Doe v. Wigginton, 21 F.3d 733 (6th Cir. 1994)

Court and Agency Decisions and Orders (including case law)

This opinion, which should be read with the cautions set forth below, concerns inmates' right to receive HIV testing and their right to confidentiality with regard to their HIV status. Doe, a state prison inmate, brought claims under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment challenging a Kentucky policy that made HIV testing available only to certain inmates who satisfied criteria that placed them in a category deemed high-risk. He also argued that a corrections officer violated his constitutional right to privacy by reading his medical file, including his positive HIV test result, without his consent and in the presence of others. In the opinion, the court holds that there was no Eighth Amendment violation because the officials were at most required not to disregard a strong likelihood that a prisoner was infected with HIV, and that the policy did provide testing to those determined to be high-risk. The court rejects Doe's argument that the delay in testing violated his right to life under the Fourteenth Amendment by causing his infection to remain untreated, reasoning that the officials did not know that their actions would have that effect. The opinion also rejects Doe's argument that the policy violated his equal protection rights by creating different classes of inmates eligible for HIV testing. The court applies rational basis review and holds that the policy is rationally related to the legitimate state purpose of preserving limited resources. The opinion also holds that the constitutional right to privacy does not protect inmates from disclosure of their HIV status.


This opinion can be called into question on several grounds. Most notably, in making its determination that Doe lacked a right to privacy in his HIV status, the court ignores jurisprudence supporting the constitutional right to privacy in personal information such as medical records. Both the Second and Third Circuit, relying on this case law, have disagreed with this opinion and held that inmates have a constitutional right to privacy in the confidentiality of their HIV status and other medical information. See Doe v. Delie, 257 F.3d 309 (3d Cir. 2001); Powell v. Schriver, 175 F.3d 107 (2d Cir. 1999).

For a copy of this case, please contact programassociate@hivlawandpolicy.org.