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Jail and Prisoner Law Bulletin

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

ISSN 0739-0998

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2005 JB Mar (web edit.)

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Featured Cases – with Links

Access to Courts/Legal Info
Employment Issues
Medical Care
Prison Rules and Regulations
Prisoner Assault: By Inmate
Prisoner Assault: By Officer
Prisoner Suicide
Religion (2 cases)
Sexual Offender Programs and Notification
Work/Education Programs
Youthful Prisoners

Noted in Brief -- With Some Links

Access to Courts/Legal Info (3 cases)
Defenses: Statute of Limitations
Drugs and Drug Screening
Employee Death/Injury
False Imprisonment
Medical Care (2 cases)
Medical Care: Mental Health
Prison Litigation Reform Act: Exhaustion of Remedies (3 cases)
Prison Litigation Reform Act: Mental Injuries
Prisoner Assault: By Inmate
Prisoner Death/Injury
Prisoner Discipline (2 cases)
Prisoner Restraint
Products Liability
Public Protection
Segregation: Administrative
Strip Searches: Prisoners
Work Release




Access to Courts/Legal Info

Complexities of the legal issues in a lawsuit brought by an immigration detainee claiming that he was attacked by correctional officers while in a facility operated by a private corporation required the vacating of a jury award for the defendants when the trial court failed to appoint a lawyer to represent the detainee.

     A native of Ghana entered the U.S., and was ultimately found deportable by an immigration judge, although that order was subsequently overturned for procedural reasons. Prior to that, he had been detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), subsequently renamed the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and placed in custody in various correctional institutions, some of them operated by a private corporation, the Corrections Corporation of America.

     The detainee filed a federal civil rights lawsuit concerning his treatment while incarcerated, and was allowed to proceed as a pauper. His first complaint was rejected on the basis of various "glaring deficiencies," and several of his claims were also dismissed after he filed a first amended complaint. The trial court allowed his motion to file a second amended complaint, but only after dismissing several claims and defendants. His motion to file a third amended complaint was denied.

     The detainee's motions seeking to have a lawyer appointed to represent him were denied. A magistrate judge stated that the plaintiff " has failed to show that any difficulty he is experiencing in attempting to litigate this case is derived from the complexity of the issues involved."

     The plaintiff's lawsuit included claims that he had been beaten by three correctional officers while in restraints in preparation for being transported to a medical center in an emergency medical personnel believed was a cardiac arrest. The officers allegedly knocked him to the floor for refusing to comply with an order and "wasting their time." He allegedly was barely conscious and suffered several bruises, three broken teeth, and a loss of blood. He claimed that he suffered "torture" from being restrained in an unnatural position in a locked cell and fastened to a bed for at least twelve hours in a manner "calculated to inflict pain."

     After a three and a half day trial, the jury found in favor of the defendants.

     On appeal, a federal appeals court panel found that the detainee should have been appointed a lawyer to represent him by the trial court.

     The prisoner's case, the appeals court noted, had a "triple complexity." This included the question of what kind of claims he would be able to bring against the private corporation, Corrections Corporation of America, since a claim under Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), action could not be brought against a private corporation, and whether to sue the U.S. government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. Secs. 1346, 2671-2680, along with asking the trial court to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the private corporation in that lawsuit.

     The trial court, in its ruling on the plaintiff prisoner's second amended complaint did inform him of the "peculiar position" of the Corrections Corporation of America as a private corporation operating a prison, but "did not give him the opportunity to use the information," the appeals court stated. Further, as to the nature of his action against the prison employees, the plaintiff "misconceived" it as a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, which was incorrect, as they did not act under color of state law, but rather federal law, but neither the magistrate judge nor the district judge "caught the error."

     At no point, the appeals court noted, did the plaintiff prisoner gain access to what the Corrections Corporation on appeal has argued is the "decisive standard" for the restraints put on him prior to transfer for treatment of his emergency medical condition, the 16 pages of the Federal Bureau of Prisons' regulations of December 23, 1996 (subsequently revised on 12/23/98), entitled "Escorted Trips." [PDF]. Those regulations, on their face are applicable to felons and unconvicted detainees alike, according to the court.

     While the prisoner is "literate and educated," and able to read statutes and legal literature, he lacked legal training.

     A further enhancement of the "exceptional character" of the case, the appeals court found, was the "anomaly of incarcerating a person" on non-criminal (immigration) charges and confining him for seven years. Incarceration of this kind "may be a cruel necessity of our immigration policy;" the court commented, but if it "must be done," great care is required to not treat the "innocent like a dangerous criminal."

     The case presented the issue of whether there was any justification for shackling the feet and binding the chest of an "innocent detainee," the court found, and it "requires legal skill" to frame this issue and distinguish the plaintiff's case from that of the "ordinary transferee taken by the Bureau of Prisons on an Escorted Trip."

     The appeals court vacated the judgment in the case because the plaintiff prisoner was improperly denied appointed counsel.

     Agyeman v. Corrections Corporation of America, No. 03-16068, 390 F.3d 1101 (9th Cir. 2004).

    » Click here to read the text of the opinion on the Internet. [PDF]

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Employment Issues

Order requiring Bureau of Prisons to release entire Special Investigative Supervisor Manual to employee union was overbroad and an abuse of discretion when portions of it were irrelevant to union's tasks in representing disciplined employee, and the Bureau contended that a release of the entire document would compromise internal agency security.

     The Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) sought judicial enforcement of its order to the United States Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons, and Federal Correctional Institution, Forrest City, Arkansas to produce a limited use Special Investigative Supervisor Manual (SIS Manual) and turn it over to the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, Local 922 (AFGE), to remedy alleged unfair labor practices committed by them.

     A federal appeals court concluded that the order was arbitrarily overbroad, constituting an abuse of discretion, and set aside the part of the order requiring the defendants to furnish the entire manual, and remanded the case to the FLRA to amend and limit its order. Other portions of the order, not involving the manual were enforced.

     The case began with the Bureau of Prisons disciplining an employee represented by AFGE with a one-day suspension. The union requested information on the Bureau's disciplinary procedures, including the SIS Manual, a policy document containing guidance on the conduct of investigations, including investigations into potential disciplinary actions. The union claimed that it needed the manual, as well as other investigatory documents to determine whether the Bureau properly conducted the employee investigation, and whether the union should file a grievance.

     The Bureau refused to provide any portions of the manual, claiming that the union had not shown a particularized need for it and that the request was "for an interpretation of policy and procedure and not a request for data." The union then filed an unfair labor practice charge with FLRA. During a hearing before an FLRA administrative law judge, Bureau witnesses testified that only Chapter 9 of the SIS manual dealt with staff misconduct and employee investigations, and that releasing the entire manual "could reasonably be expected to compromise the security of Bureau of Prisons operations and its correctional institutions."

     The ALJ found that the Bureau had committed unfair labor practices, and ordered it to furnish the union with the manual. The ALJ's decision was adopted by the FLRA, and it refused to modify the order on the basis of the Bureau's security concerns about the full release of the manual.

     The Bureau then provided the union with Chapter 9 of the manual entitled "Employee Misconduct Investigations," and argued that the remaining portions of the manual could not be released because doing so could impermissibly interfere with the agency's internal security.

     The FLRA then sought judicial enforcement of its order for the release of the entire manual.

