Judge dismisses $2 million lawsuit against NET prison

Matthew Lane • Mar 9, 2007 at 9:06 AM

GREENEVILLE - A $2 million lawsuit filed against the Northeast Correctional Complex in Mountain City has been dismissed.

James and Margaret Jones filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greeneville in 2002 on behalf of their son, Zachary, who died in August 2001. In December, the couple filed a motion for a voluntary dismissal of the lawsuit.

Greeneville attorney Russell Pryor, who represented the couple, said the reason for the dismissal was because there was not enough evidence to move the case forward.

"It's not a simple negligence case. You have to prove (prison officials) showed deliberate indifference," Pryor said. "When we were in discovery, we found there probably wasn't enough there to get past summary judgment. Rather than expending any more resources or taking any more of the court's time, we opted that the most logical thing to do was request voluntary dismissal."

Pryor said the dismissal was done without prejudice, which means the lawsuit could be re-filed within a certain amount of time if new evidence is found.

According to the lawsuit, on Aug. 20, 2001, Zachary Jones went to Donna Smith, an employee of NCC, seeking medication for high blood pressure and complaining of chest pains. Smith told Jones to sign up for sick call, which meant he would not receive medical treatment until the next morning, the lawsuit stated.

After being denied medical treatment, Jones went to the visitation area to visit with his mother, the lawsuit stated.

"After visiting for a fairly short period of time, Zachary suddenly clutched his chest and collapsed," the suit stated.

The lawsuit claimed that between 20 and 30 minutes passed before EMS personnel arrived at the complex to attend to Zachary and that during that time no employee of NCC offered any medical assistance to their son.

"Zachary Jones was then transported to the Johnson County Health Center in Mountain City, where he died from cardiac arrest," the lawsuit stated.

The defendants - Smith; NCC Warden Howard Carlton; Jerry Hayes, health administrator of NCC; and Tennessee Department of Corrections Commissioner Donal Campbell - all filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit.

However, U.S. District Judge Thomas Hull denied the motions, writing the defendants could be held individually liable "if their failure to promulgate adequate procedures or failure to train reached the level of deliberate indifference to an inmate's serious medical needs."

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