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Jail and Prisoner Law Bulletin

A Civil Liability Law Publication
for officers, jails, detention centers and prisons

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2002 JB Apr (web edit.)

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Featured Cases – with Links
U.S. Supreme Court actions (2 cases)
Access to Courts/Legal Info
Attorneys' Fees
Inmate Funds
Mentally Ill Prisoners
Prison Litigation Reform Act: Mental Injury
Prisoner Assault: By Inmates (2 cases)
Prisoner Suicide (2 cases)
Privacy (2 cases)

Noted in Brief -- With Some Links

Defenses: Eleventh Amendment Immunity
Disability Discrimination (2 cases)
Medical Care (2 cases)
Prison Litigation Reform Act: Exhaustion of Remedies
Prison Litigation Reform Act: Injunction
Prisoner Assault: By Officers (3 cases)
Prisoner Discipline
Prisoner Suicide
Procedural: Discovery
Strip Search: Employees



U.S. Supreme Court Actions

Unanimous U.S. Supreme Court rules that "exhaustion of remedies" requirement of Prison Litigation Reform Act applies to all lawsuits by inmates about prison life, including those involving particular incidents, such as an allegation of excessive use of force by a correctional officer, as well as those that involve general circumstances or conditions.

     Resolving a prior conflict among the U.S. appeals courts concerning whether or not the "exhaustion of remedies" requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e(a), applies in the context of a prisoner's lawsuit over a single incident, such as an alleged assault by a correctional officer, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court has now ruled that the exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life.

     At issue was the meaning of the phrase "prison conditions" in the statute. As enacted by Congress, the statute mandates that a prisoner must exhaust available administrative remedies, such as an internal prison grievance procedure, before pursuing a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, or any other federal law, "with respect to prison conditions."

     In the case reviewed, a state prisoner in Connecticut brought a lawsuit in federal court against the state Department of Correction asserting that corrections officers had subjected him to a sustained pattern of harassment and intimidation and had singled him out for a severe beating in violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

     The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned the trial's court's dismissal of the lawsuit based on the plaintiff inmate's failure to exhaust available administrative remedies before bringing suit. Nussel v. Willette, #99-0387, 224 F.3d 95 (2d Cir. 2000). The appeals court reasoned that the statutory requirement covered only conditions which affected prisoners generally, rather than "single incidents" that affect only particular prisoners, such as the alleged use of excessive force.

     Rejecting this, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the PLRA's exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or "some other wrong." Accordingly, exhaustion of remedies is "now mandatory" for prisoner plaintiffs, and the trial court does not have "discretion" to decide which cases it should apply to.

     The intent of Congress in passing the statute, the Court reasoned, was to reduce the quantity and improve the quality of prisoner suits, and afford correctional officials an opportunity to address complaints internally before allowing the initiation of a federal lawsuit. In some instances, corrective action taken in response to an internal grievance may improve prison administration and "satisfy the inmate," eliminating the need for litigation. Additionally, in the process of review of prisoner grievances, frivolous cases may be filtered out. And, for cases which ultimately result in lawsuits, the existence of an administrative record can clarify the issues in the case and "facilitate adjudication."

     The Court rejected the plaintiff's argument, based on the prior cases of Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1 (1992) and Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994) that there was a distinction that should be applied in the exhaustion requirement between excessive force claims from "conditions of confinement" claims. While those earlier cases did draw that distinction, the Court pointed out that they did so "in the context of proof requirements," focusing on what injury a prisoner plaintiff must allege and show, and what mental state on the part of the defendants the plaintiff must plead and prove. What proof is required for a claim once the case is in court, is different from the question of whether resort to a prison grievance process "must precede resort to a court."

     The Court stated that it was possible that Congress inserted the phrase "prison conditions" in the exhaustion requirement in the statute simply to make it clear that the requirement does not apply to "preincarceration claims," such as a prisoner's civil rights lawsuit against an arresting officer.

     The Court also reasoned that the distinction that some courts made between excessive force claims and "exhaustion-mandatory" frivolous claims was "untenable," since excessive force claims can also be frivolous and the exhaustion requirements serve other purposes beyond merely weeding out the frivolous allegations.

     The Court also noted that, in the prison environment, a specific incident may be "symptomatic of a systemic problem," rather than being an aberration. While the plaintiff prisoner argued that his case could be placed in the "isolated episode" category, he could just as easily "urge" that his complaint describes a "pattern or practice of harassment climaxing in the alleged beating."

     The Court found it "unlikely" that Congress, in including the exhaustion requirement in the PLRA, meant to "leave the need to exhaust" to the plaintiff's "option" in terms of how the case was argued. The Court also found that its clarification that the exhaustion requirement would apply to all prisoner cases would result in less complex litigation, avoiding "bifurcated proceedings" in which a prisoner sues both the corrections officer alleged to have used excessive force, arguing that this was a "specific incident," and the supervisor who allegedly failed adequately to monitor those in his charge, which might be seen as an indication of a more systemic "condition."

     Finally, the Court pointed out that prison authorities have no less compelling interest in receiving notice and an opportunity to stop brutality by officers than other types of staff wrongdoing.