     The appeals court found that the FLRA abused its discretion in issuing "such a broad remedial order." While the Bureau could be compelled to furnish information about its policies on employee investigations to the union, which could assist the union in representing the disciplined employee, it was not required to furnish the union with information that had "no relationship" to the union's role in representing its members.

     The appeals court further stated that it suspected that the FLRA "did not really intend to abuse its discretion and force the Bureau to furnish AFGE with the entire SIS Manual." The order contained "equivocal language," the court said, including the statement that the ALJ's recommended order was "sufficiently specific" to put the Bureau on notice "as to what is required, and any disputes as to particular information covered by the order in this regard should be resolved in compliance proceedings."

     Despite this, the order itself "clearly" required the furnishing of the entire SIS manual, even if portions of it were irrelevant to the union's needs. Such a "broad, unguided order" is arbitrary and an abuse of discretion, the appeals court held.

     The appeals court ordered further proceedings by the FLRA to identify the specifically relevant portions of the manual to be produced.

     Federal Labor Relations Authority v. U.S. Department of Justice, No. 03-4051 2005 U.S. App. Lexis 1087 (8th Cir.).

    » Click here to read the text of the opinion on the Internet. [PDF]

     •Return to the Contents menu.

Medical Care

Pretrial detainee who claimed that delay in transporting him to a hospital caused him to become a paraplegic failed to show that an alleged county policy of understaffing the sheriff's office and jail resulted in his injuries.

     A pretrial detainee at the DeKalb County Jail in Georgia began to suffer pain in his lower back. Over the course of several days, the nurses provided at the jail by a private company supplying health services there treated this condition. He was subsequently transported to a hospital for evaluation, and then treated and returned on the same day.

     The following day, the detainee reported that he could not urinate and had difficulty walking, and a nurse at the jail examined him and determined that he needed to return to the hospital for treatment. She completed a referral form directing the jail to send him to the hospital to rule out pneumonia or "acute abdomen." She gave the referral form to a sergeant with the sheriff's office, and later testified that she told the sergeant to transport the detainee to the hospital "within the hour," which he later denied. The nurse allegedly did not inform the doctor on call of the situation and left the jail shortly thereafter.

     The detainee was moved from the jail's clinic to its intake area to await transport by field division officers because the transport area was closed. He was monitored there by a nurse. When a deputy arrived to provide transportation, another inmate, suffering severe facial trauma from a fight also required transportation to the hospital, and the deputy could only take one inmate because of a policy mandating that he wait with the inmate at the hospital. After consulting with the intake nurse, the deputy took the other inmate to the hospital, and the plaintiff detainee was taken back to the medical clinic so he could lie down.

     The next morning, several mental health transports were performed, but the detainee was not sent to the hospital because his condition was not considered an emergency, and the jail's policy placed priority on mental health transports over non-emergency transports. He was subsequently taken to the hospital after he told an officer that he had no feelings in his legs and a doctor and nurse examined him, and determined his condition to be emergent.

    When he arrived at the hospital, he was experiencing paralysis in his legs, and he was subsequently diagnosed with spinal cord compression and admitted to the neurosurgical department where he underwent surgery for a spinal epidural abscess more than twenty-four hours after he had first visited the nurse at the jail. The surgery reversed his total paralysis, but the detainee remains an "incomplete paraplegic," who needs assistance to walk, but can "expel without catheterization."

     The detainee sued the county, the company that provided the medical personnel at the jail, the hospital, and various individuals for alleged deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs and state law claims for medical malpractice.

     A federal appeals court upheld summary judgment for the defendant county and nurse, and the company supplying medical personnel at the jail. The hospital and its personnel reached a settlement with the plaintiff.

     The plaintiff had argued that the county's alleged policy of understaffing the sheriff's office and the jail delayed the treatment of his condition and therefore violated his Eighth Amendment rights. The appeals court found that it was undisputed that the prisoner had a severe medical condition that required "urgent care and treatment, which he did not receive."

     The appeals court found that, while the plaintiff produced evidence that the jail had staffing problems, there was no evidence in the record that the field division consistently failed to transport non-emergency medical cases to the hospital, and its policy was to call an ambulance to take the inmate to the hospital if it could not accomplish the transport itself. While the plaintiff's case was characterized as "tragic," the appeals court noted that he could not point to another instance when the jail's understaffing and resulting inability to transport a prisoner contributed to or aggravated an inmate's medical condition.

     Further, while the alleged understaffing "impacted this single case," the county had no notice of the possible consequences based on previous violations of federally protected rights. The alleged constitutional violation in this case was not a "highly predictable consequence" of the county's alleged failure to adequately budget and staff the sheriff's office.

     The plaintiff failed to show that the county acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. The appeals court also upheld summary judgment for the other defendants, finding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the testimony of expert witnesses presented by the plaintiff.

     McDowell v. Brown, No. 04-10272, 392 F.3d 1283 (11th Cir. 2004).

    » Click here to read the text of the opinion on the Internet. [PDF]

     •Return to the Contents menu.

Prison Rules and Regulations

Prison rule prohibiting the spreading of "rumors" about prison staff members was unconstitutionally vague and was improperly used to punish a prisoner for communicating the contents of his grievance to his mother, who subsequently advertised its contents on the Internet in order to seek legal counsel for him.

     A Louisiana prisoner was involved in a dispute with prisoner staff about an alleged denial of adequate medical treatment. He was admitted to the hospital for treatment after his mother called the prison to complain about her son's treatment. The prisoner claimed that after his release from the hospital, prison guards "harassed" him about calling his mother to assist with his request for medical treatment, and he then filed a grievance concerning the alleged harassment, purported physical abuse, and the prior alleged denial of medical treatment.

     The grievance was denied, but the prisoner had sent a copy of his grievance form to his mother or read it to her over the phone, and she then put an ad on the Internet requesting legal help for her son. The ad contained the same allegations that were set forth in the grievance. The advertisement was then investigated at the prison, and the warden placed the prisoner in administrative segregation during the investigation. The prisoner was subsequently convicted by a disciplinary board of violating a prison rule for "spreading rumors" about prison staff members on the Internet. The conviction resulted in the loss of 90 days of incentive wages and a custody change to a more restrictive cellblock.

     The prisoner filed a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging the prison rule punishing the "spreading of rumors." A federal trial court has held that the rule was unconstitutionally vague on its face because the word "rumor" was so vague that there was no way that an ordinarily intelligent prisoner would know what speech was prohibited.

     Further, the rule was unconstitutionally vague as applied, because the rule provided the prisoner with no warning that he could be convicted of violating it merely for communicating the contents of his grievance to his mother, who subsequently further communicated it to others. Additionally, the rule could also improperly restrict the flow of information necessary to obtain legal counsel, and was therefore unconstitutionally overbroad, since the advertisement seeking legal assistance involved a fundamental right to seek legal counsel.

     The defendant officials were entitled to qualified immunity from the prisoner's damage claims, as they could have reasonably believed that the inmate was spreading rumors and had violated the rule in question, but they were not entitled to such immunity from declaratory and injunctive relief claims. The trial court therefore granted the prisoner summary judgment on his claims for declaratory and injunctive relief against the application of the rule to him under these circumstances.

     Cassels v. Stalder, No. CIV.A.03-0709-D-M2, 342 F. Supp. 2d 555 (M.D. La. 2004).

