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Court: Amputee put in 'hole' can sue Michigan warden

Gary Heinlein, The Detroit News

A federal appeals court is letting a double-amputee former inmate sue her Michigan warden for "cruel and unusual punishment" after she was placed in a punishment "hole" instead of a quarantine unit for her infection.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that Huron Valley Women's Facility Warden Susan Davis does not qualify for legal immunity.

The lawsuit involves former Huron inmate Martinque Stoudemire, who in December 2005 was quarantined in Huron's segregation unit with an antibiotic-resistant infection in her "stump and buttock" resulting from a final amputation. She was 26 years old.

A spokesman said Michigan Department of Corrections leaders were reviewing the ruling and had no immediate comment. Spokesman Chris Gautz said Davis retired from the Department on Oct. 1, 2008.

Stoudemire arrived at the Huron Valley facility in 2002 with many health problems including the autoimmune disease called lupus, a tendency to develop blood clots and depression. "Without proper care, Stoudemire bore a significant risk of experiencing kidney and liver damage, heart attacks, amputations and chronic pain," according to the court record.

Stoudemire, who subsequently received parole in 2007, contends Davis ignored her serious medical condition by putting her for two weeks in a segregation cell that lacked accommodations for the disabled. The court's ruling said the segregation unit usually is used for isolating prisoners who have violated prison rules.

Davis argued that the medical staff didn't tell her that Stoudemire required facilities for a disabled person or that the inmate "suffered such indignities as defecating on the floor" and having to change her own bandages, according to the court's ruling.

An expert testified that Stoudemire received little medical treatment or assistance while in "the hole." The court concluded Stoudemire's lack of treatment put her at substantial risk of suffering harm.

The Sixth Circuit panel rejected Davis' arguments and let the lawsuit proceed.

"In today's society, handicap facilities, particularly bathroom accommodations, are considered 'the minimal civilized measure of life necessities,'" the court ruled.

"As the district court held, a reasonable jury could conclude that Davis was deliberately indifferent to Stoudemire's needs since she admittedly knew of Stoudemire's condition, and nonetheless placed her in a cell that was not suitable for a handicapped person and further lacked a means of seeking help from the penal staff."

The court also said the health care staff couldn't be used as a defense.

"Davis's attempt to hide behind the Health Care staff is unavailing because she was responsible for the placement decision and she was personally aware of Stoudemire's condition," the panel wrote.