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Media Alerts - Michtavi v. Scism - Third Circuit
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December 17, 2015
  Michtavi v. Scism - Third Circuit
Headline: Third Circuit Holds That Prison Officials Have Qualified Immunity Because an Inmate Did Not Have a Clearly Established Constitutional Right Under the Eight Amendment to Treatment for Retrograde Ejaculation Condition.

Area of Law: Constitutional law

Issues Presented: Were prison officials entitled to qualified immunity on an inmate's claim under the Eighth Amendment of a right to treatment for his retrograde ejaculation condition.

Brief Summary: Shemtov Michtavi filed a claim against various prison officials for the failure to give him medication to treat his retrograde ejaculation condition. Michtavi filed an Eighth Amendment claim for the failure, asserting that the condition was a serious medical need. The Third Circuit found that the District Court's definition of the right at issue as either the right to treatment of a serious medical condition or the right to procreation was too broad. Here the specific conduct at issue was the failure to treat retrograde ejaculation, which could lead to impotence and infertility. Thus, the question was whether the prison officials were obligated to treat conditions that have the result of impotence or infertility. The Third Circuit then determined that the officials were entitled to qualified immunity on the claim because the right was not clearly established. Because there was neither Supreme Court nor appellate precedent holding that there was a constitutional right to medical treatment for retrograde ejaculation, infertility, or erectile dysfunction, the court found there was no authority establishing this right.

Extended Summary: This case concerns the issue of whether Shemtov Michtavi had a constitutional right under the Eight Amendment to receive treatment for his retrograde ejaculation condition. Michtavi was incarcerated at Allenwood and received an operation to treat his prostate. After the surgery, Michtavi noticed that the quantity of his ejaculation had decreased. Michtavi was diagnosed with retrograde ejaculation and asked the Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") to treat him. Michtavi contended that the BOP should treat him because the condition could cause him to become impotent. Michtavi met with Dr. Chopra, the doctor who performed the prostate surgery, and was told about a possible medication that would help close the hole that was opened during the surgery, so as to prevent the ejaculate from leaking into the bladder. The BOP did not provide the medication because it stated that it did not treat impotence and sexual dysfunction was not medically necessary. Michtavi then filed a lawsuit against the BOP and prison officials, claiming an Eighth Amendment violation for deliberate indifference to his serious medical need. The officials moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The District Court denied their motion because there was a question as to whether retrograde ejaculation was a serious medical need requiring treatment under the Eighth Amendment.

The Third Circuit first looked to the definition of the right at issue. The court determined that the District Court's definition of the right at issue, as either the Eighth Amendment right to treatment of a serious medical condition or as a fundamental right to procreate, was too broad. The right at issue must pertain to the specific conduct at issue. The Third Circuit stated that the District Court's broad definition did not account for the particular conduct at issue in this case. The Third Circuit stated that the particular conduct at issue in this case was the failure to treat retrograde ejaculation, which could lead to impotence and infertility. Therefore the question was whether the BOP is obligated to treat conditions that can result in impotence and/or infertility.

Next, the Third Circuit analyzed whether this right of issue is clearly established. Specifically, the court stated that there must be precedent indicating that the specific right at issue was clearly established beyond debate. The Third Circuit found that there was no Supreme Court or appellate precedent to support a claim that prison officials must treat retrograde ejaculation, infertility, or erectile dysfunction. Therefore, there was no authority that clearly established a right for prison inmates to receive treatment for conditions that result impotence and/or infertility. The Third Circuit held that because there was no clearly established right, the officials were entitled to qualified immunity. The Third Circuit reversed and remanded the case to the District Court with instruction to enter summary judgment in favor of the appellants.

To read the full opinion, please visit http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/144104p.pdf

Panel (if known): Vanaskie, Sloviter, and Rendell, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: September 11, 2015

Date of Issued Opinion: December 14, 2015

Docket Number: 14-4104

Decided: Reversed and remanded

Case Alert Author: Trisha Stein

Counsel: Barbara L. Herwig, Esq., Lowell V. Sturgill, Jr., Esq, Melissa A. Swauger, Esq., Counsel for Appellants; Shemtov Michtavi, Pro Se Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Judge Rendell

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Susan L. DeJarnatt

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 12/17/2015 03:53 PM     3rd Circuit  

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