     Porter v. Nussle, 2002 U.S. Lexis 1373.

»Click here to read the text of the decision on the web.

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Civil commitment of previously convicted sex offender require some finding of the offender's "lack of control."

     In a prior decision upholding the constitutionality of the Kansas Sexually Violent Predator Act, Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 346 (1997), the U.S. Supreme Court characterized a dangerous sexual offender's confinement as civil rather than criminal, and ruled that the criteria for confinement specified in the statute, "mental abnormality or personality disorder," satisfied due process.

     In another case interpreting the same statute, the U.S. Supreme Court has now spelled out that the Constitution does not permit civil commitment of dangerous sexual offenders without any determination that they have a "lack-of-control" over their dangerous propensities. The Court stated  that this did not require that a "total" or "complete" lack of control be shown, but some finding of lack of control is essential--at least "proof of serious difficulty in controlling behavior."

     Kansas v. Crane, #00-957, 122 S. Ct. 867 (2002).

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Access to Courts/Legal Info

Pretrial detainees who challenged city jail regulations they claimed had an adverse impact on their Sixth Amendment right to counsel by impeding attorney visits did not have to show an "actual injury" in order to be entitled to injunctive relief. While prisoners must show such actual injuries when complaining about allegedly inadequate law libraries or legal assistance programs, there is no independent constitutional right to access to them, as opposed to access to attorneys.

     A New York federal trial court, while dissolving most other aspects of a prior consent decree concerning conditions in New York City jails, denied the correctional department's motion to terminate decrees relating to attorney visitation.

     The trial court found that criminal defense attorneys with pretrial detainee clients in the city's correctional facilities "routinely face unpredictable, substantial delays in meeting with clients detained" there, being forced to wait between 45 minutes and two hours, or even substantially longer, after arriving at a facility to see a client. This was because of several factors, including a small number of counsel rooms relative to the number of detainees, the fact that prisoners were not brought to counsel rooms during inmate counts, and several other problems.

     The trial court also found that some attorneys had "largely stopped" visiting clients at the correctional facilities because of this, and instead met with them at the courthouse. Courthouse visits, however, are not available on less than a day's notice or in the evening or on weekends, and inmates may even be returned to the jail before the attorney arrives or may not be produced at all.

      The trial court found that this had imposed an "unconstitutional burden" on the pretrial detainees' access to their lawyers and ordered the defendants to establish procedures to make sure that attorney visits commenced at the facilities within a specified number of minutes, and that an adequate number of counsel visiting rooms be made available and be private.

     A federal appeals court upheld this order. It rejected the defendants' argument that the trial court should have applied the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343 (1996) to the claims brought by the plaintiffs. In Lewis, the Court ruled that prisoners challenging the adequacy of law libraries or legal assistance programs in correctional facilities must show an "actual injury" -- that the alleged shortcomings in the library or program actually "hindered" their efforts to pursue a legal claim.

     The appeals court found this reasoning erroneous, since prisoners do not have direct constitutional rights to access to law libraries or legal assistance programs, but any rights to access to them is derivative of the rights of access to attorneys and to the courts. In contrast, the right to have access to an attorney for criminal defense is a direct constitutional right guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

     The appeals court also found that the record reflected a continued need for injunctive relief on the detainee's right to counsel.

     Benjamin v. Fraser, #00-9093, 264 F.3d 175 (2nd Cir. 2001)

»Click here to read the text of the decision on the web.

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Attorneys' Fees

A prisoner who was only awarded $1 in nominal damages in his excessive force lawsuit against a correctional officer was limited by the Prison Litigation Reform Act to a maximum award of attorneys' fees of $1.50; federal appeals court upholds statutory limit against equal protection argument.

     A prisoner who was awarded only $1 in nominal damages on his lawsuit against a correctional officer claiming excessive use of force was only entitled to a maximum of $1.50 in attorneys' fees, a federal appeals court has ruled, applying a provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e(d)(2) which limits awards of attorney fees to prisoners who bring successful civil rights actions to 150% of the monetary award.

     In reaching this result, the court overturned the trial court's prior award to the plaintiff prisoner of $12,048.60 in attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1988. The court rejected the argument that the fee cap contained in the statute violated the prisoner's right to equal protection of law.

     The court also found that including nominal damages within the statute's reference to "monetary awards" is consistent with that term's "plain and ordinary meaning and Congress's apparent intent."

Foulk v. Charrier, #00-1132, 262 F.3d 687 (8th Cir. 2001).

»Click here to read the text of the decision on the web. (.pdf format).

     Editor's Note: Other cases which have also upheld the attorneys' award fee cap in this statute against equal protection attacks include Walker v. Bain, 257 F.3d 660 (6th Cir. 2001); Madrid v. Gomez, 190 F.3d 990 (9th Cir. 1999); Collins v. Montgomery County Bd. of Prison Inspectors, 176 F.3d 679 (3d Cir. 1999) (en banc) (per an equally divided court), cert denied, 528 U.S. 1115 (2000). In the Sixth Circuit case, the court commented that while it was "aware that Sec. 1197e(d)(2) will have a strong chilling effect upon counsels' willingness to represent prisoners who have meritorious claims," and was "troubled by a federal statute that seeks to reduce the number of meritorious civil rights claims and protect the public fisc at the expense of denying a politically unpopular group their ability to vindicate actual, albeit 'technical' civil rights violations," it was also "aware that we are not authorized to act as a superlegislature to judge the wisdom or desirability of legislative policy determinations made in areas that neither affect fundamental rights nor proceed along suspect lines."

