ROE v. ELYEA (January 28, 2011)

Hepatitis C is a disease that affects the liver. It is caused by the HCV virus and is transmitted through blood to blood contact. Many hepatitis C sufferers are asymptomatic while others develop cirrhosis or liver cancer. These conditions sometimes develop two or three decades after the initial infection. The virus is relatively common in the United States prison population. Edward Roe, Anthony Stasiak, Timothy Stephen, and Jonathan Walker are current or former Illinois prison inmates who suffer from the disease (Roe actually died in 2007). The plaintiffs brought suit against Dr. Willard Elyea, the former medical director of the Illinois Department of Corrections. They allege that the Department’s diagnosis and treatment protocols violated the Constitution. Their principal contention is that Elyea instituted a policy applicable to all inmates suffering from hepatitis C that deprived them of treatment unless they had a certain amount of time remaining on their sentences. The plaintiffs' damage claims were tried to a jury, which awarded to each plaintiff $20,000 in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages. Judge Baker (C.D. Ill.) rejected Elyea’s qualified immunity claim but vacated the judgments in favor of Messrs. Stephen, Stasiak, and Walker on the ground that insufficient evidence supported the verdicts. He upheld the verdict and compensatory damages in favor of Roe but ordered a conditional remittitur, giving Roe the choice of $20,000 in punitive damages or a new punitive damages trial. When Roe made no choice, the court entered an order reducing the punitive damages to $20,000. Stephen, Stasiak, and Walker appeal the court's entry of judgment against them, Roe's estate appeals the remittitur, and Elyea appeals the qualified immunity ruling and the denial of judgment as a matter of law with respect to Roe, and also challenges the Court's jurisdiction to hear the appeal.

In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Judges Ripple and Rovner and District Judge St. Eve affirmed. The Court first addressed two jurisdictional issues. It rejected Elyea's argument that plaintiffs’ notice of appeal was ineffective because it was filed after the entry of the conditional remittitur order but before entry of the final judgment. The Court held that Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(2) applied to the remittitur order and the premature notice became effective when the final judgment was entered. The Court agreed with Elyea, however, that the remittitur order was not reviewable (a point Roe ultimately conceded). A party cannot appeal a judgment to which it has consented. The Court turned to qualified immunity and the merits. With respect to qualified immunity, the Court concluded that the district court properly denied qualified immunity. It was "clearly established" that an inmate had a right to adequate medical care that addressed his particularized need. The evidence in the record allowed a factfinder to conclude that Elyea's policy precluded certain treatment without regard to the inmate's particularized need. On the merits, the Court noted that the plaintiff's burden on an Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim is high. He must establish both an objectively serious medical need and that a prison official disregarded a known risk. Applying that test to each of the plaintiffs, the court concluded: a) Roe established the serious medical need and a denial of treatment without regard to his particular medical needs, and the record contained sufficient support for the jury's conclusion on causation, b) Walker failed to demonstrate Elyea's responsibility for his lack of treatment, c) Stasiak demonstrated a serious medical need but failed to demonstrate that the policy, as opposed to the time remaining on his sentence, resulted in any injury, and d) Stephen demonstrated a serious medical need but also failed to demonstrate that the policy, as opposed to the time remaining on his sentence, resulted in any injury.