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Prison Litigation Reform Act: Mental Injury

      A pretrial detainee failed to show that a police detective, by disclosing to other prisoners his role as a state witness in a murder prosecution, caused him to suffer an assault. At the same time, the appeals court ordered further proceedings on the prisoner's claim for emotional and mental damages from the fear he suffered because of the detective's disclosure to the other prisoners, which was allegedly done when he declined to be interviewed about an unrelated matter. This claim was not barred by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e), which prohibits the awarding of damages for mental or emotional distress without a showing of prior physical injury, the court ruled, as the prisoner could still be awarded nominal or punitive damages for the violation of his constitutional rights. Harris v. Matthews, #10-1405, 2011 U.S. App. Lexis 6386 (10th Cir.).
    A prisoner could pursue his privacy claim based on a medical provider's alleged policy or custom of making him receive his insulin shots in the waiting room of the prison medical department. The prisoner claimed that this damaged his reputation and that other inmates shunned him on the assumption that he had either Hepatitis C or was HIV-positive. The prisoner could not, however, seek compensatory damages for his emotional distress when he did not suffer any physical injuries, on the basis of the provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e(c). Betrand v. Department of Corrections, No. 4:CV-07-859, 2008 U.S. Dist. Lexis 28599 (M.D. Pa.).
     Trial court acted erroneously in dismissing the entirety of a Texas prisoner's lawsuit alleging that his rights were violated during a strip and cavity search conducted by an officer. The male prisoner claimed that the search took place within the view of a female prison guard and other prisoners, and that, during the search, the officer never accused him of possession of contraband. If these allegations were true, his Fourth Amendment rights would have been violated. The prisoner was barred from recovering compensatory damages for emotional or mental injuries under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e(e) because he did not claim he had suffered any physical injury, but this would not bar him from recovering punitive or nominal damages. Hutchins v. McDaniels, No. 06-41733, 2007 U.S. App. Lexis 29755 (5th Cir.).
     Prisoner who claimed that he was subjected to an order to strip in a public hallway, a strip search, and a disciplinary proceeding, all as part of a campaign of harassment in retaliation for his exercise of his right of access to the courts could not recover compensatory damages when he failed to allege a physical injury as required under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e(e). His vague claim on appeal that he suffered a wrist injury through unspecified events at some unspecified time was inadequate to alter the result. Further, the prisoner failed to show a constitutional violation as there were no facts showing an intent to retaliate for the exercise of his First Amendment rights. Samford v. Staples, No. 06-20717, 2007 U.S. App. Lexis 26851 (5th Cir.).
     Prisoner's injuries from correctional officers' alleged excessive force against him--including minor abrasions on a knee, a small scratch on his chin, and two minor bumps, were insufficient under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e(e) to constitute physical injury under a provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act barring recovery of damages for mental or emotional injuries in the absence of physical injuries. The plaintiff was also not entitled to punitive damages since he did not show that the defendants had the required state of mind to justify such an award. Since the prisoner had not even asked for nominal damages, the defendants were entitled to summary judgment. Glosson v. Morales, No. 05-CV-707, 2007 U.S. Dist. Lexis 1603 (S.D. Cal.). [N/R]
     Prisoner's failure, in suing over alleged prison overcrowding, understaffing, and "oppressive cell conditions," to allege physical injuries did not entirely bar his claims under Prison Litigation Reform Act, but rather, merely limited remedies available. Federal appeals court overturns dismissal of lawsuit. Myron v. Terhune, No. 04-15770, 2006 U.S. App. Lexis 20404 (9th Cir.).[2006 JP Oct]
     Female prisoner's claim that delayed labor, caused by improper medical care, caused the stillbirth of her viable fetus was sufficient to constitute a "physical injury" to her satisfying the physical injury requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e(e). That statutory provision, barring the pursuit of a federal civil rights claim for mental distress unaccompanied by physical injury, did not bar the prisoner's Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment claims in these circumstances. Clifton v. Eubank, No. 00-CV-2555, 418 F. Supp. 2d 1243 (D. Colo. 2006). [N/R]
