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


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Defamation

     A pretrial detainee under an Illinois Sexually Violent Person Act claimed that his constitutional privacy rights and rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), Pub. L. No. 104-191, 110 Stat. 1936 (1996), were violated by the "stigmatizing effects" of the stamp that the facility affixes to his outgoing mail, which reads "sexually violent person treatment center." Rejecting this claim, a federal appeals court ruled that the prisoner's claim was essentially for defamation, and that the prisoner's "interest in his reputation, by itself, is not protected by the Fourteenth Amendment." As to any claim under HIPAA, the trial court correctly found that the statute does not provide for a private right of action. Carpenter v. Phillips, #10-3176, 2011 U.S. App. Lexis 9417 (Unpub. 7th Cir.).
     New Jersey inmate could not pursue a federal civil rights claim against prison personnel for defamation on the basis of an allegedly false statement in his medical file that he was suicidal. Damage to reputation alone is insufficient for a constitutional claim. Dubois v. Vargas, No. 05-1647, 148 Fed. Appx. 111 (3rd Cir. 2005). [N/R]
     Prisoner's libel and slander claims against federal prison employee for calling him a liar and a "vexatious litigant with a morally deviant character" could not be pursued under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2671 et seq., since that statute specifically exempts defamation claims. Beckwith v. Hart, 263 F. Supp. 2d 1018 (D. Md. 2003). [N/R]
     Virginia prison warden could not pursue, in Virginia federal court, defamation claims against Connecticut newspapers for publishing articles, also posted on their Internet sites, concerning Connecticut state policy of housing some prisoners in Virginia correctional facilities. Young v. New Haven Advocate, No. 01-2340, 315 F.3d 256 (4th Cir. 2002). [2003 JB Mar.]
     A police officer's report that a correctional officer was "disorderly" was insufficient to state a federal civil rights claim for injury to the correctional officer's reputation, based on the village's communication to the plaintiff's employer of the report. Defamation alone is insufficient to state a federal civil rights claim and a cause of action would only exist if the plaintiff could show stigma to his reputation, plus other injury. In this case, injury to reputation was all that was shown. Ruggiero v. Phillips, 739 N.Y.S.2d 797 (A.D. 2002). [N/R]
     Prisoner did not present a valid claim for defamation based on Department of Corrections' truthful description of him, on its website, as a "convicted robber." The fact that the prisoner had a pending appeal from his conviction did not alter the result, and, once he was convicted, he was no longer entitled to a "presumption of innocence." Wells v. Goord, #01-172, 29 Federal Appendix 693 (2nd Cir. 2002). [2002 JB Jun]
     N.Y. appeals court rules that plaintiff correctional officer adequately showed that non-profit legal services corporation defamed him with "actual malice" in sending letter listing him as an officer who used excessive force; jury award of $150,000 in compensatory and $150,000 in punitive damages reduced, however, to $35,000 in compensatory damages only. Sweeney v. Prisoners' Legal Services of New York, Inc., 610 N.Y.S.2d 628 (A.D. 1994).
     Georgia inmate could not sue correctional officer for writing allegedly defamatory disciplinary reports about him; state statute barred liability for libel or slander by state employees acting within the scope of their employment. Howard v. Burch, 436 S.E.2d 573 (Ga. App. 1993).
     Michigan court holds that correctional officers are absolutely immune from liability for defamation for statements made in misconduct report utilized in disciplinary process; officer not liable for writing report accusing two inmates of sodomy. Couch v. Schultz, 483 N.W.2d 684 (Mich. App. 1992).
     Prison supervisor's mistaken statements to other prisoners implying that inmate was homosexual were defamatory, but protected by a qualified privilege when made in response to prisoners' request to move into plaintiff-inmate's cell. Key v. Ohio Dept. of Rehab. & Corr., 62 Ohio Misc. 2d 242, 598 N.E.2d 207 (Ohio Ct. Cl. 1990).
     Department of Corrections and its employees were immune from liability for placing memo in inmate's file alleging that his female attorney was romantically involved with him. Indiana Dept. of Correction v. Stagg, 556 N.E.2d 1338 (Ind. App. 1990).
     Prison officials entitled to qualified immunity for disseminating "confidential information" that inmate had allegedly assaulted his daughters during family visit. Smith v. Coughlin, 727 F.Supp. 834 (S.D.N.Y. 1989).
     Inmates could sue corrections officer for defamation for filing misconduct report charging them with sodomy, despite disciplinary hearing finding of guilt. Couch v. Schultz, 439 N.W.2d 296 (Mich. App. 1989).

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