U.S. Supreme Court Allows Immunity for Public Health Service Officials Involved in Detainee’s Medical Neglect and Death
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) officials are immune from suit for violating the Constitution and causing Francisco Castaneda’s death.
Castaneda was the 35-year-old native of El Salvador whose penis was amputated after state and federal immigration officials in California repeatedly ignored or downplayed his medical needs, refusing to follow their own doctors’ recommendations for a biopsy.Following his February 2007 release, Castaneda got the biopsy on his own. The subsequent amputation was intended to save his life, but the cancer had metastasized. Castaneda died one year later, in February 2008.
The U.S. government, one of the defendants in the lawsuit filed by Public Justice in 2007, has admitted medical negligence in Castaneda’s case. Public Justice maintained, however, that the PHS officials responsible for Castaneda’s treatment could be held personally accountable for violating his Eighth Amendment rights. Monday’s Supreme Court ruling eliminates that prospect.
The Supreme Court held that the Castaneda family cannot pursue claims under the U.S. Constitution, but the U.S. government has already conceded liability under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Public Justice is also pursuing claims against the state of California and state officials involved for denying Castaneda treatment while he was in state custody.