AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Corrections Law for Jails, Prisons and Detention Facilities
Defenses: Sovereign Immunity
A jury awarded damages of $409,751 on federal and
state claims that correctional officers hit him, fracturing a portion of his
eye socket, choked him, and then left him in his cell without medical
attention. The trial court reduced the damages to $307,733.82 and also awarded
attorneys’ fees with 10% of the damage award to be applied to the fees.
Liability was upheld by a federal appeals court, rejecting arguments that
Illinois sovereign immunity applied to state-law claims against a state
employee who violates constitutional or statutory law. The court also ruled,
however, that under 42 U.S.C. 1997e(d)
of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the attorney fee award must first be
satisfied from up to 25 percent of the damage award, and the district court did
not have discretion to reduce that maximum percentage. Murphy v. Smith, #15-3384, 2016 U.S.
App. Lexis 22871 (7th Cir.).
An inmate was injured during a baseball game at a correctional facility's recreation yard, and sued the state and the Department of Corrections for damages. The Wisconsin Supreme Court held that the claims against both the state and the Department were barred by sovereign immunity under Wisconsin law. The Department was not independent from the state, and therefore was entitled to the state's sovereign immunity. A statutory grant to the Department of the power to sue and be sued was not an express waiver of sovereign immunity, but rather only addressed the issue of capacity. Mayhugh v. State, # , 2015 WI 77, 867 N.W.2d 754 (2015).
A New York state law that purported to protect correctional officers from liability in lawsuits by prisoners for conduct carried out within the scope of their employment violated the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Under the New York law, the state's general courts were stripped of jurisdiction over federal civil rights lawsuits or similar state law claims filed by prisoners in that context, which would result in the dismissal of such lawsuits, and prisoners being limited, instead, to filing claims against the State of New York in the New York Court of Claims. The U.S. Supreme Court found that Congress has made the judgment, as a matter of federal law, that any person who violates a federal right while acting under color of state law is subject to a federal civil rights lawsuit for damages, and that both federal and state courts have jurisdiction over such claims. A state, the Supreme Court declared, may not "relieve congestion in its courts by declaring a whole category of federal claims to be frivolous," which appeared to be the basis of the New York statute. Haywood v. Drown, #07-10374, 2009 U.S. Lexis 3807.
A federal prisoner claimed that the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) unlawfully ended his work program with UNICOR, which provides work and training opportunities under 28 C.F.R. Sec. 345.11(a), and sought reinstatement and an award of back pay. A federal court has rejected the argument that the BOP's provision of a grievance system constituted an implied waiver of sovereign immunity and that the prisoner could use the Administrative Procedure Act, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 3625 to challenge his termination. The U.S. and its agencies cannot be sued in the absence of an explicit waiver of sovereign immunity, and the APA does not apply to any determination made under the statutes governing imprisonment. Anderson v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, No. 06-01402, 2007 U.S. Dist. Lexis 68137 (D.D.C.).