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

     •Return to the Contents menu.

Prisoner Assault: By Inmate

•••• Editor's Case Alert ••••

Deputy who allegedly failed to go investigate after prisoner pushed an "emergency" button in his cell was not entitled to qualified immunity in prisoner's lawsuit claiming that this inaction allowed his cellmate, then holding a razor to his neck, to proceed with a physical assault and anal rape.

     A prisoner in the Milwaukee County, Wisconsin jail was allegedly violently assaulted by his cellmate. He filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming that a deputy sheriff violated his constitutional rights by failing to adequately respond when he sought protection by pushing an emergency call button in his cell prior to the attack. The injured prisoner also asserted a negligence claim against the deputy under state law. The trial court denied the deputy's motion for qualified immunity.

     A federal appeals court has upheld this result. It noted that the set of facts presented in the case, viewed in the light most favorable to the prisoner, were "decidedly unpleasant." The plaintiff prisoner was a pre-trial detainee awaiting trial on charges of robbery and concealing identity, but was kept apart from some inmates because he was also a cooperating witness for the state in a double homicide case.

     After approximately a month, he got a new cellmate who was being held on charges of sexual assault and battery by a prisoner, and who allegedly began acting "funny" soon after moving in, talking to himself, pacing around the cell, commenting on the plaintiff prisoner's appearance, and organizing the plaintiff prisoner's clothing. While the plaintiff prisoner requested a transfer, none was granted.

     On the night of the alleged assault, while two deputies were making rounds in the area, the cellmate placed a razor blade to the prisoner's neck, and the prisoner, because he was afraid, didn't scream loudly for help, but rather "subtly" and unsuccessfully tried to get the deputies' attention. After they left, the cellmate continued to hold the razor to his neck, at which point he pressed the emergency call button, hoping for help. He carefully chose his words, and told the responding deputy that he was "not getting along" with his cellmate. The deputy asked if he had requested a transfer, and he replied "yes," but said that there was a conflict. The deputy allegedly took no further action, and did not go to check out the situation or ask other officers to do so.

     The cellmate then anally raped the prisoner, bit his back several times, and cut his neck. The injured prisoner then again hit the emergency call button and solicited other prisoners to do the same. This time, the deputy took action, instructing two other deputies to go investigate.

     The appeals court found that the facts alleged by the plaintiff prisoner could, if true, support a finding of deliberate indifference. The prisoner claimed that while he had a razor placed to his neck, he signaled the deputy for held in the only way he could, but was "effectively ignored and subsequently raped."

     "Obviously," the court stated, "being raped while a razor is at one's neck is a serious harm."

     The appeals court stated its belief that the prisoner had set forth facts establishing that the deputy knowingly disregarded warnings that serious harm could come to him. The prisoner's use of the "emergency call" button was a clear indication that an emergency was at hand, and there was no reason for the deputy to doubt that there was an emergency, as the plaintiff prisoner did not have a history of "crying wolf" or abusing the call button. Further, the prisoner specifically told the deputy that he was having a conflict with his cellmate, but the deputy did nothing. The deputy had allegedly been instructed to personally respond to emergency calls.

     The appeals court rejected the deputy's argument that he could not have violated the prisoner's constitutional rights because he did not have specific awareness that the cellmate had a razor to the prisoner's throat or that he was planning a rape. The deputy "did not have to know the specifics" of the danger to "be culpable." Accepting the deputy's argument would "essentially reward guards" who "put their heads in the sand by making them immune from suit--the less a guard knows the better."

     What mattered was that the deputy was allegedly aware of a serious risk of harm in some form, whether it was assault or the more serious attack that actually occurred. Indeed, the court commented, a jury could find that the "vague nature" of the prisoner's complaint made it even "more incumbent" on the deputy to investigate further. The court argued that there could be no debate that the duty to protect prisoners from rape and assault was clearly established at the time.

     This did not mean, the appeals court hastened to add, that a jury will find the deputy liable for violating the prisoner's constitutional rights, but rather that the prisoner had succeeded in setting forth alleged facts that, if accepted as true, supported a viable deliberate indifference claim. It would be up to a jury to ultimately determine whether they were true or not.

     Velez v. Johnson, No. 04-1943, 2005 U.S. App. Lexis 588 (7th Cir.).

    » Click here to read the text of the opinion on the Internet. [PDF]

     •Return to the Contents menu.

Prisoner Assault: By Officer

•••• Editor's Case Alert ••••

Federal appeals court upholds jury's award of $29 million in compensatory and $27.5 million in punitive damages against two deputy sheriffs for causing pre-trial detainee's death through use of excessive force. Failure to show that the death was caused by any official policy or custom, or by deliberate indifference to a widespread pattern of violation of jail policies, required summary judgment on claims against county sheriff. Mere number of uses of pepper spray did not show that it was being misused.

     In a federal civil rights lawsuit arising out of the death of an inmate in the St. Joseph County, Indiana jail, two sheriff's deputies were found liable for violating the inmate's rights by using unnecessary and excessive force which caused his death. A jury awarded $29 million in compensatory damages and $27.5 million in punitive damages ($15 million against one deputy and $12.5 million against the second.

     A federal appeals court has upheld the award, rejecting arguments that it should be set aside because of alleged evidentiary and jury instruction errors by the trial court, or that the award of punitive damages was unconstitutionally excessive. The appeals court also upheld summary judgment for the county sheriff, finding insufficient evidence that the death was caused by an official jail policy or custom.

     The prisoner had been arrested in the early morning hours for driving under the influence of alcohol, and allegedly behaved "erratically" during the arrest, doing things like hitting himself in the face. After two hours at the police department, he was transferred to the county jail. While he was still "obviously" intoxicated, he entered the jail on his own power and was placed in a "drunk tank" with two other detainees. He immediately provoked a confrontation by directing racial slurs at one of the other detainees in the tank.

    The shift supervisor on duty that night responded by entering the tank with another officer. They grabbed the detainee by the neck or shoulders, threw him to the floor, removed a canister of OC-10 pepper spray and sprayed the detainee's face from a distance of roughly four or five inches. One of the other detainees in the tank subsequently said that, while he had taken cover under a blanket, he heard the struggle and the "sound of a basket-ball bouncing off concrete." The other inmate in the tank stated that it sounded like "a melon popping, like dropping a watermelon," and the two inmates surmised that this was the sound of the detainee's head hitting the concrete floor.

     The detainee was handcuffed behind his back and dragged out of the tank to a nearby elevator, and then taken to a shower on the fourth floor to wash off the pepper spray. Once on the fourth floor, an officer pushed the detainee into the shower, allegedly with such force that he hit his head into the far wall. One officer allegedly turned on the hot water, which allegedly aggravates the pain of pepper spray. One of the officers allegedly said "hey guys, do you want to see something funny?" and then threw a five-gallon bucket of cold water over the detainee, and officers allegedly gathered outside the shower, watching and laughing as the detainee, still handcuffed, "lay with his head in a shallow puddle of water, spit, and mucus, trying to wash the pepper spray off his face."

     Two deputies allegedly then dragged the detainee from the shower and strapped him into a "restraint chair" designed to control an aggressive inmate who may endanger others. The chair enables officers to shackle and tie down an inmate while keeping him in a seated, upright position. The detainee remained handcuffed while in the chair. One of the officers allegedly kept telling the detainee to shut up as he yelled and cursed. This officer then went to the guard tower and came out with an OC-10 canister, discharging it into the detainee's face while he was still strapped into the chair. Some witnesses also stated that they heard sounds of the detainee being beaten during this time.

