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US Supreme Court: Hui v. Castaneda

In the case of a man detained by US immigration who was denied medical treatment and subsequently died of cancer, the claims to immunity of the United States Public Health Service have been tested, but upheld by the US Supreme Court. This judgement was given on May 3, 2010:

While detained by immigration authorities, Francisco Castaneda persistently sought treatment for a bleeding, suppurating lesion. Although a U. S. Public Health Service (PHS) physician’s assistant and three outside specialists repeatedly advised that Castaneda urgently needed a biopsy, petitioners—a PHS physician and a commissioned PHS officer—denied the request. After Castaneda was released from custody, tests confirmed that he had metastatic cancer. He then filed this suit, raising medical negligence claims against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U. S. C. §§1346, 2671–2680, and constitutional claims against petitioners under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U. S. 388, 397. When Castaneda died, respondents, his representative and heir, were substituted as plaintiffs. The District Court denied petitioners’ motion to dismiss the Bivens action, rejecting their claim of absolute immunity under 42 U. S. C. §233(a)…

……Because §233(a) plainly precludes a Bivens action against petitioners for the harms alleged in this case, we reverse the judgement of the Ninth Circuit and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

In effect, US doctors will be immune from prosecution stemming from professionally negligence in their treatment of immigration detainees. Instead, the US government will defend an action brought by the heirs of Mr Castaneda under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

Mr Castaneda was a legal resident of the United States, who fled the civil war in El Salvador at ten years old. He had been placed in an immigration facility following a drugs conviction. Compounding the negligence of authorities – of which a formal admission has been made public – Mr Castaneda was released shortly before treatment became unavoidable, thereby releasing the US government of fiscal responsibility for medical assistance.


Read the full judgement at the following URL: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-1529.pdf

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