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Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals finds that federal prison officer sued by inmate in Bivens-type civil rights case alleging deliberate indifference to medical needs was entitled to qualified immunity because delay in treatment of injuries to the plaintiff did not rise to level of violation of clearly established constitutional right

On September 17, 2021, in Wade v. Lewis, No. 29-11962, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, reversed a district court order which had dismissed on the grounds of qualified immunity a Bivens civil rights lawsuit filed by an inmate against an officer at the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta. The inmate had injured his hand during an altercation with another inmate and the prison officer took him to a holding cell adjacent to the medical facility, where photographs of his bleeding hand were taken approximately 11 to 14 minutes later, but he was not subsequently examined by medical staff until several hours later. He was diagnosed the next day with a broken hand and tendon damage. The district court denied the prison officer’s motion for summary judgment, citing Aldridge v. Montgomery, 753 F.2d 970 (11th Cir. 1985). In Aldridge, in which the plaintiff inmate was cut above the eye in a scuffle with prison officers and did not receive medical care for 2 ½ hours, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that a directed verdict on the grounds of qualified immunity was erroneous. However, the Eleventh Circuit distinguished this case from Aldridge, concluding that the hand injury was less serious that the head injury, that the length of time that the defendant officer observed bleeding and the amount of blood was substantially greater in Aldridge, and the involvement of the defendant officer in this case ended after he left the inmate in the hands of qualified medical personnel. The Court cited its previous decision in Youmans v. Gagnon, 626 F.3d 557, 563 (11th Cir. 2010), in which the Court similarly found that qualified immunity applied after noting the lack of the active substantial bleeding involved in Aldridge.