     The two deputies allegedly forcibly put the detainee back into the shower again, after which they placed him again in the restraint chair. A jail medication aide allegedly told the officers that the detainee, who was bleeding profusely from a cut over his left eyebrow, should be taken to the hospital, and they allegedly did not want to do this because their shift was ending and transferring him to the hospital would require them to remain at work. The detainee remained in the restraint chair, where he was found unconscious that morning by two day shift officers. They noted a large lump on the back of his head, injuries to the front of his face, and a bandage over the cut above his left eye. They took him, still unconscious, to the first floor, changed his clothing, and placed him in the drunk tank. He was later found there blue, cold, and lifeless and was pronounced dead from an acute subdural hematoma.

     During the investigation of the death, the two defendant deputies were interviewed several times by criminal investigators, and the interviews were videotaped and later used in a federal criminal prosecution against them. They were acquitted, and the videotapes were later also used in the federal civil rights lawsuit.

     The appeals court rejected the argument that the admission of the videotapes, which included the interrogators' questions, was an abuse of discretion--especially since the questions were "at times inflammatory and so laden with information from other sources in the investigation as to be unfairly prejudicial" under Federal Rule of Evidence 403.

     While one of the deputies did admit in the videotape to preparing a "misleading report" about the detainee's death, he did not actually admit to any wrongdoing. In the videotape of the other deputy's interviews, his account of what he did to the detainee "changes" as the interviews progress. At first, he said that he only turned the detainee over as he lay on the floor, but after questioning, he admitted to dropping the handcuffed detainee from a height of roughly three feet and then falling on top of him with his full weight.

     The appeals court found that videotapes of the interviews with the second deputy were "surely prejudicial," but noted that "only unfairly prejudicial evidence is subject to exclusion." As a record of the defendants' own respective versions of the events leading up to the detainee's death, the tapes were "highly probative of their actions, state of mind, and credibility," and were not so "dramatic, confusing, or misleading as to induce the jury to disregard the other evidence or to decide the case on an improper basis."

     In rejecting the defendants' attack on the award of punitive damages, the appeals court noted that the defendants did not argue that the evidence was insufficient to sustain an award of punitive damages under the "reckless or callous indifference" standard as set forth in Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30 (1983), but instead challenged the size of the awards as unconstitutionally excessive under BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559 (1996); Cooper Industries, Inc. v. Leatherman Tool Group, Inc., 532 U.S. 424 (2001); and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408 (2003).

     The appeals court found that the defendants' conduct in the immediate case qualified as "truly reprehensible" and could be interpreted as showing a clear intent to cause the detainee great pain and suffering.

     Under the circumstances, the appeals court found that the ratio between the awards of compensatory and punitive damages did not test the limits of constitutionality, even though both awards were "very large." The punitive damage awards against each deputy, however, are roughly half the amount of the compensatory damages. The court noted that the defendants had not found a single appeals case questioning the constitutionality of a punitive damage award "that is a fraction of the underlying compensatory damages award. Nor have we."

      Based on the "degree of reprehensibility" of the defendants' conduct, and the nature of the injuries inflicted, the appeals court concluded that the punitive damages awards against them were not unconstitutional.

      On the issue of the claims against the sheriff, the appeals court noted that even the plaintiff's expert testified that the jail policies in force at the time were adequate, and the plaintiff's claim against the sheriff was based on an assertion that the jail deputies routinely violated the department's policies, and that the sheriff was deliberately indifferent to a widespread pattern of violations.

      While the plaintiffs pointed to the number of reported incidents of OC-10 spray in the jail--128 incidents in 1995, 73 incidents in 1996, and 17 incidents in 1997--the appeals court reasoned that the number of pepper spray incidents, without more, did not establish that the pepper spray was being "routinely misused," or that the jail's OC-10 policy was being violated. As to three actual incidents of alleged injuries from the use of pepper spray, they all involved minor injuries, and there was nothing to suggest that these incidents involved violations of the jail's policies or amounted to a "widespread practice" to which the sheriff was deliberately indifferent.

      While the jail had prior problems with overcrowding, the plaintiffs also failed to link the overcrowding to the detainee's death, and further failed to present any evidence of inadequate training with regard to recognizing the signs of serious head injuries and otherwise responding to a medical emergency.

     Estate of Moreland v. Dieter, No. 03-3734, 2005 U.S. App. Lexis 743 (7th Cir.).

    » Click here to read the text of the opinion on the Internet. [PDF]

     •Return to the Contents menu.

Prisoner Suicide

County, warden, and jail personnel had no liability for pre-trial detainee's suicide when there was nothing which would have put them on notice that he was particularly susceptible to suicide attempts.

     A Pennsylvania man was arrested for attempted burglary and placed in the county correctional facility after admitting his illegal entry into a residence. On the way to the jail, he allegedly joked with the officers about cheating on his wife, and appeared to be in good spirits. The officers stated that he showed no signs of depression. Once at the jail, he was interviewed by a correctional officer, and appeared "very remorseful and distant," failing to answer questions, and talking about how his children would previously "come to him" when he was young, but that now they would go to his wife instead, and "that really hurts me."

     The detainee said that he was glad that he got caught because he wanted "it to stop," and that he was on a 24 hour "rampage," and had done every drug possible, from alcohol to heroin, to crack cocaine and acid. He was placed in a housing unit where prisoners are put for observation before being placed in the general jail population, and allegedly stated that he was not suicidal.

     A nurse who performed a medical assessment found him to be "polite, cooperative, alert and not agitated," with normal respiration and blood pressure. He was also oriented to person, place, and time, and did not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, although he claimed to be under the influence of street drugs. He also allegedly told her that he was not being treated by a psychiatrist and had no psychiatric history. She did not recommend suicide watch, but only that the detainee be observed hourly for signs of alcohol withdrawal.

      Prisoners in the unit were actually checked every 30 minutes, according to the evidence. Thirty-two minutes after one such check, an officer found the detainee hanging by the neck in his cell, having taken a sheet from his cell bunk, tied it to an unscreened ceiling vent, and hanged himself. He and two other officers untied the sheet and found that the prisoner had no pulse or respiration. CPR and other attempts at resuscitation failed to revive him.

     The detainee's widow and estate sued the county, the warden, and two correctional officers for their alleged violations of the detainee's rights in failing to prevent the suicide. A federal appeals court upheld summary judgment for the defendants.

     The appeals court found no evidence showing that the defendants had an knowledge of the detainee's "particular vulnerability" to suicide. In the absence of that, they could not be shown to have acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, and the court noted that mere negligence in failing to prevent a detainee from self-inflicted harm is not enough for federal civil rights liability.

      The appeals court further rejected the argument that a correctional officer acted improperly in failing to do five-minute suicide checks of the prisoner. He was not ordered to do such checks, and instead had only been told, based on a nurse's assessment, to observe him for possible signs of alcohol withdrawal at one-hour intervals.

      The evidence did not show anything which would have put the defendants on notice that the detainee had a particular vulnerability to suicide. Statements of remorse and appearing "distant" were not enough, and did not show that there was a "strong likelihood, rather than a mere possibility" of self-inflicted harm.