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Inmate Funds

Prison officials violated a federal statute protecting veteran's benefits from attachment by creditors by placing a hold on an inmate's trust account which was funded by such benefits, in order to pay for goods and services that prisoner had purchased at a time when the funds were not yet in the account; defendant officials were entitled to qualified immunity from damages because of the lack of prior court decisions on the subject.

     A prisoner in a California correctional facility used his veteran's disability benefits to fund his inmate trust account. He purchased a variety of items at the facility's canteen and also used funds from the account to pay for special services that he desired. Each time he accessed the account, he filled out a "trust account withdrawal order" authorizing the withdrawal of a specified sum from the account.

     At a time when he did not have funds in the account to cover the purchases, he signed withdrawal orders for $11.70 to pay for copies of his medical records and $181.50 to pay for dental appliances, for a total of $193.20. Instead of "bouncing" these withdrawal orders for insufficient funds, the prison "granted what it saw as a kind of overdraft protection," provided the goods and services, and placed a hold on the account so that it could be repaid when the funds did arrive.

     Despite the fact that the prisoner had himself asked for the goods and services and authorized the withdrawal, he then complained about what the prison did, arguing that it could not legally do this because the funds in question came from veteran's benefits. The prison disagreed, maintaining the hold on his account.

     The prisoner brought a lawsuit, arguing that what the prison had done violated 38 U.S.C. Sec. 5301(a), a statute designed to protect veteran's benefits against their creditors so that the veterans themselves could spend those funds as they saw fit when they actually got them, and not before.

     In part, the statute provides that veterans benefits "shall not be assignable except to the extent specifically authorized by law, and such payments made to, or on account of, a beneficiary shall be exempt from taxation, shall be exempt from the claim of creditors, and shall not be liable to attachment, levy, or seizure by or under any legal or equitable process whatever, either before or after receipt by the beneficiary."

     A federal appeals court has upheld a trial court determination that this statute precluded the prison from placing holds on the inmate's account when it was funded with his veteran's benefit, and that they therefore violated his rights under the statute in question. "This does not," the court stated, preclude the prisoner "from directing that payments be deducted from funds which exist in his account at the time that he issues the direction. Nothing we say here precludes him from currently spending the benefits he has received. "

     "When the Prison Officials allowed Nelson to authorize a withdrawal from his empty prison trust account, advanced the goods and services requested, and then placed holds on the account until Nelson's incoming veteran's benefits paid back the advances, they, in effect, allowed him to assign his future benefits and then seized those to repay the prison system." This violated the statute, but they did not act in a manner which was "intentionally wrong."

     There were no prior cases either from this appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the issue presented here. Because of this, the court held that the defendant prison officials were entitled to qualified immunity from damages. The court concluded that the prisoner "may still be able to obtain an injunction to preclude" that practice of putting holds on his accounts in the future."

     Nelson v. Heiss, No. 00-55523, 271 F.3d 891 (9th Cir. 2001).

»Click here to read the text of the decision on the web. (.pdf format).

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Mentally Ill Prisoners

Federal trial court prohibits housing of seriously mentally ill inmates at "super-maximum" security state prison, based on claim that conditions there, as applied to the mentally ill, amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

     Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Wisconsin correctional officials sought a court order requiring the transfer of six inmates, classified as seriously mentally ill, from a "super-maximum" security facility to an inpatient psychiatric facility. They also sought to have an independent psychiatrist evaluate every inmate in the facility who had not already been evaluated by the plaintiffs' expert witness psychiatrist to decide whether those inmates were also suffering from serious mental illness and should similarly be transferred.

     A trial court has granted a preliminary injunction to require the defendants to refrain from housing prisoners previously identified as suffering from serious mental illness at the facility, and to conduct a one-time evaluation of certain inmates there. These evaluations are to be carried out by "mental health professionals not employed by the Department of Corrections" on prisoners prescribed psychotropic medications, those who have been hospitalized in psychiatric institutions at any time, those who have spent longer than 30 days at Level One (the highest security classification) and those who have spent longer than 90 days at Supermax without progressing beyond Level Two, as well as those who have been placed on the observation unit on suicide watch. The court declined to order on-going monthly reevaluations of all prisoners at the institution, however, as the plaintiffs requested.

