Sorrels, Asst. Attys. Gen., Montgomery, Ala., for petitioners-appellants.

Joseph Phelps, Phillip H. Butler, Montgomery, Ala., for respondents-appellees.

Michael S. Loftman, Civ. Rights, Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., Ira DeMent, U.S. Atty., Montgomery, Ala., J. Stanley Pottinger, Asst. Atty. Gen., Patricia G. Littlefield, Walter W. Barnett, Attys., Dept. of Justice, Civil Rights Div., Washington, D.C., amicus curiae.

Before GEWIN, THORNBERRY and SIMPSON, Circuit Judges.

GEWIN, Circuit Judge:

This appeal emanates from a district court order, reported at 349 F.Supp. 278 (M.D.Ala.1972), sustaining a challenge to the quality of medical care dispensed to inmates incarcerated in the Alabama Penal System (APS). While laboring arduously and meticulously to implement the extensive relief mandated by the district court in the interim between that decree and oral argument before this court, appellants nevertheless raise numerous evidentiary objections, contest the finding of a constitutional violation as erroneous, and dispute the authority of a federal court in fashioning remedial relief to dictate medical standards which must be implemented. 1 Our en banc opinion in Sands v. Wainwright, 491 F.2d 417 (5th Cir. 1973), cert. denied, Guajardo v. Estelle, 416 U.S. 992, 94 S.Ct. 2403, 40 L.Ed.2d 771 (1974), prompted consideration, sua sponte, of whether the issues presented in this case were appropriate for disposition solely by a three judge court. Concluding that appellants' contentions cannot be sustained, and that the three judge court act, 28 U.S.C. 2281, does not pose a jurisdictional impediment to the result obtained below, we affirm.


This class action litigation was initiated by he filing of a pro se complaint, designating the State of Alabama and various named individuals including the State Attorney General and the Warden of the Mt. Meigs Medical & Diagnostic Center (Mt. Meigs) as defendants. 2 The original complaint chronicled examples of patient neglect transpiring at Mt. Meigs, one of several institutions in the APS. After granting the request of the United States to appear as amicus curiae and appointing counsel to appear on Newman's behalf, the district court, in a pretrial order, extended the scope of the challenge registered from merely the shortcomings at Mt. Meigs to the inadequacies prevalent in the state system as a whole. In addition, it ordered further discovery procedures, pursuant to which a multitude of interrogatories and depositions were taken, and voluminous hospital records were subpoenaed. The facts recounted in this opinion are distilled from the information produced by these procedures and the evidentiary hearing at which this information was admitted into evidence.

The APS contains 5 major prisons which house several thousand inmates: (1) Mt. Meigs with 331 prisoners; (2) Holman with 677 prisoners; (3) Atmore with 1,022 prisoners; (4) Draper with 867 prisoners; and (5) Julia Tutwiler with 117 female prisoners. Additionally, the state operates 13 prison road camps which house 737 prisoners, the state Cattle Ranch which houses 25 prisoners, and the Frank Lee Youth Correctional Center in which 73 prisoners are incarcerated. Each facility is beset by certain deficiencies, though to different degrees.

The most critical infirmity, from which no institution has escaped, is insufficient staffing. Although a paragon of quality when compared to the other institutions, Mt. Meigs, which serves as the central receiving unit and the general hospital and diagnostic center for the entire system, was staffed only by 2 physicians whose consolidated efforts replaced one full-time physician, 3 registered nurses, 8 medical technical assistants (M.T.A's), 1 lab and x-ray technician, and 1 pharmacist. It lacked a hospital administrator, a dietician, a medical records clerk, and a psychiatric consultant. 3 Moreover, because the registered nurses worked a standard week on the weekends and at night inmates would be attended only by M.T.A's and inmate assistants, neither of which are technically qualified medical personnel. The personnel shortages at the other institutions were more severe. Draper, for example, was staffed only by 1 M.T.A. and inmate assistants. A licensed practical nurse worked a dayshift at Tutwiler. Atmore was serviced by 3 M.T.A's, a part-time dentist, and a contract physician who conducted sick call 5 days a week. Holman was similarly staffed by 3 M.T.A's unavailable on weekends, a part-time dentist and a contract physician who made 3 visits per week for two hours at a time. Neither the road camps, the Cattle Ranch, nor the Youth Correctional Center was staffed by any medical personnel.

