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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

Billy Wright, #90739 vs. SCDOC

South Carolina Department of Corrections

Billy Wright, #90739

South Carolina Department of Corrections





This matter is before the Administrative Law Judge Division ("Division") pursuant to the appeal of Billy Wright, an inmate incarcerated with the Department of Corrections ("Department") since 1988. On May 4, 2000, Inmate Wright filed an appeal challenging the Department's denial of his grievance, in which Inmate Wright alleged he was receiving inadequate medical care. On September 18, 2000, Inmate Wright filed a Motion for Restraining Order with the Division, seeking an Order requiring the Department to "cease and desist in denyeing [sic] him necessary medication for his medical condition." In the September 18 motion, Inmate Wright alleged that, although he had at one time been taking the prescription medication Vioxx, the Department ceased providing him with Vioxx in retaliation for filing this appeal with the Division.


On April 6, 1999, Inmate Wright filed a Step One grievance with the Department, alleging that the medical personnel at Lee Correctional Institution ("Lee") refused to adequately treat his back pain. According to Inmate Wright, an orthopedic surgeon he saw in 1998 informed him that he had a "build-up" of some sort at the base of his spine that was causing his problems, and that physical therapy was recommended. If the physical therapy did not alleviate his problems, Inmate Wright averred, the surgeon recommended surgery. Inmate Wright then alleged that a Department nurse informed him that he would be treated only with Tylenol and some other drug. Inmate Wright alleges that this course of treatment is constitutionally inadequate.

Inmate Wright then began a letter writing campaign to various state officials, including, among numerous others, Governor Jim Hodges, Alan Walters of Department's Division of Internal Affairs, and an investigator with the State Board of Medical Examiners, complaining that the Department was denying him adequate medical care. In addition, Inmate Wright complained that the Department had failed to respond to his grievance. Finally, on January 20, 2000, the Department responded to Inmate Wright's grievance, informing Inmate Wright that his medical record had been reviewed and that no evidence to support his claim was found. In addition, the Department informed Inmate Wright that he had not signed up for "sick-call" since November 1999, and that he should do so if he were still experiencing leg and back pain.

On February 2, 2000, Inmate Wright filed a Step Two grievance appealing the denial of his initial complaint. On March 14, 2000, the Department informed Inmate Wright that the medical subcontractor previously responsible for providing health care to inmates at ten facilities, including Lee, no longer provided such services after January 2000. In addition, the Department apologized for any difficulties that the transition from CMS had caused him. Finally, the Department requested that Inmate Wright be patient and continue to make his health needs known to his facility's medical staff.

On April 20, 2000, Inmate Wright filed this appeal with the Division, alleging that CMS's failure to provide him with adequate medical care over an extended period of time amounted to a violation of the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. On September 18, 2000, Inmate Wright filed a motion for a Restraining Order, alleging that the Department was denying him Vioxx, a medication he had been taking since March 2000 to alleviate his back pain. In his motion, Inmate Wright alleges that the Department was denying the Vioxx to retaliate against him for filing this appeal. The Department responded to Inmate Wright's motion on October 23, 2000. In its response, the Department stated that Vioxx was no longer a "formulary" drug, meaning that it was no longer ordered and stocked by the Department. In addition, the Department averred that Inmate Wright was prescribed and provided other drugs, including Motrin, in lieu of the Vioxx.

Inmate Wright's medical records reveal that he has received treatment on numerous occasions for pain in his leg and lower back. In addition to prescribing pain-relieving exercises, the Department's medical staff prescribed a number of medications, including Motrin, aspirin, Tylenol, Endocin, and Vioxx, to alleviate his discomfort. Inmate Wright's medical records also reflect that he is not a surgical candidate. Moreover, these records reflect that Inmate Wright received Vioxx from March 2, 2000 to September 9, 2000, when Vioxx became non-formulary. In place of the Vioxx, the medical staff prescribed Motrin, Tylenol, and aspirin, all anti-inflammatory drugs, for Inmate Wright's musculoskeletal discomfort. In addition, the medical staff gave him instructions to return if he noticed no improvement.


The Division's jurisdiction to hear this matter is derived entirely from the decision of the South Carolina Supreme Court in Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. 354, 527 S.E.2d 742 (2000). In Al- Shabazz, the Supreme Court created a new avenue by which inmates could seek review of final decisions of the Department of Corrections in "non-collateral" matters, i.e., matters in which an inmate does not challenge the validity of a conviction or sentence, by appealing those decisions to the Division and ultimately to the circuit court pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act. 338 S.C. at 373, 376, 527 S.E.2d at 752, 754. In its appellate capacity, the Division is concerned with ensuring that the constitutional rights of the appellants are not violated.

The Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment is violated by the deliberate indifference of prison officials to the serious medical needs of prisoners. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 97 S.Ct. 285 (1976). To state a cognizable claim for medical mistreatment, a prisoner must allege "acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence 'deliberate indifference'" to his serious medical needs. 97 S.Ct. at 292. Deliberate indifference can be inferred from an unexplained delay in treating a known or obvious serious medical condition. Harris v. Coweta County, 21 F.3d 388, 394 (11th Cir. 1994). However, as long as there is a legitimate medical reason for a course of treatment, an inmate's disagreement with the treatment provided is insufficient to state a cognizable claim for medical mistreatment. See Wright v. Collins, 766 F.2d 841 (4th Cir. 1985).

In this case, I find that Inmate Wright has suffered and continues to suffer from serious medical conditions. However, there is no evidence in the Record that the Department committed any act or omission "sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference" to Inmate Wright's medical needs. The Record does reflect that Inmate Wright was at one time prescribed Vioxx. However, I find there is no evidence that the Department ceased providing Inmate Wright with Vioxx in retaliation for this appeal. To the contrary, there is substantial evidence that the Department ceased dispensing Vioxx in September 2000 because Vioxx became non-formulary. At that time, the Department's medical staff prescribed Inmate Wright a number of other medications used to treat musculoskeletal discomfort. In addition, although the Department admits that Inmate Wright has suffered delays in treatment, there is no evidence that the delays in treatment amount to "deliberate indifference" because the delay resulted from the change in medical care providers in February 2000. Although Inmate Wright disagrees with the course of treatment the Department has chosen for him, there is no evidence that that course of treatment is not supported by medical evidence. As such, the Department's Final Decision denying Inmate Wright's grievance is AFFIRMED and Inmate Wright's appeal is DENIED. Because this Order is issued on the merits, Inmate Wright's Motion for Restraining Order is moot and is therefore DENIED.

IV. ORDERIT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the Final Decision of the Department is AFFIRMED and the appeal of Inmate Wright is DENIED;

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Inmate Wright's Motion for a Restraining Order is DENIED.





May 15, 2001

Columbia, South Carolina

Brown Bldg.






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