     In issuing its order, the court found that there was credible evidence in the record showing that conditions such as the isolation resulting from the physical layout of the prison, the allegedly "inadequate" level of staffing, and the "customs and policies" of the institution made it "not appropriate" for prisoners suffering from serious mental illness, so that the plaintiffs had a chance of proving that housing such prisoners in the facility, standing alone, might constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

    In some areas of the facility, prisoners suffered "almost complete isolation and sensory deprivation." Inmates are kept confined alone in their cells for all but four hours a week, the exercise cell is "devoid of equipment," and the "constant illumination is disorienting, as is the difficulty in knowing the time of day." Prisoners were offered either no programming or limited programming on a solitary basis at the door of their cells, depending on their classification. The staffing level of prisoners to mental health professionals at the facility is approximately 70 to 1, while the ratio of mentally ill inmates (defined as those prescribed psychotropic medications) to staff is approximately 10 to one.

     The court found evidence in both testimony and clinical records that the mental conditions of the identified inmates deteriorated since their arrival at the "super-max" facility, with the prisoners suffering "intensified symptoms, whether increased depression, severe hopelessness, attempts at suicide, command hallucinations or bizarre behavior."

     "Subjecting individuals to conditions that are very likely to render them psychotic or otherwise inflict a serious mental illness or seriously exacerbate an existing mental illness can not be squared with evolving standards of humanity or decency, especially when certain aspects of these conditions appear to bear little relation to security concerns. A risk this grave -- this shocking and indecent -- simply has no place in civilized society," the court stated.

     Jones 'El v. Berge, #00-C-421-C, 164 F. Supp. 2d 1096 (W.D. Wis. 2001).

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Prison Litigation Reform Act: Mental Injury

Without an allegation of physical injury, the Prison Litigation Reform Act barred an inmate from recovering damages from severe stress and depression due to officers' alleged spreading of rumors that he was gay, a child molester, and a "rapist," or from psychological pain from officers' attempt to provoke a physical confrontation between other prisoners and him. Prisoner's claim that officer "squeezed" his genitals during a pat down also did not state an Eighth Amendment claim.

     A New York prisoner filed a federal civil rights lawsuit which contended that a correctional officer squeezed his genitalia on several occasions during pat frisks. The lawsuit also sought damages against this officer and two others for allegedly spreading rumors throughout the prison population that the plaintiff was, among other things a "homosexual and faggot" who "loves little boys" and "is doing time for rape."

     The plaintiff prisoner claimed that the defendant officers sometimes "screamed" these things out loud and sometimes said them loudly to him regardless of who else was listening. As a result of these rumors and statements, the prisoner claimed that several other inmates physically threatened or confronted him. The officers denied all of the prisoner's allegations.

     The trial court ruled that a provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e(e), which bars recovery for "mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury" prevented the prisoner from recovering either compensatory or punitive damages for the "severe stress and depression" that he claimed he suffered based on the officers' actions, or from the psychological pain he said occurred as the result of the officers' alleged attempts to provoke fights between other prisoners and him.

     At the same time, the court found that this provision of the statute did not bar the prisoner's claim for declaratory and injunctive relief.

     The court rejected the prisoner's argument that an officer subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment by "squeezing" his genitals during pat frisks, however, finding that the deprivation was not sufficiently serious to be an Eighth Amendment violation, especially since the prisoner did not claim that he was injured by this conduct.

     Montero v. Crusie, 153 F. Supp. 2d 368 (S.D.N.Y. 2001).

»Click here to read the text of the decision on the AELE website.

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Prisoner Assault: By Inmates

Officer was not liable for failing to prevent a fatal attack on an inmate by other prisoners. Earlier "argument" between the decedent and one of his alleged later attackers over the location of an Arkansas town was carried on in a friendly manner and there was nothing from which the officer could have anticipated the later murderous assault.

     A correctional officer, a warden, and a prison director were sued by the estate of an Arkansas inmate who suffered a fatal attack at the hands of other prisoners. The lawsuit alleged failure to protect him against the assault.

     On the night of the incident in question, the defendant correctional officer was assigned to two barracks, including the one in which the decedent was housed. Hours before the assault occurred, the plaintiffs argue that the officer was "put on notice" of a dispute between the decedent and one of his assailants because they approached the officer and asked him "the location of Earle, Arkansas."

     The plaintiffs argue that this showed that it was "possible the two men were having an argument about Earle's location, which should have" put him on "alert that there was trouble between them." Rejecting this argument, and ordering summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity for all three defendants, a federal appeals court noted that the officer "did not actually observe" any disagreements between the two prisoners, who he characterized later as "laughing and acting 'buddy-buddy'-like when they approached him."

     Further, the officer later observed the two inmates watching television together later in the evening, and there was no evidence to suggest that he had any "actual knowledge" that they were fighting, much less that one of them would attack the other in a few hours. If the officer "misinterpreted whether the two men were getting along," the court reasoned, "it may show that he is a bad judge of interpersonal relations, but it does not mean he violated" the decedent's constitutional rights by being deliberately indifferent.

     Shortly after the officer turned out the lights to the barracks that night, after completing a cell count, the decedent was beaten severely in his bed about the head and shoulders with a broken bedframe by a number of other inmates, including the one he had watched television with. He died from these injuries.

     The appeals court rejected the argument that liability could be based on a purported prison policy requiring the officer in possession of the barracks keys to remain outside the barracks until assistance arrived. The court pointed out that by the time the officer knew something was wrong, "the fight was already over," so that even if there were no such policy, the officer would not have been able to intervene in time to rescue the prisoner.

