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(Published as VOLUME 2000 NUMBER 279)
U.S. Supreme Court Actions
Access to Courts/Legal Info
Defenses: Qualified Immunity
Prison Litigation Reform Act: Exhaustion of Remedies
Index of Cases Cited
U.S. SUPREME COURT ACTIONS
Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) may not constitutionally be applied to state employees; Congress exceeded its authority in attempting to create a remedy for age discrimination which went beyond what the Supreme Court had previously ruled concerning equal protection of law in age discrimination.
In three consolidated age discrimination cases, one involving a correctional employee's lawsuit against his employer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 623(a)(1) cannot constitutionally be applied to state governments and their agencies.
The Court held that, while the ADEA does contain a clear statement of the intent of Congress to abrogate the states' Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in federal court, this purported abrogation exceeded the authority that Congress has under Sec. 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to enforce equal protection of law.
The Court found that Congress, in attempting to impose limits on age discrimination in employment on the states had required something which was "disproportionate to any unconstitutional conduct that conceivably could be targeted."
Prior U.S. Supreme Court decisions have held that age is not a "suspect classification" under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and that therefore classification on the basis of age is not examined by a test of "strict scrutiny" requiring that government show a "compelling" state interest before discriminating on the basis of age. Rather, states may discriminate on the basis of age without violating the Fourteenth Amendment if the age classification is "rationally related to a legitimate" state interest, a much looser restriction. Congress could not, in this manner, prohibit substantially more state employment practices than would likely be held unconstitutional under the "applicable equal protection, rational basis standard."
Further, the Court found that the legislative history behind the ADEA showed that Congress had "virtually no reason" to believe that state governments were unconstitutionally discriminating against their employees on the basis of age, and never showed that there was any pattern of age discrimination. The Court noted in passing that state employees are protected against age discrimination by state statutes "in almost every state." Following the Court's decision, however, the federal ADEA simply does not apply to state employees. Kimel v. Florida Bd. of Regents, #98-791, 98-796, 120 S. Ct. 631 (2000).
ACCESS TO COURTS/LEGAL INFO
Prisoners in a class action lawsuit over alleged inadequate access to the courts must show "widespread actual injury" to their ability to pursue specific non-frivolous court proceedings in order to pursue their lawsuit.
Prisoners at five Michigan state correctional facilities filed a class action lawsuit claiming that prison officials provided them inadequate access to law libraries and legal assistance, violating their constitutional right of access to the courts. The trial court granted an injunction to prevent the defendants from cutting off funding for a prisoners' legal assistance program.
Correctional officials subsequently decided that, as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343 (1996), they no longer needed to continue funding the program in question, as it was no longer required under the rules announced in that decision.
A federal appeals court agreed that Lewis means that there is no "abstract, freestanding right to access to a law library or to legal assistance," and that a prisoner must demonstrate an "actual injury" to their ability to pursue criminal appeals or non-frivolous civil rights lawsuits over their conditions of confinement in order to present a viable claim for denial of access to the courts.
In a class action lawsuit, "widespread actual injury" must be shown. The appeals court ruled that further proceedings were required to determine whether the underlying claims which the prisoners claimed were interfered with were non-frivolous, and whether the plaintiff prisoners had suffered any widespread actual injury in their ability to pursue these claims. Hadix v. Johnson, Nos. 96-2387, 96-2397, 182 F.3d 400 (6th Cir. 1999).
Federal appeals court upholds the segregation of HIV-positive prisoners; U.S. Supreme Court denies review.
A federal appeals court upheld a policy of Alabama prisons which authorized segregation of HIV positive prisoners, rejecting claims that this was disability discrimination in violation of two federal statutes, the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. The court found tat this policy was justified in light of the fact that AIDS, which HIV causes, is a fatal disease, so that "death itself makes the risk significant," bringing the segregation of such prisoners within an exception to the statutes for persons posing a "direct threat to the health and safety of others."
"Direct threat" is further defined as a "significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by reasonable accommodation." The lawsuit challenged the alleged exclusion of HIV positive prisoners from approximately 70 programs, including work-release, job training, and education, as well as certain religious services. While some alternative programs were offered in a number of these areas for HIV positive prisoners, the lawsuit claimed that these were very limited and did not provide equivalent opportunity. The state of Alabama argued that it had been more successful than states without such segregation of prisoners in limiting the spread of AIDS in correctional facilities.