     If a prison chaplain intentionally left a prisoner's name off of a list of those allowed to attend Native American religious ceremonies, he would have violated the prisoner's rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000cc. Additionally, punitive damages could be awarded if, as the prisoner asserted, the chaplain threatened to prevent him from attending such services if he continued to threaten to institute litigation. An award of compensatory damages, however, was barred by the Prison Litigation Reform Act's, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e(e), prohibition on the award of compensatory damages for mental or emotional injuries in the absence of a showing of physical injuries. Meyer v. Teslik, No. 05-C-269, 411 F. Supp. 2d 983 (W.D. Wis. 2006). [N/R]
     A prisoner was barred, under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e(e), from pursuing claims for mental injuries or stress when he failed to assert that he had suffered any physical injury. His assertion that an officer "yelled" at him, and that officers came to his cell with stun guns and pepper mace, asking him to come out of his cell, as well as writing conduct reports against him when he was facing criminal charges and hernia surgery was insufficient, since verbal abuse and harassment does not establish a civil rights violation. Shorter v. Lawson, No. 3:05-CV-0458, 403 F. Supp. 2d 703 (N.D. Ind. 2005). [N/R]
     Muslim inmate could proceed with his claim that he suffered severe emotional and psychological injuries from the alleged denial of "Halal" meals required by his religion. His claims were not barred by the provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e(e) requiring that he show a physical injury before being able to recover damages for mental and emotional injuries because his alleged loss of 30 pounds of weight while eating vegetarian meals which he asserted lacked adequate
was sufficient to show a physical injury. Further, his lawsuit was not rendered moot because of his transfer to another facility when it was run by the same private company as operates the first facility. Pratt v. Corrections Corporation of America, No. 04-2413, 124 Fed. Appx. 465 (8th Cir. 2005). [N/R]
     Prisoner's claim for alleged mental anguish and emotional distress arising out of a dispute with correctional officials over the alleged retaliatory withholding of two pornographic magazines by the prison mail personnel could not be pursued, in the absence of physical injury under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e(e). He claimed that the retaliation occurred because he filed a previously lawsuit against prison employees. Geiger v. Jowers, No. 04-10299, 404 F.3d 371 (5th Cir. 2005). [N/R]
     Prisoner who claimed that prison guards violated his constitutional rights by confiscating his legal work at gunpoint could not pursue a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensatory damages for any mental or emotional injuries resulting from the alleged seizure in the absence of any claimed physical injury, pursuant to the provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, prohibiting claims for mental injury without physical injury, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e. Taylor v. Milton, No. 04-60569, 124 Fed. Appx. 248 (5th Cir. 2005). [N/R]
     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). [N/R]
     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]
     Louisiana state statute prohibiting prisoner from seeking damages for mental injury without a showing of physical injury only applies to claims arising after it was enacted. A retroactive application to the plaintiff prisoner's claim against sheriff for unsanitary conditions in disciplinary cells would violate due process, as the prisoner had a vested right to assert the claim not impacted by the statute. Bourgeois v. Wiley, #2002 CA1420, 849 So. 2d 632 (La. App. 2003). [N/R]
     Two prisoners, confined for 24 hours in an "unsanitary" isolation cell designed for one prisoner in which a clogged floor drain resulted in feces and urine remaining on the cell floor, could not recover damages for mental or emotional injuries in the absence of a prior physical injury. Alexander v. Tippah County, Mississippi, No. 02-61033, 351 F.3d 626 (5th Cir. 2003). [2004 JB Mar]
     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 could not pursue a federal civil rights claim against correctional officials for failure to protect him against other inmates who allegedly threatened him with harm because his crime involved a child when he could not show that he suffered physical harm as a result of the alleged failure to protect. A provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e(e) prohibits recovery for mental or emotional injury suffered in custody without a prior showing of physical injury. Wolff v. Hood, 242 F. Supp. 2d 811 (D. Ore. 2002). [N/R]