     There was also no evidence that the other defendants knew of and deliberately disregarded a risk to the decedent's safety. There was no dispute that the defendant officer had received on-the-job training, as well as completing a six-week training course.

     Tucker v. Evans, #01-1778, 276 F.3d 999 (8th Cir. 2002).

»Click here to read the text of the decision on the web. (.pdf format).

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Sheriff was not entitled to qualified immunity from lawsuit claiming that jail conditions were bad enough that they enhanced the possibility of prisoner-on-prisoner assault. Conditions alleged included overcrowding, understaffing, and failure to segregate pretrial detainees from convicted criminals, violent prisoners from nonviolent ones, juveniles from adults or prisoners with mental disorders from the general population.

     Former prisoners in an Alabama county jail were found, by a federal appeals court, to have shown an "objectively substantial risk of serious harm" sufficient to state a claim against the sheriff for violation of the Eighth Amendment in failing to protect them from assaults by other prisoners.

     This finding was based on claims that there was no segregation of nonviolent prisoners from violent inmates, no separation of pretrial detainees from convicted criminals, and no separation of juvenile prisoners from adults. Further, the plaintiffs contended that prisoners suffering from serious mental disorders were also not kept apart from the rest of the jail population.

     Other conditions purportedly contributing to an enhanced risk of prisoner-on-prisoner assault included understaffing of the facility, overcrowding of the jail cells, non-functioning locks on cell doors, and the alleged ready availability of home-made weapons which prisoners made using material torn for the jail's "dilapidated structure." The plaintiffs also claimed that jail cells were not visually inspected for periods of time, that lock down of prisoners in their cells was not sufficiently used, and further, that prisoners were often not disciplined even when they tried to escape, threatened jailers, assaulted other prisoners or destroyed property.

     The appeals court found that the plaintiff prisoners had sufficiently demonstrated that the sheriff was "subjectively aware" of the substantial risk to inmate safety posed by the county jail's dilapidated condition so that her response could be viewed as unreasonable, so that she was not entitled to qualified immunity. The court noted that the problems with the jail conditions were alleged to be "longstanding and pervasive," and that the sheriff had been furnished with "fault-finding" inspection reports by state agencies, as well as many complaints from prisoners and correspondence from prisoners' lawyers warning of the serious threat to the safety of prisoners at the jail, and it was further alleged that the sheriff did "nothing" to alleviate these conditions.

     At the same time, the court also ruled that one inmate who claimed to have been released from the jail after being assaulted by other prisoners had failed to demonstrate that the sheriff was personally liable to him for damages based on a policy of releasing sick or injured prisoners. The appeals court found that the pre-existing law at the time of the incident at issue was not clearly established in a manner that "every reasonable sheriff" would have known that releasing sick or injured prisoners would violate their constitutional rights.

     Marsh v. Butler County, Ala., #99-12813, 268 F.3d 1014 (11th Cir. 2001).

»Click here to read the text of the decision on the web.

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Prisoner Suicide

Prisoner's estate had a possible claim against prison psychologist for failing to take action to prevent prisoner's suicide when psychologist himself had previously decided that the prisoner was suicidal "enough" to be placed under close observation. Prisoner's own assertion that he was "not suicidal" when released from suicide watch after a day was insufficient to change the result.

     A Michigan prisoner successfully committed suicide in his cell by hanging himself with a sheet fashioned into a rope. His estate sued a number of defendants, including a prison psychologist, alleging deliberate indifference in the failure to take action to prevent the suicide. The trial court denied a motion by the psychologist for qualified immunity, a decision that has been upheld by a federal appeals court.

     The decedent was referred to the psychologist for evaluation by an officer who observed him acting "despondently" in his cell, and who had heard that the previous shift's guard had removed sharp objects from the prisoner out of concern for his safety. During the meeting with the prisoner, the psychologist observed that the prisoner felt depressed and the prisoner stated that his nerves were shot and he "feels like he's going to die." The prisoner stated, according to the notes of the meeting, that he was feeling "suicidal but with no specific plan."

     Based on this, the psychologist placed the prisoner on close observational status, or "suicide watch," which required him to be dressed in suicide or "bam-bam" clothes, eating only finger foods, and prohibited him from having sharp objects, as well as subjecting him to observation every ten minutes.

     A physician's assistant later learned, during an interview with the prisoner, that other inmates had purportedly threatened to kill him for being a "snitch," so that he had "thoughts of dying in order to get locked down in safe area." A note of this was placed in the prisoner's file. After one day on suicide watch, the prisoner was seen again by the psychologist for approximately a half-hour, during which the prisoner told the psychologist that he "wasn't feeling suicidal," and the psychologist later stated that, based on this statement and "how he came across to me, I took him at his word" and "took him off of close observational status."

     It was later that same day that the prisoner killed himself.

     The appeals court found that this set of facts and circumstances was sufficient to state a claim against the psychologist for deliberate indifference to the risk of the prisoner committing suicide. It further stated that a reasonable prison psychologist in 1995, the date of the incident, "would have clearly understood" that he was under an affirmative duty to offer reasonable medical care to a prisoner whom he knew to be suicidal, in the circumstances confronted here. If the plaintiff's version of the facts were true, the plaintiff presented a sufficient claim that the psychologist's evaluation was "unreasonable and constituted deliberate indifference" coming only one day after he himself put the prisoner on suicide watch.

