(CN) - In a case that "illustrates the often arbitrary gaps in the legal remedies ... for violations of federal constitutional rights," the 7th Circuit said it could not advance the claims of a "victim of serious institutional neglect of, and perhaps deliberate indifference to, his serious medical needs."
"The problem he faces is that the remedial system that has been built upon § 1983 by case law focuses primarily on individual responsibility," Judge David Hamilton wrote for a three-judge panel in Chicago.
It means that Earnest Shields, the victim in question, "must come forward with evidence that one or more specific human beings acted with deliberate indifference toward his medical needs."
Shields ruptured a tendon his shoulder while lifting weights in prison in 2008, but those responsible for his medical care waited too long for surgery to do him any good, leaving him with a serious shoulder injury.
Shields sued the Illinois Department of Corrections, Wexford Health Sources Inc., four of its doctors and two other doctors from the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine who recommended physical therapy for him rather than surgery.
The 7th Circuit reluctantly affirmed dismissal Wednesday.
Shields was not able to assign the necessary individual responsibility, as the regional director and medical director made the "critical error" of failing to select specific doctors for the referral of Shields' case, according to the ruling.
"The Illinois Department of Corrections and its medical services contractor, Wexford, diffused responsibility for Shields' medical care so widely that Shields has been unable to identify a particular person who was responsible for seeing that he was treated in a timely and appropriate way," Hamilton wrote.
Though Shields lost, the judges said "a new approach may be needed" to ascertain whether corporations should be shielded from respondeat superior liability.
"Since prisons and prison medical services are increasingly being contracted out to private parties, reducing private employers' incentives to prevent their employees from violating inmates' constitutional rights raises serious concerns," Hamilton wrote.
Shields may petition for rehearing on the question of whether corporate liability should be treated similarly to municipal liability, but Judge John Daniel Tinder disagreed in a concurring opinion.
He said Shields should not be allowed to advance an argument in an appellate court that he did not present at trial.
"There exists no law in our circuit that would allow us to review, de novo and on the merits, brand new arguments raised in a petition for rehearing," Tinder wrote.