WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the family of a now-deceased immigrant who was denied medical care for cancer while in custody cannot sue federal medical officials for damages.
The law clearly states that the federal government, not individual federal medical personnel, must be the defendant in lawsuits arising out of claims of harm by federal employees during the course of their official duties, the high court ruled in an unanimous decision.
"We are required ... to read the statute according to its text," said Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for a unanimous court.
Salvadoran immigrant Francisco Castaneda was denied a biopsy for a painful penis lesion while in prison in California, despite outside specialists' recommendations.
According to his attorneys, Castaneda was treated with ibuprofen, antihistamines and antibiotics and was given extra boxer shorts for a penis lesion that bled and festered. His penis later was amputated but by then the cancer had spread and he died.
The federal government has admitted liability for medical negligence. But Castaneda and his estate also sued individual U.S. Public Health Service medical officials for damages.
The government says its medical personnel have absolute immunity against lawsuits for their official actions.
Congress in 1970 passed a law gave immunity to Public Health Service doctors who treat immigrants in detention. Under that law, Castaneda's survivors can only sue the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which bars jury trials and punitive damages and limits economic damages to those allowed under state law.
A federal judge and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco refused to throw out the lawsuit, however. The high court on Monday reversed that decision.
Castaneda spent eight months in state prison after being convicted in 2005 of possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute. He complained about the lesion while at the San Diego Correctional Facility, and again when he was transferred to immigration custody in San Pedro, Calif., because he was in the United States illegally.
Castaneda informed Immigration and Customs Enforcement staff in 2006 that a "lesion on his penis was becoming painful and growing," a federal judge said. But a government doctor would not admit him to a hospital, calling a biopsy "an elective outpatient procedure."
After the American Civil Liberties complained in 2007, a doctor performed a biopsy and said Castaneda likely had cancer.
ICE decided to release him 11 days later. Castaneda went to a hospital and was diagnosed with metastatic squamous cell carcinoma. Less than a week later, his penis was amputated.
He died a year later.
The case is Hui v Castaneda, 08-1529.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.
The woman fatally shot at an Oceanside apartment Friday afternoon was identified as a Navy corpsman, and a suspect is in custody.
A suspected drunk driver was shot by sheriff's deputies after leading them on a pursuit across North County freeways Friday night, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said.
Fire crews responded to a fully involved building fire in the 7000 block of Amherst Drive in Rolando.
Warner Bros. brought out all the stops Saturday at Comic-Con with an army of stars, surprises and new footage from films like "Aquaman," ''Shazam!" and even "Wonder Woman 1984," which is only three and a half weeks into production.
Detectives are investigating the circumstances surrounding a man who died Saturday morning on a sidewalk in Old Town.
Fire crews have reached full containment of a wildfire that spread over hilly rural terrain east of Ramona Friday afternoon, officials said.
A strong high pressure ridge will slowly strengthen and expand, putting Southern California underneath it's dome of hot air.
For years, Honor Flight San Diego has fulfilled its mission to fly San Diego’s war heroes to Washington D.C. to visit the memorials dedicated to their service.
Day two of Comic-Con has come and gone, but tens of thousands of people are still hitting the streets of downtown San Diego – pumping thousands of dollars into the local economy.
A 2-year-old girl is in the hospital Friday with serious injuries after she fell from a fourth-floor window at an apartment complex in San Diego's University City neighborhood, police said.