Comstock v. McCrary, #99-2448, 273 F.3d 693 (6th Cir. 2001).

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Prison medical personnel could not be held liable for failure to prevent a mentally ill prisoner's suicide, but federal appeals court finds that a claim was adequately stated against correctional officers to whom the prisoner purportedly made statements about killing himself and who allegedly did not look inside his cell for five hours on the night he did so, despite his cell window being covered by toilet paper.

     The mother of a mentally-ill prisoner who committed suicide in a Wisconsin state prison sued prison doctors, wardens, and correctional officers for failure to prevent the death.

     The suicide occurred after the prisoner was allegedly left unsupervised for approximately five hours. He had previously, at various points in his life, been diagnosed by doctors as suffering from major depressive disorder, aggressive conduct disorder, bipolar disorder, dysthymic disorder, adjustment disorder, mixed personality disorder, and manic depression. "While they might have disagreed" as to his "precise medical conditions," the doctors all unanimously agreed that the individual needed to be medicated to control his illness, and his adult life was "characterized by a history of suicide attempts, hospitalizations, and drug treatments directed towards managing his multiple mental disorders."

     The prisoner did not agree that he needed to be medicated, and during an unmedicated period in July of 1997, he was arrested for assaulting his mother. While a medical professional found him incompetent to stand trial, he would not admit his incompetency, and his first attorney withdrew, with his second attorney going along with his client and allowing him to plead no contest to the battery charge.

     He was sent to prison on the charge despite pleas to the trial judge by both his mother, the victim of the crime, and the prosecutor not to send him to prison since he was mentally ill and not a danger when medicated.

     A federal appeals court, upholding dismissal of claims against one prison physician, found that his failure, during an intake screening interview, to recognize the decedent's condition did not prevent the prisoner from getting subsequent treatment in prison for his mental illness. Other medical personnel in the prison who saw or treated the prisoner, and who agreed with his wishes that he no longer be medicated were found to not have exhibited deliberate indifference to the risk of harm to him, as he had then been off medication for three months and there was no indication then that he was suicidal or in danger of harming himself.

     The appeals court ruled differently, however, as to whether a claim was stated against correctional officers. The court noted that the prisoner, at the time of his suicide, had allegedly told a number of officers that he planned to kill himself, covered his cell openings with toilet paper so that it was difficult to see inside, written letters to his mother, contemplating his death, lost nearly one-third of his body weight, and written a "last will and testament." The appeals court was particularly concerned with the claim in the complaint that despite all this, there was "no apparent attempt" to see if he was stable during his last five hours during which his cell window was covered with toilet paper.

      The court also found that the prison wardens were not individually liable, because of an absence of any evidence that they were personally involved in any deprivation suffered by the prison or that they had "turned a blind eye" to neglectful conduct by prison officers.

    Sanville v. McCaughtry, #00-2933, 266 F.3d 724 (7th Cir. 2001).

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Male and female prisoners were not "similarly situated" for purposes of male prisoner's lawsuit complaining that the female prisoners were given a greater degree of privacy in toilets and showers than that afforded to males. Stronger security concerns involving male prisoners justified surveillance of male prisoners in toilets and showers by correctional officers, including female officers.

     A male prisoner confined in a state jail facility complained that, while toilets and showers used by female prisoners had privacy partitions between the toilets and between the showers, there were none in the toilets and showers used by male prisoners. Additionally, he argued that it violated his right to privacy and equal protection of the law that male correctional officers did not monitor female inmates in their bathrooms, but female officers did monitor male prisoners in theirs.

     The prisoner sued state correctional officials and two private prison management companies that operated the jail during his time there. The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants.

     Upholding this decision, a federal appeals court found that the male and female prisoners in the facility were not "similarly situated." Many of the males were penitentiary transfer prisoners who were serving sentences for violent and serious felonies, while the majority of the female prisoners were convicted of nonviolent or less serious felonies.

     The plaintiff conceded in the trial court that the jail housed six times more men than women, male transfer inmates were convicted of violent crimes, while female prisoners were convicted of the "lowest level of felony in Texas," and male units had a "higher incidence of violent gang activity and sexual predation."

     These differences in circumstances, the court found, "justified round-the-clock surveillance by guards of both sexes applied uniquely to men."

     Oliver v. Scott, #00-10898, 276 F.3d 736 (5th Cir. 2002).

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Jail employees who participated in the restraint of a prisoner who was suffering from a cocaine overdose and subsequently died could not be awarded damages against the facility commander for violation of their constitutional rights based on his alleged disclosure of their identities to an "angry group" of the friends and family of the prisoner.