      The appeals court also rejected the argument that jail personnel were inadequately trained in suicide prevention. An expert witness for the plaintiffs failed to identify specific training that could reasonably have caused the defendants to assess the detainee as suicidal.

     Woloszyn v. Lawrence, No. 03-2390, 2005 U.S. App. Lexis 1417 (3d Cir.).

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Requirement that a prisoner participate in Narcotics Anonymous, a 12-step program requiring acknowledgment of a belief in a "higher power," or else not be eligible for parole, was an unconstitutional establishment of religion, in violation of the First Amendment.

     A California prisoner serving a 15-years-to-life sentence of imprisonment for second degree murder filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, claiming that it constituted an unconstitutional establishment of religion, in violation of the First Amendment, to require him, in order to be eligible for consideration for parole, to participate in Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

     Narcotics Anonymous, he argued, is a 12-step drug treatment program that is based on the concept of a "higher power" to which participants had to submit. While the literature of the program stated that it was "not a religious program," it clearly did also say, he contended, that belief in "God" was a basic requirement of participation. This acknowledgment of a "higher power" is common in 12-step rehabilitation programs, which include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

     A federal trial court agreed with the prisoner, and ruled that requiring participation in the program as a precondition for eligibility for parole was an unconstitutional establishment of religion. The court also noted that all of the NA meetings the prisoner attended began with one of two prayers.

     "As disclosed by the record, the NA program plaintiff was required to attend is fundamentally religious," the court stated.

     The court further found that the plaintiff prisoner had standing to object to the requirement as impermissible even though he was allegedly a Christian.

     The court rejected the argument that the prisoner's claims were moot because there were now some secular alternatives to NA available to him, which the prisoner disputed. "Mere voluntary cessation of illegal conduct does not moot a case; if it did, courts would be compelled to leave defendants free to return to their old ways." The defendant officials admitted that, in the past, they required the plaintiff to complete NA.

     The trial court granted the plaintiff prisoner summary judgment and enjoined the defendants from considering the prisoner's refusal to participate in Narcotics Anonymous at any point in time as a basis for denying him parole. It also ordered that the defendants expunge from the prisoner's records all references to his failure to attend Narcotics Anonymous.

     Turner v. Hickman, No. CIVS-99-1869, 342 F. Supp. 2d 887 (E.D. Cal. 2004).

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Prison officials did not violate the religious freedom rights of a member of small religious group by prohibiting group worship services on holy days except in the presence of an outside certified religious volunteer. Infrequent occurrence of such services was based on the unavailability of such a volunteer, and not on a rule prohibiting such services.

     A Texas state prisoner who is a member of the Yahweh Evangelical Assembly ("YEA") sued correctional officials claiming that his right to religious freedom were violated because he was not permitted to observe particular days of rest and worship required by his faith, specifically, each Saturday for the Sabbath and a number of specific holy days. An elder of his church testified that adherents of the faith were required to meet together on every Sabbath and to congregate and make particular observations on specific holy days.

     The elder was permitted to go to the prison and hold a once a month Sabbath observance for members of the church, but was unable to attend more often because of the travel distance. The plaintiff prisoner complained that he and other YEA members had been denied the right to assemble and hold services on their own when the church elder could not attend to supervise. They were allowed to attend tape sessions and listen to tapes sent by the elder, but were only allowed to do that on Mondays, and were told that the tape sessions could not be held on Saturdays unless an accredited religious volunteer was present.

     The trial court concluded that the defendant correctional officials had not denied the prisoner a "reasonable opportunity to exercise" his religion. It also concluded that the defendants had not "substantially" burdened the prisoner's exercise of his religion without a compelling governmental reason for doing so in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc et seq., and dismissed the lawsuit.

     Upholding this result, the appeals court noted that evidence in the case showed that prisoners who were members of the YEA church were provided various opportunities to exercise their faith, including access to religious materials, refraining from working on the Sabbath, playing video and audio tapes on Mondays, and holding and attending live services when the church elder was able to attend. Further, there was evidence that additional Sabbath meetings would be accommodated if the church elder was able to attend and supervise.

     The appeals court also noted that the 20 to 25 active members of YEA constituted less than one percent of the large inmate population at the facility. Requiring the defendant officials to accommodate every religious holiday and requirement of the YEA, regardless of the availability of volunteers, space, or time, could "spawn a cottage industry of litigation and could have a negative impact on prison staff, inmates and prison resources." Additionally, if YEA was accommodated in this regard, and the other similarly situated small religious groups were not, the YEA could appear to be favored over the others, and this perception could have a negative effect on prison morale and discipline.

     The appeals court also found no violation of equal protection, noting that to hold meetings at the facility, every religious group, with the exception of Muslims, whose situation was governed by a separate court order, were required to have outside volunteers present.

     On the RLUIPA issue, the appeals court ruled that a government action or regulation creates a "substantial burden" on a religious exercise if it "truly pressures the adherent to significantly modify his religious behavior and significantly violates his religious beliefs." In this case, the plaintiff prisoner was prevented from congregating with other YEA members on many Sabbath and YEA holy days, but this resulted, the court reasoned, from a "dearth of qualified outside volunteers" available to go to the prison on every one of those days, and not from some rule or regulation that directly prohibited such gatherings.

     This requirement of an outside volunteer, the court found, did not place a "substantial burden" on the prisoner's religious exercise.

     Adkins v. Kaspar, No. 03-40028, 393 F.3d 559 (5th Cir. 2004).

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Sex Offender Programs and Notification

Revoking sex offender's supervised release or probation after he allegedly refused to incriminate himself as part of his sex offender treatment was a violation of the privilege against compelled self-incrimination provided by the Fifth Amendment. Appeals court also orders further clarification of which sexually explicit materials the offender was prohibited from possessing, finding a blanket prohibition on "sexually stimulating" materials unconstitutionally vague.

      A convicted sex offender was offered supervised release from incarceration--but "not at a price he was willing to pay." He had repeatedly refused to incriminate himself as part of his sex offender treatment, and declined to detail his sexual history in the absence of any assurance of immunity because of the risk that he might reveal past crimes and that these admissions could then be used to prosecute him. In response, his conditional liberty was twice revoked and he was sent back to prison.

     He challenged these actions as violating his Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination. A federal appeals court agreed that it did. The appeals court also upheld the plaintiff's challenge against release terms prohibiting him from possessing "any pornographic, sexually oriented or sexually stimulating materials," while finding that a condition prohibiting him from accessing any on-line computer services was proper.

     The plaintiff was convicted of possessing child pornography after ordering it from an Internet site advertising "Preteen Nude Sex Pics." The purchase involved a federal sting operation, and the plaintiff was sentenced to five years probation under terms requiring him to participate in the Sexual Abuse Behavior Evaluation and Recovery program ("SABER"), which required periodic and random polygraph examinations. He was also prohibited from possessing sexually stimulating materials or from using any on-line computer service.

     His probation was revoked for failure to submit to the polygraph examinations as part of the treatment program. The trial judge re-imposed probation with an additional six months of electronic monitoring and a warning that continued refusal to submit to the policy would result in incarceration.

