AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Corrections Law
for Jails, Prisons and Detention Facilities


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Damages: Nominal

     In Wilkins v. Gaddy, #08-10914, 559 U.S. 34 (2010), the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the argument that a prisoner, to impose liability on a correctional officer for excessive use of force, must show more than a "de minimus" (minimal) injury. On remand, the prisoner was awarded $0.99 in damages by the jury, which was rounded up to $1. The trial court awarded attorneys' fees limited to $1.40, based on the limit of attorneys' fees in the Prison Litigation Reform Act of no more than 150% of the money damages awarded, rather than the over $92,000 in attorneys' fees requested. A federal appeals court has rejected an argument that this limitation on attorneys' fees was unconstitutional. The court applied rational basis scrutiny and that Congress could have believed that this limit would help deter frivolous, marginal and trivial claims. Wilkins v. Gaddy, #12-8148, 2013 U.S. App. Lexis 22389 (4th Cir.).
     An inmate went unfed for several days under a policy that prisoners who call their cellmates "enemies" are restrained on a bench without food until an individual cell or more compatible cellmate becomes available. A jury held for prison officials and wrote "0" in a space on the verdict form for damages. The trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury that it could award nominal damages if it found that the prisoner's rights were violated but that he did not suffer compensatory damages. The judgment was reversed, with further proceedings ordered. Taylor v. Dormire, #103863, 690 F.3d 898 (8th Cir. 2012).
     Trial court properly reduced jury's award of $75,000 in "nominal" damages to $1 in pre-trial detainee's lawsuit, when jury specifically found that jailer used excessive force against the detainee but did not cause any substantial injury. Corpus v. Bennett, No. 04-2603, 2005 U.S. App. Lexis 26650 (8th Cir.). [2006 JB Jan]
     While prisoner successfully proved that prison security director improperly put him in segregation in retaliation for filing "too many" complaints and grievances, in violation of his First Amendment rights, under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, he was not entitled to an award of compensatory damages in the absence of physical injury, but only $1 in nominal damages. Appeals court also upholds the decision not to award punitive damages, since the defendant acted out of "frustration," rather than with an "evil motive," and upholds application of PLRA section to limit attorneys' fee award in the case to $1.50. Royal v. Kautzky, No. 02-3446, 375 F.3d 720 (8th Cir. 2004). [2004 JB Oct]
     Misdemeanor detainee, who was awarded $1 in nominal damages in lawsuit challenging blanket policy of strip searching all detainees at county jail regardless of the nature of their charges, did not have any basis to seek injunction against such searches, since he could not show that he had a likelihood of being rearrested and sent to the same facility again and subjected to a similar search. Shain v. Ellison, #02-9262, 356 F.3d 211 (2nd Cir. 2004). [2004 JB May]
     Strip search of male prisoner in the presence of female correctional officers could constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment if female officers were, as prisoner alleged, "invited spectators" and the search was carried out in a manner designed to humiliate and demean him. Federal appeals court rules that provision of Prison Litigation Reform Act barring claims for mental or emotional injuries without a showing of physical injury did not apply, in this case, to bar claims for nominal or punitive damages. Calhoun v. Detella, #98-2894, 319 F.3d 936 (7th Cir. 2003). [2003 JB Jun]
     Prisoner waived any right to nominal damages in lawsuit against officer he claimed assaulted him by failing to ask for them; jury did not act improperly in finding that officer's use of force was excessive but that prisoner suffered no compensable damage. Oliver v. Falla, #00-10520, 258 F.3d 1277 (11th Cir. 2001). [2002 JB Jan]
     292:53 Trial judge erred in awarding nominal damages when setting aside jury's award of $231,000 on prisoner's failure to protect claim against county jail; jury's contradictory answers on interrogatories about whether defendants' conduct caused the plaintiff's injuries required a new trial, not a nominal award of $1. Roberson v. Chelan County, No. 98-36043, 2000 U.S. App. LEXIS 28086 (9th Cir.).
     292:53 Trial judge erred in awarding nominal damages when setting aside jury's award of $231,000 on prisoner's failure to protect claim against county jail; jury's contradictory answers on interrogatories about whether defendants' conduct caused the plaintiff's injuries required a new trial, not a nominal award of $1. Roberson v. Chelan County, No. 98-36043, 2000 U.S. App. LEXIS 28086 (9th Cir.).

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