On January 18th, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review of the case. According to The New York Times, p. A19 (Jan. 19, 2000), the states of Mississippi and South Carolina also now segregate prisoners who are HIV-positive. Onishea v. Hopper, #96-6213, 171 F.3d 1289 (11th Cir. 1999), cert. denied, sub nom. Davis v. Hopper, #98-9663, 200 U.S. LEXIS 566.
Text: <http://www.law.emory.edu/11circuit/index.html>. [Cross-reference: Work/Education Programs].
UPDATE: HIV-positive prisoner who was denied his prescribed medication for three days was entitled to summary judgment; evidence was sufficient to show that he suffered physical harm from the medication denial.
During the booking process at a county jail, a pretrial detainee allegedly told jail employees that he was HIV positive and was on a "strict regime" of medication, which he identified for them. He also claimed to have told them that he had missed a dosage because of his arrest and needed to take his dosage at that time. Although his physician confirmed his medication and dosage, medical employees at the facility allegedly denied the prisoner's request for his medication during the three days he was incarcerated at the jail.
He allegedly suffered "terrible fevers, night chills and night sweats, infections from the cuts and bruises" which were inflicted during his arrest, and psychological stress "over being forced to endure a potentially fatal deprivation of prescribed medication." After his release on bail, he went to a medical center where he was hospitalized for several days.
He filed a lawsuit against the jail alleging deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, as well as a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The trial court denied a motion to dismiss the deliberate indifference Eighth Amendment claim, finding that the allegations (that the defendants actually knew of his medical condition and deprived him of his prescribed medication) if true, were enough to state a claim. McNally v. Prison Health Services, Inc., 28 F. Supp. 2d 671 (D. Me. 1998), Jail & Prisoner Law Bulletin No. 272, p. 115 (Aug. 1999).
The trial judge subsequently granted summary judgment for the plaintiff, finding sufficient evidence in the record to show that prisoner suffered physical harm as a result of not receiving his prescribed medication for three days. McNally v. Prison Health Services, 52 F. Supp. 2d 147 (D. Me. 1999).
UPDATE: Law firm that won $3.75 million award for male correctional officer sexually harassed by a female co-worker awarded $822,000 in attorneys' fees, including a enhancement based on an evaluation that it pursued a "difficult" case.
As previously reported, a male correctional officer was awarded $3.75 million in damages in lawsuit asserting that correctional officials took no action after he complained of a female co-worker's repeated alleged acts of sexual harassment following his spurning of her sexual advances. See, Lockley v. New Jersey, L-03195-94, New Jersey trial court, reported in The National Law Journal, p. B7 (June 21, 1999), Jail & Prisoner Law Bulletin, No. 271, page 109 (July 1999).
The trial court has now awarded a total of $822,000 in fees to the law firm which represented the plaintiff officer, which included a 60% multiplier over the $497,000 hourly charge submitted by the firm. The trial judge believed that the case was particularly difficult, meriting the enhancement. The court made the enhanced award based on the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision in Rendine v. Pantzer, 141 N.J. 292 (1995), holding that using such enhancements to fees in civil rights cases serve as an incentive for lawyers to take cases where the plaintiff would not otherwise have the resources to pursue their claim.
An appeal is expected in the case. Lockley v. New Jersey, L-03195-94, New Jersey trial court, reported in The National Law Journal, p. A12 (September 27, 1999). [Cross-reference: Sexual Harassment].
DEFENSES: QUALIFIED (GOOD-FAITH) IMMUNITY
Keeping prisoners outdoors overnight in cold weather with no blankets or jackets, no heat, and no sanitary arrangements for toilets, etc. while telling them they had to stay within a small space or be shot for attempting to escape constituted cruel and unusual punishment; defendant warden and assistant warden were not entitled to qualified immunity for ordering a "sleep-out" in these conditions.
A Texas prisoner was part of a field work crew. When one member of the crew made profane remarks about a lecture given to them by a sergeant, the sergeant responding by halting the squad, drawing a firearms, and ordering the squad members to sit in the field. After an assistant warden arrived on the scene, the prisoners were ordered to remain seated inn the field. Three and a half hours after the incident began, the warden arrived in the field and ordered the forty-nine inmates to remain overnight in the field, confined to an area measuring approximately twenty feet by thirty feet.
The correctional officers on duty there were told to "shoot anyone" who attempted to leave the designated area of the field. A prisoner who asked to leave the area to urinate and defecate was allegedly told that he would have to do so within the confined space or he would be shot for attempting to escape. This prisoner was also allegedly denied medication to treat insect bites, and his complaint about a nearby tractor engine emitting noxious fumes into the area were ignored.