     His probation was again revoked after his counselor at the sex treatment program testified that he had failed to complete SABER's sexual history autobiography assignment and "full disclosure polygraph" verifying his "full sexual history." The counselor had told him that any past criminal offenses he revealed in the course of the program could be released to the authorities, and that the counselor was under a legal obligation to turn over information regarding offenses involving victims under 18. This time, despite the plaintiff's Fifth Amendment claim, the trial court sentenced him to 30 months' incarceration.

     After an appeal, he was resentenced to twenty months incarceration, followed by three years of supervised release, with the same conditions as terms of his supervised release. He finished serving his prison term and was released under supervision. He reasserted his desire for treatment, but continued to refuse to reveal his full sexual history without an assurance of immunity. He was then sentenced to another ten months in prison and 26 months of supervised release with the same conditions.

     The appeals court found that the right not to be compelled to incriminate himself, as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment "remains available" to the plaintiff "despite his conviction." In this case, the plaintiff's risk of incrimination was "real and appreciable," as it seemed only fair, based on his steadfast refusal to comply, that his sexual autobiography would, in fact, reveal past sex crimes.

     The treatment condition therefore placed him at a "crossroads"--comply and incriminate himself or "invoke his right against self-incrimination and be sent to prison." Additionally, Montana state law required the counselor to report any sex crimes involving minors to the authorities, and the release form which the plaintiff signed to participate in the program authorized the counselor to report any past sexual crimes.

     The appeals court rejected the possibility that the state could sanction the plaintiff for his "self-protective silence about conduct that might constitute other crimes." The court did not doubt that SABER's policy of requiring convicted sex offenders to give a sexual history, admitting responsibility for past sex crimes to participating counselors "serves an important rehabilitative purpose."

       To force the plaintiff to choose between waiving that privilege against compelled self-incrimination or a longer prison term for refusal to comply, however, was found by the appeals court to be impermissible. The revocation of the plaintiff's probation and supervised release therefore violated his Fifth Amendment rights.

      The appeals court also agreed with the plaintiff that the provision of his supervised release prohibiting him from possessing "any pornographic, sexually oriented or sexually stimulating materials" was unconstitutionally vague. The appeals court rejected the argument that "sexually oriented or sexually stimulating" should be read as simply defining "pornographic." It noted that the release term explicitly listed three types of materials that the plaintiff may not possess. The court ordered further clarification from the court below of what materials were covered, pointing to a similarity to a prior case United States v. Guagliardo, 278 F.3d 868 (9th Cir. 2002) [PDF], in which it held impermissibly vague a similar supervised release term prohibiting the plaintiff from possessing "'any pornography,' including legal adult pornography," since a "probationer cannot reasonably understand what is encompassed by a blanket prohibition on 'pornography.'"

      The appeals court found, however, that since the Internet was essential to the commission of his crime, the condition that he not use on-line computer services was sufficiently justified by the need to "protect the public from further crimes."

     United States v. Antelope, No. 03-30334, 2005 U.S. App. Lexis 1327 (9th Cir.).

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Work/Education Programs

Prisoners at a privately operated prison are not entitled to minimum wages for their prison work assignments.

     The federal appeals court commented that this case presented an issue "of some novelty, but little difficulty." The plaintiff prisoners, who were incarcerated at Whiteville Correctional Facility, a private prison in Tennessee (owned by a private corporation, Corrections Corporation of America) that is under contract to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, claimed that they were entitled to minimum wages for their prison work assignments under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq.

     The appeals court found that the FLSA is intended for the protection of employees, and "prisoners are not employees of their prison, whether it is a public or a private one," and therefore are not protected by the Act. The court noted that "oddly" this is true only "because of presumed legislative intent," and not because of anything in the actual text of the law. The statute "unhelpfully defines" the term employee, the court noted, as "any individual employed by an employer." While there are some excepted classes of employees, prisoners are not among them.

     Further, while the minimum wage provisions of the FLSA applies only to employees engaged in, or producing goods for, commerce, the record was unclear as to whether the plaintiff prisoners were engaged in such activities.

     Despite that, the court expressed no doubt that it was correct that the FLSA minimum wage protections did not apply to prisoners.

     The appeals court stated that it could not see what difference it made if the prison was private, since "ideally, neither the rights nor the liabilities of a state agency should be affected by its decision to contract out a portion of the services that state law obligates it to provide." Further, both public agencies and private firms have "employees," but "prisoners are not employees."

     The appeals court expressed no disagreement with other cases, such as Watson v. Graves, 909 F.2d 1549 (5th Cir. 1990), or Carter v. Dutchess Community College, 735 F.2d 8 (2d Cir. 1984), which held that the minimum wage provisions of the FLSA applied to prisoners working for private companies under work-release programs.

     Bennett v. Frank, No. 04-1959,  2005 U.S. App. Lexis 960 (7th Cir.).

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Youthful Prisoners

Juvenile pre-trial detainee's rights were not violated by his incarceration in adult county jail when it was done in compliance with Michigan state law and he was kept segregated from adult prisoners. Conditions he faced in lock-down were not punitive but were justified by a legitimate interest in preventing his possible suicide. Federal appeals court further finds that his due process rights were not violated by his loss of credit in alternative education program following his arrest and detention or by the program's refusal to re-enroll him after his release.

     A 16-year-old pre-trial detainee accused of murder who was housed in the Macomb County, Michigan jail as an adult, in alleged violation of state law governing the pre-trial detention of juveniles, claimed that the county sheriff, in doing so, violated his constitutional rights and also subjected him to "inhumane conditions." He had subsequently been released on the basis of a lack of admissible evidence to support the murder charges.

     The detainee also claimed that a local school district denied him due process by expelling him from an alternative education program upon his arrest and pre-trial detention and by refusing to re-enroll him in the program after he was released from pre-trial detention.

     A federal appeals court found that the plaintiff was confined in accordance with Michigan law and that the conditions of his confinement were supported by the state's legitimate goal of preventing him from committing suicide. It also found that Michigan state law did not create a constitutionally protected property right in alternative education provided by a public school district, so that the plaintiff's due process rights were not violated.

     While the detainee was placed in the county jail, an adult correctional facility, the appeals court noted that he was segregated from the adult prisoners, in accordance with Michigan statutory law. He was placed first in a medical ward and then on a mental health floor, both places where he could be segregated from adults and evaluated for any risk of suicide. He was subsequently placed on suicide watch when he expressed suicidal thoughts during the evaluation, and kept under 24-hour lock-down. He was allegedly not permitted to leave his cell for four days, except for limited visits with a clergyman and an attorney, and required to wear a "suicide robe," a sleeveless legless gown that did not "adequately fasten in the back," and was also denied socks, sheets and pillows for the first several days of his suicide watch confinement.

     While Michigan statutes state that as a general rule a juvenile may not be confined in a jail while awaiting trial, the appeals court noted that the same statutes allow a judge to order such detention if the juvenile is considered to be a menace to other children or someone who could not otherwise be safety detained. If detained in a jail, he must be kept "in a room or ward out of sight and sound from adults." In this case, the evidence showed that a judge had ordered the detainee to be housed at the jail and segregated from the adult prisoners. The judge's order and the sheriff's actions, the court found, followed Michigan state law "to the letter."

     The conditions of confinement during the prisoner's "suicide watch" were easily found to be justified by the legitimate goal of preventing his suicide, and far from being unlawful "punishment," were actually intended to be affirmative steps to secure his well-being.

