Published March, 2020

Davenport v. Nussbaumer, 2019 WL 4678776 (E.D.N.C. 2019)

This district court decision from North Carolina rejected an inmate’s allegation that state prison officials violated his right to medical privacy and treated him in a discriminatory manner after learning that he was living with HIV.

Plaintiff Travis Lamont Davenport filed this 1983 suit against a collection of defendants who included prison guards and medical staff who worked on contract within North Carolina’s Bertie-Martin Regional Jail. Among his allegations were that the defendants failed to provide appropriate medical treatment and invited mistreatment by other inmates and prison staff by posting signs on his cell door regarding “loose stools.” Additionally, Mr. Davenport alleged that once he disclosed his HIV status on a medical questionnaire, the defendants treated him in a discriminatory manner, calling him derogatory names and denying him food that he was entitled to because of his medical condition.

The court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, finding that the officer defendants were entitled to qualified immunity and that, while the medical staff defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity, Mr. Davenport failed to prove a constitutional violation. Troublingly, the court based its decision that the officer defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on its finding that neither the Supreme Court nor the Fourth Circuit had ever found that pretrial detainees have a constitutional right to medical privacy, so the officers could not have violated any clearly established law. The court further found that the medical staff did not violate any law by divulging medical information to other jail staff, even when it was not medically necessary.