     A county jail inmate was engaging in "bizarre behavior," throwing himself into walls, diving off his bunk, and smashing his head. A number of correctional officers and nurses responded to a call for help. Several officers handcuffed him, and then began to move him to the psychiatric area for observation. Because he was still yelling and struggling, they used pepper spray to control him and put him on a restraint board. At this point, he stopped breathing and had no pulse. While he was revived after a nurse performed CPR, he was then comatose and later died the next morning

     The prisoner's mother asked to see the incident reports the day after the death. The jail Facility Commander was advised by a county prosecutor that the reports were disclosable under the Washington state Public Disclosure Act, Wash. Rev. Code Se. 42.17. He therefore went to the hospital that day to deliver copies of the reports, but did not redact them to eliminate the names of the personnel who had participated in the prisoner's restraint and removal.

     When he entered the conference room at the hospital, he encountered 15 to 20 family members and friends of the prisoner who had assembled, and he was immediately confronted by the prisoner's father yelling "you killed my boy," and others yelling "you killed my cousin," or "you killed Robert Guy" (the prisoner's name). He gave the reports to the prisoner's father, after which members of the crowd looked and started yelling that "nineteen officers killed" the prisoner and "you're going to pay." The prisoner's father read the supervisor's summary report out loud and the Facility Commander quickly left because one of the people present started moving towards him.

     Subsequently, protest demonstrations were held outside the jail and some of the employees named in the reports interpreted these as directed against them. Several of them also reported incidents such as a car driving by and pointing a gun at him, tires on several employees' cars being slashed, or hangup calls at home phones. One officer found on his doorstep a newspaper clipping about the prisoner's death, along with old insurance cards for the officer's children, which the officer had put in the trash and an unseen visitor had retrieved.

     While none of the employees subsequently were physically injured, they did suffer emotional distress, and filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Facility Commander and a number of other county employees, arguing that the public identification of them as being involved in the restraint of the prisoner violated their due process rights, placing them in danger.

     A federal appeals court rejected the Plaintiffs' due process and invasion of privacy claims. "Every public employee in the state of Washington was on notice that the public had a right to records which bore on suspected misconduct in the performance of public duties, and that the names of involved personnel were not exempt from disclosure." Additionally, the plaintiffs failed to show that the Facility Commander had acted with deliberate indifference to known or obvious dangers to them when he released the reports.

     Nicholas v. Wallenstein, #99-36205, 266 F.3d 1083 (9th Cir. 2001).

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Noted In Brief

Defenses: Eleventh Amendment Immunity

     Connecticut state Department of Corrections was immune from a state prisoner's federal civil rights lawsuit for alleged violation of his Eighth Amendment right to be free from deliberate indifference to his medical needs, but a state statute, C.G.S.A. Sec. 4-165, that provides personal immunity for state employees could not be used to shield them from claims for violation of federal law. Torrence v. Pelkey, 164 F. Supp. 2d 264 (D. Conn. 2001).

Disability Discrimination

     The availability of relief for alleged disability discrimination against wheelchair bound inmate under the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 12132 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 701 did not bar his claim for damages against individual prison officials under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, despite the fact that the claims involved the same facts of denial of access to handicapped shower facilities. Becker v. Oregon, 170 F. Supp. 2d 1061 (D. Or. 2001).

     Burden on disabled plaintiff, wheelchair confined, of transferring location of trial of his federal civil rights lawsuit to a location more convenient for correctional defendants outweighed the inconvenience to defendants of holding the proceedings in the courthouse where the plaintiff originally filed it. The trial court therefore denied a change of venue in the plaintiff's lawsuit over his medical treatment while incarcerated. Nikac v. Pozzi, 172 F. Supp. 2d 414 (S.D.N.Y. 2001).

Medical Care

     A prisoner's claim that a medical technician at the prison gave him "inadequate" treatment was insufficient to state a claim for violation of the Eighth Amendment, which requires a showing of deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, rather than simply "neglect" or "medical malpractice." Ford v. Page, 169 F. Supp. 2d 831 (N.D. Ill. 2001).

     Even if medical care is "ultimately" provided, deliberate indifference to a serious medical need may still be shown by a delay in the prisoner's treatment, even for a period of hours. A genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether a claim for such delay existed against a prison doctor, based on prisoner's suffering of severe pain in his leg for four days for medical problem that ultimately required surgery and a transmetatarsal amputation of his left leg. Seals v. Shah, 145 F. Supp. 2d 1378 (N.D. Ga. 2001).

Medical Care: Dental

     Pretrial detainee stated a possible claim against dental hygienist for deliberate indifference to his serious dental needs. Correctional officials whose names appeared on prisoner grievance forms, and jail superintendent, were not personally involved in any alleged deprivation of the prisoner's rights, however, and therefore could not be liable. Manney v. Monroe, No. 97C-7483, 151 F. Supp. 2d (N.D. Ill. 2001).

Prison Litigation Reform Act: Exhaustion of Remedies

     Prison Litigation Reform Act's provisions requiring the exhaustion of available administrative remedies before proceeding with a lawsuit did not apply to prisoner's New York state law negligence claim based on the alleged failure of correctional officers and prison officials to protect him from assaults by other inmates. Nunez v. Goord, 172 F. Supp. 2d 417 (S.D.N.Y. 2001).