     Further, the school district, while under no legal obligation to offer the alternative education program for persons under the age of 19, like the plaintiff, who have no high school diploma and have been out of school for at least one semester, had chosen to do so, and had the ability to exercise discretion over who could be admitted to the program and conditions for remaining in it. In this case, the detainee had no property interest in participation in the program, and could not complain that the program's enforcement of its attendance policies resulted in his automatic loss of credit due to his absence during his pre-trial detention, or that the refusal to permit him to re-enroll after his release violated due process.

     Daniels v. Woodside, No. 03-2053, 2005 U.S. App. Lexis 1127 (6th Cir.).

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Noted In Brief

Access to Courts/Legal Info

     Prisoner's claim that "unspecified legal materials" were missing from his property after he was transferred to medical segregation did not adequately support a claim for violation of his right of access to the courts, when he failed to show that he was, as a result, preventing from presenting any non-frivolous legal claim. Clark v. Corrections Corporation of America, #03-6377, 113 Fed. Appx. 65 (6th Cir. 2004).

     Seizure of a prisoner's word processing equipment did not violate his constitutional right of access to the courts in the absence of a showing that it caused him prejudice in pursuing non-frivolous legal claims concerning prison conditions or his criminal conviction. Scott v. Martin, No. 03-2268, 112 Fed. Appx. 409 (6th Cir. 2004).

     Denial of prisoner's repeated requests for appointed counsel in his federal civil rights lawsuit claiming he was denied adequate medical care and housing was not an abuse of the trial court's discretion. The trial court found that the prisoner himself appeared to have a "good knowledge" of the applicable court rules and had shown, through his filed motions and responses, that he had the capacity to represent himself in the case, in which the issues were not so complex nor were the merits so strong as to justify the appointment of a lawyer. Thornhill v. Cox, No. 03-3680, 113 Fed. Appx. 179 (7th Cir. 2004).

Defenses: Statute of Limitations

     Virginia two-year general statute of limitations applied to plaintiff prisoner's federal civil rights lawsuit claiming that former prison employee threatened to report her for misconduct if she failed to engage in sexual acts with him. A shorter one-year statute of limitations governing lawsuits brought by inmates concerning the conditions of their confinement was not applicable, and the prisoner's lawsuit was therefore timely. The Virginia Supreme Court, in reaching this conclusion, relied on the ruling in Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235 (1989) that courts considering Sec. 1983 claims should "borrow the general or residual" state statute of limitations for personal injury actions. Billups v. Carter, No. 040268, 604 S.E.2d 414 (Va. 2004).

Drugs and Drug Screening

     Mere testimony by correctional officer in a prison disciplinary proceeding that a plastic bag with a green leafy substance found during another officer's pat down search of the prisoner contained marijuana was insufficient to support a determination of guilt. While scientific testing of the substance was not required to meet the "some evidence" standard applicable in a prison disciplinary proceeding, the officer's "mere conclusion" that the substance was drugs was inadequate, and there was no evidence about the qualifications of either officer to identify marijuana. Bryant v. State, 884 So.2d 929 (Ala. Crim. App. 2003).

Employee Death/Injury

     A New York correctional officer's eligibility for payment of benefits for injuries suffered while on duty did not require him to show that his injuries or illness were the result of his performance of work related to heightened risks connected with law enforcement duties. Instead, he was only required to show a "direct causal relationship" between his job duties and the resulting illness or injury. New York's highest court therefore overturned an intermediate appellate court's reversal of the grant of benefits to the officer. Schafer v. Reilly, 784 N.Y.S.2d 1 (N.Y. 2004). [PDF]

False Imprisonment

     It was clearly established law that deliberately holding a prisoner in custody beyond a statutorily prescribed mandatory release date violated the prisoner's constitutional rights, so that Wisconsin Department of Corrections employees accused of keeping a prisoner incarcerated for 377 days beyond that date were not entitled to qualified immunity. Allen v. Guerrero, No. 03-1356, 688 N.W.2d 673 (Wis. App. 2004). (also available in .PDF format).

Medical Care

     In a lawsuit brought by a hospital against a Wisconsin county to recover the cost of medical care provided to an indigent inmate brought there by the sheriff, the county was not responsible for the inmate's medical expenses after a trial court dismissed the charges against him three days after he was admitted to the hospital. Once the charges were dismissed, and a parole hold was canceled, he was no longer in custody for purposes of a statute requiring the county to pay such costs for persons held under state criminal law. Meriter Hosp. Inc. v. Dane County, No. 02-2837, 689 N.W.2d 627 (Wis. 2004).

      Prisoner's lawsuit that medical personnel improperly removed his kidney and part of his bladder without a definitive diagnosis of cancer did not adequately show deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, but instead essentially only alleged negligence, or medical malpractice, which is not a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Martino v. Miller, No. 04-CV-03138, 341 F. Supp. 2d 256 (W.D.N.Y. 2004).

Medical Care: Mental Health

     A jail doctor's decision not to put a pre-trial detainee on psychiatric medications after he attempted to swallow a razor blade was not deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. The doctor made a medical determination that the detainee was not psychotic, and had him placed in segregation and under close monitoring and supervision by the jail's mental health personnel. Edmonds v. Horton, No. 03-6031, 113 Fed. Appx. 62 (6th Cir. 2004).


     Prisoner's grievance challenging an alleged practice of "triple celling" at a South Carolina Department of Corrections correctional institution, which he claimed was both a security and a health hazard, adequately stated a possible violation of his liberty interest under state law so as to entitle him to a hearing before an administrative law judge. Slezak v. South Carolina Department of Corrections, No. 25887, 605 S.E.2d 506 (S.C. 2004).

Prison Litigation Reform Act: Exhaustion of Remedies

     Federal trial court could exercise its discretion to allow plaintiff prisoner to proceed on a claim against one doctor asserting inadequate medical treatment on which administrative remedies had been exhausted, while dismissing other claims against other defendants against whom administrative remedies had not been exhausted. The exhaustion of remedies provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e, does not require the court to apply a "complete exhaustion" rule to the prisoner's complaint, dismissing all claims merely because administrative remedies had not been exhausted with respect to some of them. Hubbard v. Thakur, No. 03-10058, 344 F. Supp. 2d 549 (E.D. Mich. 2004).

     Prisoner's lawsuit alleging improper denial of medical and dental care was properly dismissed when he failed to exhaust available administrative remedies as required by 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e. He failed to follow advised procedures for appealing the initial rejection of his grievance after being told that his appeal had incorrectly been sent directly to the prison's superintendent instead of the grievance clerk. Colon v. Harvey, No. 02-CV-6407, 344 F. Supp. 2d 896 (W.D.N.Y. 2004).

     A federal trial court improperly dismissed a prisoner's federal civil rights lawsuit for failure to exhaust available administrative remedies as required by 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e. The prisoner sued correctional officials, claiming various violations of his constitutional rights in connection with his attempt to be placed on the indigent prisoner list so that he would be provided with personal hygiene products. A federal appeals court held that the prisoner adequately exhausted his available administrative remedies when the warden granted him the relief he sought in his grievance and placed him on the indigent inmate list. He could, accordingly, proceed with his federal civil rights claim concerning actions of correctional officials prior to that grant of relief. Malone v. Franklin, No. 04-6193, 113 Fed. Appx. 364 (10th Cir. 2004).

