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Private Prison Health Facilities

May 11th, 2014
Elizabeth Franklin-Best


An interesting, but open question in the Fourth Circuit is whether a privately owned company, doing business with say, a detention center, can be subject to a civil rights suit under Section 1983.  Although thin on facts, at least one South Carolina federal district court thinks they may.  It *appears* that the Lexington county detention center employed a private company, Prison Health Services, LLC to handle the medical operations in its facility.  It also appears that someone died there, and sued PHS in connection with that death under Section 1983.  In Millmine v. County of Lexington, C/A 3:09-1644-CMC, Judge Cameron Currie denied PHS’s attempt to have the suit against it dismissed.  While acknowledging that the United States Supreme Court has held that the mere fact that a private entity or its activities being regulated by the state is not enough to confer liability, she points to the existence of liability if “there is a sufficiently close nexus between the State and the challenged action . . . so that the action of the latter may be fairly treated as that of the State itself.”  (quoting Blume v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 1004 (1982)).  Judge Currie also cites the Fourth Circuit case, Conner v. Donnelly, M.D., 42 F.3d 220 (4th Cir. 1994), which held that private doctors who treat prison inmates may be held liable under Section 1983 as militating against dismissal of the action.  This case apparently was resolved at some point after the issuance of this opinion, but before the issue could be appealed further up the ladder.  Still, it’s a good case for detention center and prison inmates who are injured by the private contractor medical staff who often try to provide services on the cheap. 




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