ALBANY — A federal lawsuit brought against Fulton County officials by a former County Jail inmate was properly dismissed last year, a federal appeals court in New York City has ruled.
Three judges of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that U.S. District Court Judge Gary L. Sharpe in Albany properly dismissed the lawsuit brought by Adam Roice, who developed pancreatitis while being held in the jail in 2014, and had to be hospitalized.
The court upheld Sharpe’s decision that there was no evidence of deliberate indifference by the jail medical staff to Roice’s medical complaints, which the court record showed were multiple during the two months he was held in the Johnstown jail prior to needing hospitalization.
“While, as Roice maintains, symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, and nausea are consistent with a diagnosis of gallstones or developing pancreatitis, these symptoms may also stem from innumerable other medical conditions, many of which do not require immediate hospitalization or diagnostic imaging,” the judges wrote.
While Roice, who was 27 years old at the time, had a prior history of gallstones and had undergone endoscopic retrograde cholangio-pancreatography, a surgical procedure used in the treatment and diagnosis of pancreatic conditions, the court concluded that Boice hadn’t disclosed that at the time of his admission to the jail.
“Thus, Roice himself deprived Defendants of key information that could have alerted them to the risk of gallbladder disease and the need for alternative treatment,” the appeals court wrote. “The record evidence is thus insufficient to permit a reasonable jury to conclude that Defendants were objectively reckless with respect to their chosen approach to Roice’s medical treatment.”
Roice originally brought the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for Northern New York in 2015, claiming jail medical staff failed to identify his symptoms as gallstones, and that the resulting complications threatened his life. The lawsuit named as defendants are Fulton County, Sheriff Thomas Lorey, and three members of the jail’s medical staff.
Roice was incarerated on March 20, 2014 after being arrested on an attempted arson charge. According to the court, during his medical intake examination, he indicated no current or past stomach or gastrointestinal problems and denied any prior surgeries or procedures. Then, twice in April and four times starting on May 15, Boice complained in writing of headaches, nosebleeds, eye pressure, severe pain, sweating, runny nose, migraines, ear pain, and ear pressure.
On May 28, Roice complained of gastrointestinal discomfort and was provided with medicine, but his condition worsened and he began vomiting, according to the court record. He was taken to the jail medical unit, but became sicker and the next day was transported to St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam for further evaluation and testing. At the hospital, Roice was diagnosed with gallstones and pancreatitis; he initially improved, but developed necrotizing pancreatitis, and had to be taken to Albany Medical Center for surgery.
“Mr. Roice was informed that he had a large amount of gallstones in his gall bladder, and that the substantial delay in getting him appropriate medical treatment caused a blockage in his bile ducts,” the suit stated. “This resulted in a near-fatal series of events resulting in catastrophic damage to several of Mr. Roice’s major organs.”
In the lawsuit, Roice’s attorney Earl Robert Keach III argued there was deliberate indifference at the jail to his medical needs, and that under state law county officials had committed medical malpractice, negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent supervision or retention.
Last January, following numerous pre-trial proceedings, Judge Sharpe granted the county’s motion to dismiss the case and the state law malpractice claims, saying there wasn’t enough evidence of negligence to bring to a trial. Roice appealed, leading to this week’s decision.