In a federal civil rights lawsuit he filed over the incident, the prisoner argued that these actions by prison officials, combined with the failure to provide jackets, blankets, or other means of keeping warm at night constituted cruel and unusual punishment. The temperature that night fell below fifty-nine degrees. The prisoners went to work the following morning, after being told that if they refused to do so, they would be forced to remain outside for another night to "freeze again."
The defendants sought qualified immunity, arguing that the "sleep-out" was not punitive but was an administrative measure intended to gain control of unruly inmates." The trial court rejected this defense and found the warden and assistant warden liable, in their individual capacities, for violating the plaintiff's rights under the Eighth Amendment, and enjoined them from forcing the plaintiff to endure any future sleep-outs without adequate clothing and shelter.
A federal appeals court agreed that certain aspects of the "sleep-out," by themselves, did not deprive the plaintiff prisoner of the "minimal civilized measures of life's necessities," as required for an Eighth Amendment claim over prison conditions. The court mentioned, in this context, the allegations that the prisoner missed one meal and "may have endured irritating insect bites without immediate medical attention does not rise to the level of a cognizable constitutional injury."
"We find that the totality of the specific circumstances," including a 17-hour overnight "confinement with no shelter, jacket, blanket, or source of heat as the temperature dropped and the wind blew along with the total lack of bathroom facilities for forty-nine inmates sharing a small bounded area--constituted a denial of 'the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.'"
Besides being a "sufficiently serious deprivation," the appeals court found that there was sufficient evidence to support the conclusion that the warden and assistant warden acted with deliberate indifference to the rights of the plaintiff. "When this incident occurred," an inmate's right to adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care," was well established. "No reasonable prison officials would have thought it objectively acceptable to herd forty-nine inmates into a small outdoor space, deprive them of any protection from excessive cold and wind, and provide no sanitary means of disposing of their bodily waste for over seventeen hours." Further proceedings will consider the issue of damages to be awarded. Palmer v. Johnson, No. 98-50595, 193 F.3d 346 (5th Cir. 1999).
Text: <http://www.law.utexas.edu/us5th/us5th.html>. [Cross-reference: Prison Conditions: General].
Subtracting funds from inmate account for medical treatment of officer prisoner injured did not violate his constitutional rights when Pennsylvania state law provided a process by which the inmate could assert his claim that this use of the funds was improper.
A Pennsylvania prisoner claimed that funds were improperly withdrawn from his inmate account to pay the medical expenses of a correctional officer a disciplinary hearing found him guilty of injuring in a prison disturbance. He claimed that he was denied the right to present witnesses at disciplinary hearings.
Rejecting the prisoner's attempt to bring a federal civil rights lawsuit for the return of his funds, the court noted that even if his allegations were true, the "unauthorized, intentional deprivation of property by a state employee does not constitute a denial of the procedural requirements of the Due Process Clause if a meaningful postdeprivation remedy is available" under state law. Because Pennsylvania state law included a procedure for the prisoner to assert the claim that he had unlawfully been deprived of these funds, he could not pursue a claim that the deprivation itself violated his constitutional rights.
The trial court also ruled that the prisoner failed to exhaust available administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Payton v. Horn, 49 F. Supp. 2d 791 (E.D. Pa. 1999).
UPDATE: Federal appeals court rules that Arizona county jail system's policy prohibiting the possession of all material depicting nudity, including such magazines as Playboy was reasonably related to legitimate penological interests in protecting employees and inmates against sexual harassment or assault.
As previously reported, a three judge panel of a federal appeals court ruled that a rule in a Arizona county jail prohibiting possession of all material depicting nudity, which resulted in ban on prisoners receiving Playboy, was overbroad and violated the First Amendment. See, Mauro v. Arpaio, #97-16021, 147 F.3d 1137 (9th Cir. 1998), reported in Jail & Prisoner Law Bulletin, No. 265, page 7 (Jan. 1999).
The entire appeals court, reviewing that ruling, disagreed, finding that the policy was reasonably related to legitimate penological interests and therefore could lawfully be applied. The court noted that there was evidence that female correctional officers, in the past, had been subjected to various sexual harassment by male prisoners who displayed pornography to them and made inappropriate sexual remarks, and that implementation of the rule resulted in a "sharp decrease" in the number of such incidents.