     Prisoner could not pursue his claim for damages for emotional injuries caused by officer ordering him to be strip-searched in the presence of female correctional officers in the absence of any physical injury. Provision of Prison Litigation Reform Act prohibiting such recovery applied to incident which occurred in a private correctional facility providing services under a contract with the state. Milledge v. McCall, #01-1417, 43 Fed. Appx. 196 (10th Cir. 2002). [2002 JB Dec]
     Federal appeals court rejects plaintiff prisoner's argument that "any" physical injury is sufficient to support a claim for mental or emotional distress under the provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, and also rejects the argument of defendant correctional officials that an "observable or diagnosable medical condition requiring treatment by a medical care professional" was required. Plaintiff prisoner must, court rules, show more than minimal physical injury. Oliver v. Keller, #00-15849, 289 F.3d 623 (9th Cir. 2002). [2002 JB Aug]
     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). [N/R]
     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. Montero v. Crusie, 153 F. Supp. 2d 368 (S.D.N.Y. 2001). [2002 JB Apr]
     Policy of county jail which subjected all incoming prisoners to strip searches and delousing procedure without any suspicion of possession of contraband or weapons was unreasonable and county jail officials were not entitled to qualified immunity. Provision of Prison Litigation Reform Act prohibiting awards for mental distress without evidence of physical injury did not apply when plaintiffs were former, as opposed to current, prisoners. Doan v. Watson, 168 F. Supp. 2d 932 (S.D. Ind. 2001). [2002 JB Mar]
     297:139 Prisoner who was barred, by Prison Litigation Reform Act, from receiving compensatory damages for mental distress from failure to receive kosher diet could still be awarded punitive damages by a jury; appeals court orders new trial on punitive damages alone. Searles v. Van Bebber, No. 99-3076, 251 F.3d 869 (10th Cir. 2001).
     297:136 Provision of Prison Litigation Reform Act barring claims for emotional distress unaccompanied by physical injury did not bar Muslim prisoner's lawsuit for violation of his right to practice his religion. Shaheed- Muhammad v. Dipaolo, 138 F. Supp. 2d 99 (D. Mass. 2001).
     296:116 Colorado statute providing for sovereign immunity to negligent injury claims by prisoners did not violate inmate's right to equal protection of law; prisoner claiming he slipped and fell because of officer's spilling of coffee and juice could amend complaint to assert claim for "willful and wanton" misconduct. Davis v. Paolino, No. 00CA1322, 21 P.3d 870 (Colo. App. 2001).
     295:102 Prisoner could not assert a claim for damages for mental and emotional injuries from his alleged exposure to asbestos, in the absence of a showing of physical injury. Herman v. Holiday, #99-30863, 238 F.3d 660 (5th Cir. 2001).
     292:60 Prisoner's claim for compensation for alleged violation of his religious rights was barred without a physical injury, but he could still seek both nominal and punitive damages. Allah v. Al-Hafeez, No. 98-1385, 226 F.3d 247 (3rd Cir. 2000).
     EDITOR'S NOTE: For decisions to the contrary, see Canell v. Lightner, #95-35161, 143 F.3d 1210 (9th Cir. 1998), (a prisoner plaintiff was not barred under Sec. 1997e(e) from seeking compensatory damages for violation of his First Amendment rights) and Rowe v. Shake, #98- 4207, 196 F.3d 778 (7th Cir. 1999), (despite Sec. 1997e(e), a "prisoner is entitled to judicial relief for a violation of his First Amendment rights aside from any physical, mental, or emotional injury he may have sustained.").
     284:123 Prisoner's claim that requiring him to keep his cell windows closed for three days and nights was cruel and unusual punishment did not allege a physical injury as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act or a sufficient deprivation to be an Eighth Amendment violation; state negligence claim was barred for failure to comply with notice of claim requirement. Sarro v. Essex County Correctional Facility, 84 F. Supp. 2d 175 (D. Mass. 2000).
     286:147 Alleged delay in providing Spanish-speaking prisoner with AIDS medication was not a violation of the Eighth Amendment when there was no claim that the failure to adequately advise him of prison medical policies was deliberate; prisoner had no clearly established right to Spanish-speaking medical personnel, so prison officials were not liable for an "invasion of privacy" allegedly resulting from inmate's need to use other prisoners as interpreters. Leon v. Johnson, 96 F. Supp. 2d 244 (W.D.N.Y. 2000).
