“Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties. Cases in the series can be found by issue and by judge at this link.
Trump Seventh Circuit Judge Michael Brennan penned a majority opinion affirming a district court’s decision to dismiss without trial a claim that a prison improperly delayed delivering medication to a man suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The May 2020 case was Hildreth v. Butler.
Scott Hildreth, who is incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center in Illinois, suffers from Parkinson’s disease, a serious neurological disorder that causes “tremors and problems in movement and balance,” among other symptoms. Although there is no cure, medication helps people with Parkinson’s manage their symptoms. Like many medications, any lapse in taking the medication “causes pain and puts him at risk of injury.” Hildreth’s withdrawal symptoms are particularly severe, and include “poor balance, stiffness, shaking, fevers, memory problems, and freezing episodes,” which can render him “immobile” and “balled up in bed.”
At Menard Correctional Center, most medical care is provided by Wexford Health Sources Inc., which is under contract with the Illinois Department of Corrections. On three separate occasions over a period of 19 months, Hildreth raised concerns about delays and lapses in receiving his medication, one of which lasted 10 days. During one lapse, he “lost his balance and fell in the shower,” causing injury. After filing grievances with the prison, Hildreth filed suit against several officials and Wexford under the Eighth Amendment.
The district court granted summary judgment against Hildreth without a trial, and Hildreth appealed. In a 2-1 decision, Brennan affirmed the dismissal of Hildreth’s case, claiming that he failed to show enough evidence that would amount to a widespread violation of constitutional rights, and the amount of times were “insufficiently numerous.”
Judge David Hamilton strongly dissented. Based on the record so far, Hamilton explained that there was clear evidence that Wexford’s policies for providing the medication “reflect deliberate indifference to Hildreth’s (and possibly others’) serious medical needs.” This included not only the three specific instances where Hildreth was left without medication “for days and sometimes more than a week,” but also evidence that the system lacked any “warning channel and back-up mechanisms” as well as affidavits from other prisoners describing nurses’ failure or refusal to refill Hildreth’s prescription, which Hamilton explained were improperly excluded as hearsay. “A jury could easily find” that Wexler was liable, Hamilton concluded, and Hildreth should have had an opportunity to present his case fully.
As a result of Brennan’s majority opinion, however, Hildreth will not have any such chance. In addition, anyone who is incarcerated in the Seventh Circuit who suffers from diseases like Parkinson’s may now face additional barriers in holding prisons accountable for failing to meet their minimum medical needs.
Note: PFAW legal intern Oliver Telusma prepared the initial draft of this blog post.