Prison Litigation Reform Act: Mental Injuries

     A prisoner's First Amendment claims are not excluded from the requirement in the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e(e) prohibiting claims for mental or emotional injury in the absence of a showing of physical injury. That rule, however, while barring the plaintiff's claims for emotion or mental injury from alleged retaliation in violation of his First Amendment rights did not bar claims for nominal, compensatory, and punitive damages for the violation of his rights. Meade v. Plummer, No. 99-CV-10011, 344 F. Supp. 2d 569 (E.D. Mich. 2004).

Prisoner Assault: By Inmate

     Disputed issues of fact as to whether correctional officer intervened when a razor blade-wielding gang member inmate attacked the plaintiff prisoner in the facility's law library, or instead fled the library when the fight broke out precluded summary judgment for the officer. Trial court also finds that there were disputed factual issues as to whether correctional officers should have been aware of "tension" between the attacked prisoner and incarcerated gang members, and therefore should have taken additional steps to protect him against the attack. Smith v. County of Albany, 784 N.Y.S.2d 709 (A.D. 3d Dept. 2004). [PDF]

Prisoner Death/Injury

     Correctional officer was unaware of a prisoner's alleged medical condition creating a "substantial risk" of harm if he were assigned to a top bunk, and therefore could not be held liable for the prisoner's subsequent injury on the basis of "deliberate indifference." Pennington v. Taylor, No. 2:02-CV-604, 343 F. Supp. 2d 508 (E.D. Va. 2004).

Prisoner Discipline

     A finding that a prisoner was guilty of assaulting another inmate and possessing a weapon was adequately supported by "substantial evidence" in an incident in which he allegedly cut the other prisoner with a sharp object. The disciplinary finding was supported by testimony from correctional officers involved in a frisk of the prisoner, the testimony of a confidential informant, and an incident report. Brown v. Goord, 783 N.Y.S.2d 151 (A.D. 3rd Dept. 2004). [PDF]

     Disciplinary conviction of prisoner for violating prison rules by writing to his father in violation of a judicial order of protection was adequately supported by evidence including two letters authored by the prisoner and addressed to the father's residence. Goldberg v. Goord, 783 N.Y.S.2d 157 (A.D. 3rd Dept. 2004). [PDF]

Prisoner Restraint

     Reasonable prison officials should have understood, in 1998, that placing a mentally ill prisoner in four-point restraints for twenty-two hours without food, water, or access to a bathroom, and without the necessity for continued restraint, violated the Eighth Amendment, so that defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity in the prisoner's lawsuit alleging such conduct. Ziemba v. Armstrong, No. CIV.A.3-98-CV-2344, 343 F. Supp. 2d 173 (D. Conn. 2004).

Products Liability

     Prisoner who claimed that the ingestion of an amino acid vitamin purchased at the prison canteen damaged his liver did not state a claim against correctional employees for violation of his Eighth Amendment rights, in the absence of any evidence that they acted with deliberate indifference in making the product available for purchase. Federal trial court acted within its discretion in declining to exercise jurisdiction over the prisoner's state law products liability claims against prison officials and the manufacturer of the vitamin. Woodberry v. Bruce, No. 04-3100, 109 Fed. Appx. 370 (10th Cir. 2004).

Public Protection

     The victim of a carjacking by a New York state prisoner who escaped while being transported from one correctional facility to another could not collect damages against the state. She failed to show that there was any special duty to protect her in particular from the inmate, or that she relied on the performance of such a duty. Even if correctional officers failed to properly perform their duties in connection with the custody and control of the prisoner, that was a violation of a general duty for the benefit of the public as a whole and not for the benefit of any specific individual. The state was therefore entitled to immunity from liability. Leonido v. State, No. 99960, 784 N.Y.S.2d 331 (Ct. Cl. 2004).

Segregation: Administrative

     Determination that prisoner should be placed in administrative segregation, as he was a safety and security risk in the general prison population, was adequately supported by evidence of the violent and "heinous" nature of his previous escape attempt, his threats to escape and kill persons involved in his prosecution, and testimony concerning recent activities and communications indicating a renewed interest in escape. Blake v. Selsky, 781 N.Y.S.2d 802 (A.D. 3d Dept. 2004). [PDF]

Strip Searches: Prisoners

     Alleged policy of county juvenile detention facility of strip-searching all those admitted there, even in the absence of reasonable suspicion of possession of weapons or contraband could not be justified on the basis of a state statutory duty to report child abuse or neglect, and would constitute an unreasonable search of non-felony detainees without such reasonable suspicion. Court also holds that a strip search of one such juvenile detainee taken into custody for a curfew violation did not become sufficiently "non-intrusive" merely because she was permitted to keep her underwear on. Smook v. Minnehaha County, No. Civ. 00-4202, 340 F. Supp. 2d 1037 (D.S.D. 2004).

Work Release

     New York inmate suspended from work release program was not denied due process when he was granted an appearance before a temporary release committee and advised of a confidential investigation which could result in felony charges against him, and the prison's superintendent subsequently determined, on the basis of the committee's recommendation, that his continued participation in work release was "inconsistent with public safety." People ex rel. Adler v. Beaver, 785 N.Y.S.2d 226 (A.D. 4th Dept. 2004).

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     AELE's list of recently-noted jail and prisoner law resources.

     Policies and Procedures: Detention Operations Manual of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. [PDF format, downloadable by Chapter].

     Report: No Refuge Here: A First Look at Sexual Abuse in Immigration Detention, by Stop Prison Rape. (34 pgs., October 2004, PDF, 3.15 megabytes). A report on alleged sexual assaults in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities, which house an average of 200,000 people.


     • Abbreviations of Law Reports, laws and agencies used in our publications.

     • AELE's list of recently-noted jail and prisoner law resources.

Cross References

Featured Cases:

Access to Courts/Legal Info -- See also, Prison Rules & Regulations
Chemical Agents -- See also, Prisoner Assault: By Officers
Damages: Compensatory -- See also, Prisoner Assault: By Officers
Damages: Punitive -- See also, Prisoner Assault: By Officers
Defenses: Qualified Immunity -- See also, Prisoner Assault: By Inmates
First Amendment -- See also, Prison Rules & Regulations
Governmental Liability -- See also, Medical Care
Governmental Liability -- See also, Prisoner Assault: By Officers
Parole -- See also, Religion (1st case)
Prisoner Assault: By Officer -- See also, Access to Courts/Legal Info
Prisoner Discipline -- See also, Prison Rules & Regulations
Prisoner Suicide -- See also, Youthful Prisoners
Private Prisons -- See also, Access to Courts/Legal Info
Private Prisons -- See also, Work/Education Programs
Work/Education Programs -- See also, Youthful Prisoners

Noted In Brief Cases:

Defenses: Qualified Immunity -- See also, False Imprisonment
Escape -- See also, Public Protection
Escape -- See also, Segregation: Administrative
First Amendment -- See also, Prison Litigation Reform Act: Mental Injuries
Medical Care -- See also, Access to Courts/Legal Info (3rd case)
Prison and Jail Conditions: General -- See also, Overcrowding
Prisoner Discipline -- See also, Drugs and Drug Screening
Sexual Misconduct -- See also, Defenses: Statute of Limitations
Youthful Prisoners -- See also, Strip Searches: Prisoners

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