     287:174 Prison Litigation Reform Act barred prisoners from attempting to recover damages for mental or emotional injury alleged caused by policies they said imposed stress on Muslim prisoners, in the absence of a showing of physical injury. Craig v. Cohn, 80 F. Supp. 2d 944 (N.D. Ind. 2000).
     [N/R] Provision of PLRA limiting ability to sue for damages for mental injury in the absence of a physical injury does not offend due process, and does not impair prisoner's right to seek declaratory and injunctive relief. Harris v. Garner, #98-8899, 190 F.3d 1279 (11th Cir. 1999).
     280:52 West Virginia prisoner could not recover damages from warden for emotional distress allegedly caused by newspaper's mistaken report that he had died in a prison fire; prisoner did not show that warden had anything to do with publication of the information, and Prison Litigation Reform Act barred recovery for emotional injury in the absence of any showing of physical injury. Orum v. Haines, 68 F. Supp. 2d 726 (N.D.W.Va. 1999).
     280:58 Prisoner's assertion that correctional officers sexually assaulted him on three occasions satisfied the requirement of a physical injury for recovery for emotional damages stated in the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Liner v. Goord, No. 98-2925, 196 F.3d 132 (2nd Cir. 1999).
     272:116 Federal appeals court reinstates HIV- positive prisoner's lawsuit complaining of nine months of denial of outdoor exercise and prison's requirement that he wear a face mask whenever leaving his cell; such restrictions might constitute due process or Eighth Amendment violations; failure to provide him with particular medication he wanted, however, did not show deliberate indifference when he was receiving other treatment. Perkins v. Kansas Dept. of Corrections, #98-3005, 165 F.3d 803 (10th Cir. 1999).
     272:119 Prisoner's lawsuit complaining about the alleged presence of lead in prison's drinking water was not barred by PLRA section barring the recovery of mental or emotional injury without a showing of prior physical injury; prisoner could possibly recover damages for present or future physical injury resulting from the alleged exposure to lead. Robinson v. Page, #96-4239, 170 F.3d 747 (7th Cir. 1999).
     [N/R] Provision of Prison Litigation Reform Act limiting recovery for mental injury to those cases involving prior physical injury did not apply retroactively. Craig v. Eberly, #97-1308, 164 F.3d 490 (10th Cir. 1998).
     [N/R] Provision of Prison Litigation Reform Act requiring a showing of physical injury before recovery is available for emotional injury did not apply retroactively. Cunningham v. Eyman, 11 F.Supp.2d 969 (N.D. Ill. 1998).
     262:151 Provision of PLRA barring prisoners from seeking damages for mental or emotional injury without a showing of physical injury did not apply to lawsuit paroled prisoner brought against prison officials after he was released, federal appeals court holds; court rejects his argument, however, that participation in substance abuse program constituted "brainwashing" that was cruel and unusual punishment. Kerr v. Puckett, 138 F.3d 321 (7th Cir. 1998).
     253:10 Sore and bruised ear inmate had after incident with correctional officer was too minor an injury to be the basis for an excessive force claim; prisoner's claim also failed requirement, under Prison Litigation Reform Act, that he show a "physical injury" to support any claim for emotional or mental suffering. Siglar v. Hightower, 112 F.3d 191 (5th Cir. 1997).
     259:104 Federal appeals court upholds section of Prison Litigation Reform Act barring claims for damages for mental or emotional injury without a showing of physical injury; prisoners could not recover damages for their alleged exposure to asbestos when no physical injury was claimed. Zehner v. Trigg, 133 F.3d 459 (7th Cir. 1997).
     238:147 Federal Prison Litigation Reform Act becomes law, makes numerous changes in prison litigation, including scope of injunctive orders, standards for termination of injunctive orders, amount of attorneys' fees, standard for prisoner release orders in overcrowding cases, prisoner payment of filing fees and court costs, barring inmates who repetitively file frivolous suits from further filings, no awards for mental/emotional distress in the absence of physical injury, and revocation of federal prisoner's good time credits if they file malicious lawsuits or testify falsely, among other highlights.

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