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Estelle v. Gamble

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued October 5, 1976 ; November 30, 1976

No. 75-929


 [*98]  [***256]  [**288]    MR.  [****3]  JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent J. W. Gamble, an inmate of the Texas Department of Corrections, was injured on November 9, 1973, while performing a prison work assignment. On February 11, 1974, he instituted this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 1 complaining of the treatment he received after the injury.  Named as defendants were the petitioners, W. J. Estelle, Jr., Director of the Department of Corrections, H. H. Husbands, warden of the prison, and Dr. Ralph Gray, medical director of the Department and chief medical officer of the prison hospital.  The District Court, sua sponte, dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. 2 The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded with instructions to reinstate the complaint. 516 F. 2d 937 (CA5 1975). We granted certiorari, 424 U.S. 907 (1976).

 [****4]    [*99]  I

 ] Because the complaint was dismissed for failure to state a claim, we must take as true its handwritten, pro se allegations. Cooper v. Pate, 378 U.S. 546 (1964).According to the complaint, Gamble was injured on November 9, 1973, when a bale of cotton 3 fell on him while he was  [***257]  unloading a truck. He continued to work but after four hours he became stiff and was granted a pass to the unit hospital. At the hospital a medical assistant, "Captain" Blunt, checked him for a hernia and sent him back to his cell. Within two hours the pain became so intense that Gamble returned to the hospital where he was given pain pills by an inmate nurse and then was examined by a doctor. The following day, Gamble saw a Dr. Astone who diagnosed the injury as a lower back strain, prescribed Zactirin (a pain reliever) and Robaxin (a muscle relaxant), 4 and placed respondent on "cell-pass, cell-feed" status for two days, allowing him to remain in his cell at all times except for showers. On November 12, Gamble again saw Dr. Astone who continued the medication and cell-pass, cell-feed for another seven days. He also ordered that respondent be moved from 1n upper to a lower [****5]  bunk for one week, but the prison authorities did not comply with that directive.The following week, Gamble returned to Dr. Astone. The doctor continued the muscle relaxant but prescribed a new pain reliever, Febridyne, and placed respondent on cell-pass for seven days, permitting him to remain in his cell except for meals and showers. On November 26, respondent  [**289]  again saw Dr. Astone, who put respondent back on the original pain reliever for five days and continued the cell-pass for another week.

 [*100]  On December 3, despite Gamble's statement that his back hurt as much as it had the first day, Dr. Astone took him off cell-pass, thereby certifying him to be capable of light work. At the same time, Dr. Astone prescribed [****6]  Febridyne for seven days. Gamble then went to a Major Muddox and told him that he was in too much pain to work. Muddox had respondent moved to "administrative segregation." 5 On December 5, Gamble was taken before the prison disciplinary committee, apparently because of his refusal to work. When the committee heard his complaint of back pain and high blood pressure, it directed that he be seen by another doctor.

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429 U.S. 97 *; 97 S. Ct. 285 **; 50 L. Ed. 2d 251 ***; 1976 U.S. LEXIS 175 ****



Disposition: The Court reversed the court of appeals' decision reversing the district court's dismissal of the inmate's complaint as to the physician, both in his capacity as a treating physician and as medical director of the corrections department. The Court remanded to the court of appeals to consider whether the inmate stated a cause of action against the other corrections officials.


pain, prison, medical care, allegations, prescribed, inmate, the Eighth Amendment, deliberate indifference, infliction, solitary confinement, joint opinion, indifference, cruel and unusual punishment, administrative segregation, high blood pressure, diagnosis, Rights, guards, pain reliever, pro se, disciplinary, malpractice, cell-pass, pleadings, diagnose, torture

Civil Rights Law, Protection of Rights, Section 1983 Actions, Scope, Civil Procedure, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Motions to Dismiss, Failure to State Claim, Parties, Pro Se Litigants, General Overview, Pleading Standards, Dismissal, Involuntary Dismissals, Failure to State Claims, US Supreme Court Review, Constitutional Law, Bill of Rights, Fundamental Rights, Cruel & Unusual Punishment, Prisoner Rights, Medical Treatment, Criminal Law & Procedure, Postconviction Proceedings, Imprisonment, Healthcare Law, Medical Treatment, Failures & Refusals to Treat, Prisoners, Elements, Causal Relationship, Healthcare Litigation, Actions Against Healthcare Workers, Prison Officials & Physicians, Torts, Malpractice & Professional Liability, Healthcare Providers