Estelle v. Gamble
Supreme Court of the United States
Estelle v. Gamble
Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
No. 75-929 Argued: October 5, 1976 --- Decided: November 30, 1976
Respondent state inmate brought this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against petitioners, the state corrections department medical director (Gray) and two correctional officials, claiming that he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment for inadequate treatment of a back injury assertedly sustained while he was engaged in prison work. The District Court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The Court of Appeals held that the alleged insufficiency of the medical treatment required reinstatement of the complaint.
Held: Deliberate indifference by prison personnel to a prisoner's serious illness or injury constitutes cruel and unusual punishment contravening the Eighth Amendment. Here, however, respondent's claims against Gray do not suggest such indifference, the allegations revealing that Gray and other medical personnel saw respondent on 17 occasions during a 3-month span and treated his injury and other problems. The failure to perform an X-ray or to use additional diagnostic techniques does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, but is, at most, medical malpractice cognizable in the state courts. The question whether respondent has stated a constitutional claim against the other petitioners, the Director of the Department of Corrections and the warden of the prison, was not separately evaluated by the Court of Appeals, and should be considered on remand. Pp. 101-108.
516 F.2d 937, reversed and remanded.
MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., concurred in the judgment. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 108. [p98]