The deleterious consequences predictably occasioned by these shortages can be summarized as follows. First, it is necessary that unsupervised inmate assistants administer treatment and medication, take x-rays, give injections, and perform suturing and minor surgery on patients. Second, medical records are incomplete, inaccurate and not standardized. Third, and in conjunction with the latter deficiency, lines of therapeutic responsibility, if any exist, are poorly organized with the result that both doctors and their subordinates are often unaware of their responsibilities with respect to particular patients. 4 Finally, emergency patients at Mt. Meigs are, as the medical records of several inmates reveal, left unattended for protracted periods of time.

Beyond staff deficiencies, the institutions suffer from unsanitary conditions. For example, although Mt. Meigs contains separate wards for tuberculosis and hepatitis patients, soiled linens and dishware from these wards are cleansed in the same area as the linens and dishware of the general ward population, a fact which heightens the potential for contagion. At one of the institutions, a whirlpool was discontinued due to a 'lack of adequate material to clean (the) pool for staph infection.' Moreover, the physical plants of some of the facilities, particularly Draper and Julia Tutwiler, were in such a state of disrepair that sanitary conditions were jeopardized.

Assessments of the quality and quantity of medical supplies varied from institution to institution. For example, Dr. Joseph Alderete, the Hospital Director for the U.S. Penitentiary Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, who conducted a survey of medical care in the APS, maintained that the drug supply at Mt. Meigs was adequate although some of the drugs administered were obsolete. At other institutions, chronic shortages were claimed to exist. Moreover, one institution was known to have employed rags and towels in lieu of gauze, the supply of which had been depleted.

The institutions generally also suffered from the existence of either illserviced or anachronistic equipment and medical procedures. For example, Tutwiler, the women's institution, employed drip ether as an anesthetic in delivery operations, despite estimates that this method had not been used after 1953. Dental equipment at several of the facilities was generally characterized as outmoded. Moreover, witnesses related instances of x-ray machines that were not monitored for leakage and hence were potential sources of radiation exposure.

Witnesses identified numerous other foibles, including the absence of ambulances at the institutions, the lack of established procedures for fire emergencies, the existence of interminable delays in effecting medical referrals to Mt. Meigs and, in individual cases, in filling requests for eyeglasses and prosthetic devices, and the inadequacy of facilities for geriatric inmates.

Finally, despite an estimate by Dr. Mracek, Medical Director of the Board of Corrections, that approximately one-third of the inmate population suffers from mental retardation, and an assessment by Dr. Alderete that 60 percent of the inmates are disturbed enough to require treatment, the APS provides only nominal assistance to mentally ill inmates. At the time this suit was filed, the Board of Corrections employed one clinical psychologist who devoted one afternoon per week to disturbed inmates at Mt. Meigs and spent an equally limited amount of time at Draper and Tutwiler. No psychiatrists, social workers or counsellors were employed in the system. Additionally, obstreperous inmates were often placed in the general population and when finally removed, were left unattended in lockup cells not equipped with restraints.

The record is replete with examples of inmates upon whom untold suffering was visited as a result of these deficiencies. 5 These examples provide graphic testimony to the cumulative shortcomings which beset the APS. One inmate, a quadriplegic suffering from a maggot infested wound because of unchanged dressings, was forced to endure approximately 20 additional days after the problem was identified before the wound was cleaned and the dressings changed. Another patient, a geriatric rendered partially incontinent by a stroke, was required to sit day after day on a wooden bench beside his bed so that the bed would be kept clean. He reportedly fell from the bench and this legs, one of which was subsequently amputated, became blue and swollen. He died one day after the amputation. Because of the unavailability of a surgeon to attend an inmate who had sustained a serious head injury, a doctor was forced to employ towels and clamps to remove the inmate's skull from his brain. One inmate, transferred to Mt. Meigs as an emergency case, was not seen by a doctor until after a lapse of two days. The record...

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