The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out a former Crawford County jail inmate’s federal lawsuit filed against county officials for alleged indifference to his medical needs.
The U.S. Third Circuit Court has ruled Andrew C. Bickel’s appeal as frivolous since he didn’t have any evidence to support his claims of indifference or mistreatment.
Francis Schultz, chairman of the Crawford County Prison Board, was gratified by the U.S. Third Circuit Court’s recent ruling.
“The fact that a person made claims of alleged mistreatment at the jail doesn’t mean that they happen — as is evident by the court’s opinion,” Schultz said Friday.
The county jail has come under criticism the past 18 to 24 months by Sam Byrd Jr. of Meadville, a local prisoner advocate. Byrd alleges some prisoners have told him they’ve suffered mistreatment mainly from insufficient treatment of medical conditions.
Citing internal investigations that officials claim found no evidence of such mistreatment — as well as high scores during state-led inspections at the facility — county jail leaders have called Byrd’s assertions meritless.
Tribune attempts to contact Byrd Friday for comment on the U.S. Third Circuit’s ruling on the Bickel case were unsuccessful.
In 2008, Bickel filed suit in U.S. District Court for Western Pennsylvania claiming his constitutional right not to have cruel or unusual punishment imposed upon him was violated because county and jail officials were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs at various times from May 21, 2008 through October 13, 2008. Bickel claimed that violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment.
Bickel alleged he wasn’t evaluated by medical staff at the Crawford County Correctional Facility for two days after his transfer from Erie County Prison, and not given pain medication for his chronic back pain for more than seven days after the transfer. In addition, Bickel claimed that he reinjured his back about a month after being transferred to the county jail, and medical staff failed to examine him in a timely fashion.
Bickel also alleged medications are dispensed at the county jail by untrained prison guards, and care is provided by nurses, all in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
In July of this year, U.S. District Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter of Erie ruled against Bickel and found Bickel had properly appealed only one of his claims — that the county jail permits untrained correctional guards to dispense medications.
Magistrate Judge Baxter found there was no issue to go to trial because Bickel didn’t allege he suffered any injury as a result of the prison guards’ actions. He didn’t claim that prison guards withheld his medication, or distributed incorrect medication that harmed him or worsened his pain, according to Magistrate Judge Baxter.
Bickel subsequently appealed his case to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
However, a recent U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruling by judges Anthony Scirica, Thomas Hardiman and Thomas Vanaskie found Bickel’s appeal frivolous.
“An appeal is frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or fact,” the court ruled. “We conclude that there is no arguable basis in fact or law for disagreeing with the Magistrate Judge’s summary judgment determination in Bickel’s case.”
The court found the county had unrebutted evidence showing licensed nurses at the county jail pack the medications that are delivered to the inmate housing units and then distributed by guards.
“Bickel made no showing whatever that unlicensed correctional officers exercise independent medical judgment with respect to distribution of the medications, and, as the Magistrate Judge determined, Bickel did not allege that prison guards withheld his medication, or distributed incorrect medication that harmed him or worsened his pain,” the court ruled.
“The defendants’ exhibits show that Bickel was provided substantial medical care by licensed physicians and registered nurses while incarcerated,” the court ruled. “For example, one such exhibit, a medical report, shows that Dr. (Richard) Moran referred Bickel to a neurologist, Dr. Donald L. Rezek, in September, 2008.”
Dr. Rezek evaluated Bickel and his complaints of tingling and numbness in his hands and feet, and difficulty with balance and coordination, which Bickel thought had gotten worse as a result of the medication he was taking.
“Dr. Rezek recommended that the drugs Bickel complained about — amitriptyline and Neurontin — be discontinued, but there is no indication in Dr. Rezek’s report that ... health care staff recklessly disregarded a serious medical need,” the court ruled.
“Furthermore, Bickel’s allegations of delay in providing pain medicine and diagnosis were unsupported by any evidence to show that any delay had an adverse effect on his condition,” the court found.
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at email@example.com.