AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Corrections Law for Jails, Prisons and Detention Facilities
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Defenses: Governmental Immunity
prisoner's mother and estate sued correctional personnel who were working
at the county jail at the time he successfully committed suicide by using
a bed sheet to hang himself, as well as various county entities. The lawsuit
claimed that, despite knowledge of the prisoner's mental illness, the defendants
failed to take appropriate precautions such as removing the bedding from
his cell or making sure that he took his medications after a prior unsuccessful
suicide attempt. The defendants filed an appeal challenging the denial
of Alabama's state immunity under a section of a state statute concerning
a state law wrongful death claim. The federal appeals court certified to
the Alabama Supreme Court two unresolved questions of state law: 1. whether
the immunity granted to sheriffs' jailers under the statute applied to
conduct before the statute's effective date, but the lawsuit was filed
after that date, and 2. whether the statute's requirement that jailers
act "in accordance with the law" in order to receive immunity
was intended to encompass only violations of the state criminal code or
all violations of state law. Johnson
v. Conner, #12-15228, 203 U.S. App. Lexis 13831 (11th Cir.).
A man on parole from a Utah prison allegedly defrauded some people, and they, in turn, sued the state for negligent supervision, gross negligence, failure to warn, and negligent misrepresentation. The Utah Supreme Court found that the state was entitled to governmental immunity for injuries arising from deceit, in this case, the deceit of a third party. Van De Grift v. State, #20110994, 2013 UT 11, 299 P.3d 1043, 2013 Utah Lexis 12, 729 Utah Adv. 27.
Michigan court finds that the cause of a prisoner's death was his suicide, and not anything that city or county personnel did, so that they were entitled to governmental immunity from liability under state law. Cooper v. Washtenaw County, No. 262141, 713 N.W.2d 908 (Mich. App. 2006). [N/R]
A Mississippi county's purchase of liability insurance did not constitute a waiver of the governmental immunity the county was entitled to under state law in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the estate of an inmate who died when he fell off of the back of a county garbage truck after he volunteered to help with a garbage collection detail. Supreme Court of Mississippi upholds summary judgment for county. Powell v. Clay County Bard of Supervisors, No. 2005-CA-00018-SCT, 924 So. 2d 523 (Miss. 2006). [N/R]
Under California statutory law, both the State and the Department of Corrections were immune from liability on a prisoner's claims arising out of alleged medical malpractice and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Prisoner was also required, under both federal and state law, to exhaust available administrative remedies before pursuing his claims in court, and failed to do so. Wright v. State of Cal., No. C044302, 19 Cal. Rptr. 3d 92 (Cal. App. 3d Dist. 2004). [N/R]
Prisoner's negligence claims against state prison officials in their official capacity in federal court seeking money damages but not injunctive relief were barred by the Eleventh Amendment. The enactment of the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, M.G.L.A. ch. 258 Sec. 1 et seq., did not waive the state's Eleventh Amendment immunity in federal court. Tort Claims Act's provisions barred negligence claims against correctional officials in their individual capacities. Caisse v. Dubois, No. 3-1176, 346 F.3d 313 (1st Cir. 2003). [N/R]
State, county, and individual officials were entitled to immunity for criminal actions of one mentally ill offender in assaulting another in a conditional release program. State statute provides absolute immunity for any liability for the criminal actions committed by persons in the Forensic Conditional Release Program, including persons on parole or judicial commitment status. Cal. Penal Code Sec. 1618. Ley v. State, 8 Cal. Rptr. 3d 642 (Cal. App. 2nd Dist. 2004). [N/R]
Parents of Mississippi inmate who committed suicide while incarcerated in county detention facility could not, under state law, pursue wrongful death lawsuit against defendant correctional officials when they were acting within the scope of their authority. State statute, A.M.C. Sec. 11-46-9(1)(m) prohibits inmate's negligence lawsuits against governmental entities and government employees acting within the scope of their authority, and the prisoner's parents "stood in the position" of the inmate in attempting to pursue a claim for wrongful death. Webb v. Desoto County, #2002-CA-00005-SCT, 843 So. 2d 682 (Miss. 2003). [N/R]
Texas correctional agency was not liable for alleged sexual assault on female prisoner at state jail by male guard in men's restroom. Intermediate appeals court rejects argument that facility's physical layout was a proximate cause of the alleged assault, bringing the claim within an exception for harms arising from the condition of state property to the immunity provided under a state tort claims act. Bonham v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice, No. 03-02-00389-CV, 101 S.W.3d 153 (Tex. App. 2003). [2003 JB Jul]
California Supreme Court overturns $175,006 award to man beaten by another detainee in city jail while confined there for public intoxication. Plaintiff, arrested for public intoxication, was a "prisoner" while confined, entitling city to governmental immunity, despite subsequent decision not to pursue charges. Teter v. City of Newport Beach, No. S106553, 66 P.3d 1225 (Cal. 2003). [2003 JB Jul]
A city jail was a "public building" for purposes of a public building exception to governmental immunity under Michigan state law, but an individual detained in the jail was an "inmate" of the jail and therefore not entitled to recover under that exception to the city's statutory immunity from liability. See M.C.L.A. Sec. 691.1406. Additionally, the prisoner's claims that the city jail was "not clean," did not have a place to sit (resulting in her back hurting), and that a telephone was not readily available were not the kind of "structural conditions" required to claim liability under the public building exception. Bobbitt v. The Detroit Edison Company, 216 F. Supp. 2d 669 (E.D. Mich. 2002).[N/R]
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).
[N/R] Alabama state Corrections Institute Finance Authority was not entitled to sovereign immunity from negligence action over attack on officer by inmate, but warden and Commissioner of Corrections were entitled to sovereign immunity on similar claims. Rodgers v. Hopper, No. 1981340, 768 So. 2d 963 (Ala. 2000).
244:52 Michigan corrections department was not liable for escaped prisoner's murder of man at home he broke into; prisoner's own criminal actions, rather than allegedly "insecure prison system" was the cause of the death. Peters v. Dept. of Corrections, 546 N.W.2d 668 (Mich. App. 1996).
State officials may be sued for damages in their individual capacities in federal civil rights cases, even if they were acting "in their official capacities" during the complained of conduct, U.S. Supreme Court rules. Hafter v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21 (1991).
Prison officials cannot be held liable, in federal civil rights suits, for inadequate prison conditions absent a showing of "deliberate indifference" as a mental state; U.S. Supreme Court adopts tougher standard for inmate suits. Wilson v. Seiter, 111 S.Ct. 2321 (1991).
Civil rights suit dismissed when plaintiff-inmates did not clearly state that they were suing state corrections officials in their individual capacities; eleventh amendment immunity applied to their official capacities. Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591 (6th Cir. 1989).
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