Prison Litigation Reform Act: Injunctions

     A provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 3626(a)(2) , under which a grant of preliminary injunctive relief automatically expires after 90 days did not bar the renewal of the court's injunction forbidding prison administrators from imposing discipline on Muslim inmates who missed work assignments to attend Friday Sabbath services. The provision does not limit the number of times that a court can renew the preliminary injunctive relief, but simply imposes a burden on the plaintiffs to "continue to prove that preliminary relief is warranted." Mayweathers v. Newland, No. 00-16708, 258 F.3d 930 (9th Cir. 2001). (.pdf format).

Prisoner Assault: By Officers

     In federal civil rights lawsuit claiming that correctional officers assaulted inmates and family members during a visit to the jail, any claim for psychiatric conditions requiring medical treatment was waived by an attorney's letter indicating that such claims would be withdrawn with prejudice, but the letter did not waive any claims, on behalf of the family members, for injuries to reputation, humiliation, or embarrassment arising out of the incident. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e(e, h), a county jail prisoner who was in custody at the time of the alleged incident could not recover damages for emotional distress after his attorney waived any claim he had for physical injuries. Jessamy v. Ehren, 153 F. Supp. 2d 398 (S.D.N.Y. 2001).

     A deputy was not entitled to qualified immunity against liability for the alleged excessive use of force against a prisoner who was allegedly not resisting at the time, but the sheriff's purported condoning of the use of the force by failing to immediately terminate the deputy, occurred after the incident and therefore did not cause the deputy's conduct, so the sheriff could not, on that basis, be held individually liable for damages. Morris v. Crawford County, Arkansas, 173 F. Supp. 2d 870 (W.D. Ark. 2001).

     A verdict for defendant correctional officers in a prisoner's civil rights lawsuit claiming that the officers used excessive force against him was not against the great weight of the evidence or a miscarriage of justice requiring a new trial. The jury could properly reject, if it decided to do so, expert witness testimony by a forensic pathologist that the prisoner's wounds were consistent with a beating but not with a "routine takedown." A jury can reject an expert's opinion even in the absence of another expert testifying to rebut it. Giles v. Rhodes, 171 F. Supp. 2d 220 (S.D.N.Y. 2001).

Prisoner Discipline

     Prisoner did not state a valid claim for review of the disciplinary action against him under New York law by asserting that a correctional officer had been abusive and falsely accused him of rule violations for purposes of harassment, when the prisoner did not allege that the officer played any role in making the final determination in the prison disciplinary proceeding. Cliff v. Greene, 724 N.Y.S.2d 780 (A.D. 2001).

Prisoner Suicide

     Kentucky county was entitled to sovereign immunity against claims for negligent operation of jail arising from prisoner's suicide in which he hung himself with a belt from the showerhead in his cell. State Board of Claims accordingly had no jurisdiction over claims brought by prisoner's estate against jailer and deputy jailers. Commonwealth v. Harris, No. 2000-SC-0409-TG, 59 S.W.2d 896 (Ky. 2001). (.pdf format).

Procedural: Discovery

     A prisoner's willful refusal to cooperate with the court's orders for the discovery of information was a sufficient basis for the dismissal with prejudice of his lawsuit over allegedly illegal strip searches performed by correctional personnel, but an assessment of attorneys' fees against him would have "no practical effect" as he was "in poverty" and serving a sentence of 25 years to life. Davidson v. Dean, 204 F.R.D. 251 (S.D.N.Y. 2001).

     The trial court's order denying summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds, and granting the prisoner leave to conduct additional discovery was not immediately appealable when it was based on the court's determination that there were disputed issues of material fact that needed to be resolved. Garrett v. Stratman, #00-1028, 254 F.3d 940 (10th Cir. 2001).

Strip Search: Employees

     It was not clearly established, in June of 1999, that a strip search of an officer at a correctional facility violated the employee's due process rights unless certain conditions, such as reasonable suspicion, were met. Prison officials sued by officer subject to such a search, arguably without reasonable suspicion, were therefore entitled to qualified immunity. Virgili v. Gilbert, No. 00-3371, 272 F.3d 391 (6th Cir. 2001).

Cross References
Defenses: Qualified Immunity -- See Featured Cases: Inmate Funds
Defenses: Qualified Immunity -- See Noted In Brief Cases: Strip Searches: Employees
Medical Care -- See Noted In Brief Cases: Defenses: Eleventh Amendment
Prison Litigation Reform Act: Attorneys' Fees -- See Featured Cases: Attorneys' Fees
Prison Litigation Reform Act: Exhaustion of Remedies -- See Featured Cases: U.S. Supreme Court Actions
Prison Litigation Reform Act: Mental Injury -- See Featured Cases: Prisoner Assault: By Officers
Prisoner Assault: By Inmate -- See Noted In Brief Cases: Prison Litigation Reform Act: Exhaustion of Remedies
Religion -- See Noted In Brief Cases: Prison Litigation Reform Act: Injunctions
Sexual Discrimination -- See Featured Cases: Privacy
Sexual Offender Programs -- See Featured Cases: U.S. Supreme Court Actions
Strip Searches: Prisoners -- See Noted In Brief Cases: Procedural: Discovery

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