U.S. District Court Dismisses Complaint of Inmate Whose Requests for Brain Scan Were Ignored, Despite Large Cyst Later Discovered

Image of an arachnoid cyst. (link)

On December 1, 2020, a magistrate judge in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California recommended that Antonio Perez’s complaint alleging that he had suffered deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs be dismissed. Perez had submitted the complaint after his requests for a brain scan were denied over the course of two years by prison medical personnel but where a later MRI scan revealed the presence of a large cyst in his brain.

In 2017, Perez, then an inmate at Centinela State Prison, alleged that he had a history of seizures and had begun to experience dizziness and headaches. Perez submitted multiple health care request forms in which he requested medical attention for these symptoms. He was seen by two nurses and a doctor and was eventually referred to a psychologist who diagnosed him with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Perez claimed that his repeated requests for x-ray and MRI scans were denied.

Perez was then transferred in 2018 to Corcoran State Prison, where he continued to submit health care request forms. At Corcoran State Prison, he saw a doctor, who referred him to a neurologist. The neurologist denied his request for a brain scan. Finally, in August 2019, after several more months of complaints, the doctor at Corcoran State Prison ordered a CT scan, which showed the presence of a large arachnoid cyst. The doctor then ordered an MRI, which confirmed the cyst in the left middle crania fossa. A neurologist told Perez that there was only a 50% chance that surgery would have a positive outcome. Perez claimed that he asked for a second opinion but was told by medical staff that he would receive the same answer and was not allowed to get a second opinion.

Perez alleged that the medical staff who denied his many requests for a brain scan and permitted the cyst to enlarge exhibited a deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

On December 1, 2020, the magistrate judge recommended that the district court dismiss Perez’s complaint. In its analysis, the magistrate judge cited a previous decision, Toguchi v. Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1058 (9th Cir. 2004), which stated, “a complaint that a physician has been negligent in diagnosing or treating a medical condition does not state a valid claim of medical mistreatment under the Eighth Amendment. Medical malpractice does not become a constitutional violation merely because the victim is a prisoner.” While the magistrate judge agreed that Perez had a serious medical need, the magistrate judge found that Perez showed at most negligence and that he was unable to show deliberate indifference by the medical personnel. Accordingly, the magistrate judge recommended dismissal of his claim.

Citation: Perez v. Phi, 2020 WL 7041827

Key Words: brain scan, medical malpractice, eighth amendment, MRI, CT scan, cyst, California

This post is the 103rd post as part of an ongoing Center for Law, Brain & Behavior (CLBB) series tracking the latest developments in law and neuroscience cases. To see previous posts about recent cases, see the full case archive on the CLBB website. To see updates on legal scholarship, see the Neurolaw News, hosted by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. This project is made possible through support of the Dana Foundation.

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at Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School

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