The waiver of sovereign immunity by Pennsylvania under state law for dangerous conditions on governmental property did not apply to a Pennsylvania prisoner's lawsuit against the state in federal court asserting a state law negligence claim for injuries he allegedly suffered when his Achilles tendon was torn by a pipe protruding from his cell floor. The statute containing the waiver itself said that it did not waive the state's Eleventh Amendment immunity, preventing it from being sued for damages in federal court. Prisoner also failed to show that prison officials acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs following his injuries, as required for a federal civil rights claim. Brooks v. Beard, No. 05-3196, 167 Fed. Appx. 923 (3rd Cir. 2006). [N/R]
Nebraska Supreme Court holds that state correctional agencies were entitled to sovereign immunity in lawsuit by female inmate claiming that a correctional employee sexually assaulted her, whether her claims were based either on the mere fact that he was an employee or on the defendants' alleged own negligence in hiring and supervising him. Johnson v. State of Nebraska, No. S-03-1362, 700 N.W.2d 620 (Neb. 2005). [2006 JB Feb]
Federal government was entitled to sovereign immunity in prisoner's lawsuit claiming that his books and manuscript, mailed to his home by prison officials, were lost. While he claimed that this was due to negligence by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and post office, an exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1346(b), 2680(b) for "loss, miscarriage, or negligent transmission of letters or postal matters" barred liability. Georgacarakos v. U.S., No. 04-1363, 420 F.3d 1185 (10th Cir. 2005). [N/R]
North Carolina county only waived sovereign immunity to the extent of liability insurance purchased. Inmate who was awarded $49,500 by jury on his claim that a deputy sheriff assaulted him, therefore, could recover nothing, as the county's liability insurance only provided coverage for claims in excess of $250,000. Cunningham v. Riley, 611 S.E.2d 423 (N.C. App. 2005). [2005 JB Dec]
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]
State of Texas was entitled to sovereign immunity against prisoner's claim for personal injury resulting from contact with a razor-wire fence surrounding a prison recreation yard. The presence of the razor wire there did not constitute either an "ordinary premises defect," or a "special defect" enumerated as an exception to sovereign immunity in the state's Tort Claims Act, V.T.C.A., Civil Practice & Remedies Code, Sec. 101.022. Retzlaff v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice, No. 01-02-00437-CV, 135 S.W.3d 731 (Tex. App. 1st Dist. 2003), rehearing denied March 4, 2004. [N/R]
Prisoner who claimed that he slipped and fell on a wet floor in a Pennsylvania state prison, injuring himself, could not collect damages. State correctional department was entitled to summary judgment because a wet or waxed floor was not a "dangerous condition" sufficient to come within an exception to sovereign immunity under state law for defects in real property. Raker v. Pa. Dept. of Corrections, 844 A.2d 659 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2004). [N/R]
Florida prisoner failed to provide adequate notice of his negligence claim against the Department of Corrections to satisfy notice provision of statute waiving sovereign immunity for claims against the state. Prisoner's first letter misidentified the correctional facility in which he had been incarcerated, and second letter was not copied to the state Department of Insurance, which was therefore never given knowledge of the need to investigate or respond to the claim. Maynard v. State, #1D02-1048, 864 So. 2d 1232 (Fla. App. 1st Dist. 2004). [N/R]
Detainee's action of hanging himself to death with shoelace in his holding cell less than two hours after being placed there on DUI charges did not subject facility to liability under Pennsylvania state law for negligence. Neither "personal property" nor "real estate" exceptions to sovereign immunity under state law applied. Pennsylvania State Police v. Klimek, 839 A.2d 1173 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003). [2004 JB Apr]
Illinois court rules that sovereign immunity barred a paraplegic inmate's claim seeking damages against prison warden for alleged disability discrimination under Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. Sec. 12132. State did not consent to be sued by prisoners based on ADA violations, and Congress had not abrogated the state's immunity under the statute. Evans v. Page, No. 5-02-0126, 792 N.E.2d 805 (Ill. App. 5th Dist. 2003). [N/R]
262:148 Oklahoma state Department of Corrections was an "arm" of the state and, as such, could not be the defendant in a federal civil rights lawsuit; prisoner's lawsuit alleging that correctional officer employed by the state had sexually assaulted her dismissed when Department was only defendant named. Glenn v. State Dept. of Corrections, 943 P.2d 154 (Okl. App. 1997).
243:38 Utah was immune from suit for damages based on alleged negligent failure to recapture prisoners who escaped from halfway house or to prevent them from murdering mountain cabin owners and kidnapping owners' two minor daughters. Tiede v. State of Utah, 915 P.2d 500 (Utah 1996).
243:38 New York high court rules that sovereign immunity no longer protects state government against lawsuits for violations of state constitutional rights, such as protection against unreasonable search and seizure and equal protection of law; N.Y. state government can now be sued for monetary damages in state court for violation of state constitution. Brown v. State, No. 186, N.Y. Ct. of Appeals, 89 N.Y.2d 172, 674 N.E.2d 1129, 652 N.Y.S.2d 223, 1996 N.Y. Lexis 3175 (Nov. 19, 1996).