In Chess v. Dovey, published June 25, 2015, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a district court erred in giving the Ninth Circuit Model Jury Instruction for a Prisoner's Claim for Conditions of Confinement/Medical Care; but ruled the error harmless. The plaintiff, a pro se prisoner, complained that prison medical staff members were deliberately indifferent to his medical care when they made various medication decisions, including denying him methadone. Although there was evidence at trial that a security policy limited use of methadone in the prison, all of the evidence indicated plaintiff was denied methadone for medical reasons. The defendants proposed that the Model Jury Instruction be given. In addition to instructing the jury on the elements of deliberate indifference, it told the jury to give deference to prison officials in the adoption and execution of policies and practices that in their judgment are needed to preserve discipline and maintain security. The judge expressed misgivings about this instruction, but the pro se prisoner did not object to it. The jury returned a defense verdict.
The court ruled that it would consider whether the instruction was erroneous despite the lack of objection, since under the circumstances (where the prisoner was pro se and the judge was on notice of the instruction's problems) requiring an objection would be a needless formality. The court further ruled that the instruction, which applies a standard conditions-of-confinement requirement to defer to security policies, should not apply in medical care cases unless there is evidence that the treatment to which the plaintiff objects was provided pursuant to a security-based policy. That was not the case here. But since the medical evidence indicated that the treatment was appropriate, the court affirmed the defense verdict.