The court found that the policy was designed to prevent sexual harassment of female officers, to enhance jail security, and to assist with the rehabilitation of prisoners. "In the past, inmates have used nude photographs to draw anatomical comparisons with the wives, girlfriends and mothers of other inmates, which in turn led to fights and disturbances by the inmates and created a security risk." Additionally, the presence of such materials often led to open masturbation in front of female officers.
Another concern was the possible use of sexually explicit materials for barter within the facility. The court further noted that the rule did not ban sexually explicit letters between inmates and others, nor ban sexually explicit articles or photographs of clothed females. The rule by its terms only restricts pictures with nudity and "a prisoner may read anything he pleases."
The court rejected two proposed alternatives to the ban--a reading room for sexually explicit materials, or the psychological testing of inmates to determine who would be "fit" to receive such materials--as too burdensome on jail resources. Mauro v. Arpaio, No. 97-16021, 188 F.3d 1054 (9th Cir. 1999).
Text: <http://www.ce9.uscourts.gov/opinions>. [Cross- reference: First Amendment].
PRISON LITIGATION REFORM ACT: EXHAUSTION OF REMEDIES
Prison Litigation Reform Act did not require California prisoner to exhaust administrative remedies before pursuing his federal civil rights lawsuit for damages over alleged misconduct, including assault, by prison guard; grievance process did not have any available remedy which could have granted him the damages he sought in the lawsuit.
A California prisoner claimed, in his federal civil rights lawsuit, that a prison guard spit on him, called him racial epithets, and assaulted or threatened to assault him. Prison officials asked the trial court to dismiss the lawsuit based on the prisoner's failure to exhaust administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act.
The trial court denied this motion, holding that because California's administrative prison grievance process does not allow for monetary damages, this form of relief does not constitute an "available" remedy that must be exhausted before a federal civil rights lawsuit.
A federal appeals court upheld this result. "Exhaustion of administrative remedies under section 1997(e)(a) is not required if a prisoner's section 1983 claim seeks only money damages and if the correctional facility's administrative grievance process does not allow for such an award." The appeals court also held that California state law procedures under the Tort Claims Act--"including the requirement that a state tort claim first be presented to the California State Board of Control"--are not available administrative remedies that a prisoner must exhaust before bringing a federal civil rights lawsuit. Rumbles v. Hill, No. 98-16794, 182 F.3d 1064 (9th Cir. 1999).
Jury awards $2 million to prisoner blinded while operating trash compactor during prison work assignment; suit claimed a delay in medical treatment contributed blindness.
An Illinois prisoner was blinded while operating a trash compactor as part of a work assignment. A hydraulic line reportedly broke loose from the machinery while it was running. In a federal civil rights lawsuit over the incident, the prisoner claimed that the loss of vision in his left eye was preventable, but that prison medical employees did not act fast enough to save it. A jury awarded the prisoner $2 million in damages. Williams v. Patel, No. 96-1369, U.S. Dist. Ct (C.D. Ill.), reported in The National Law Journal, p. A12 (Feb. 21, 2000). [Cross- references: Medical Care; Work/Education Programs].
Prison psychiatrists were not liable for prisoner's suicide by overdosing on prescribed medication he hoarded, despite their purported knowledge of his suicidal thoughts and medicine hoarding at another facility; psychiatrists did not know that "pill line" procedures were insufficient to prevent such hoarding.
A prisoner in Michigan successfully committed suicide following his conviction for murder and obstruction of justice. He did so by overdosing on an anti-depressant drug which the prison psychiatric staff had prescribed for him. He obtained the supply of pills by hoarding medication previously administered to him. His surviving family sued the psychiatrists, among other defendants, arguing that they violated his Eighth Amendment rights.
A federal appeals court has ruled that these defendants were entitled to qualified immunity from liability. It rejected the argument that the medical staff's failure to change the prisoner's medication from hoardable tablets to liquid was deliberate indifference to the possibility of suicide. There was no evidence in the record of the "comparative risks of pill- line distribution and liquid distribution." Additionally, there was no evidence that the psychiatrists "knew that the pill line was not effective at preventing hoarding of medication."
Accordingly, the mere fact that they knew he had hoarded medicine at another facility and had expressed suicidal thoughts was insufficient to make them liable for his successful suicide. The prisoner was only given one pill at a time, under the supervision of a nurse. Williams v. Mehra, No. 97-1118, 186 F.3d 685 (6th Cir. 1999).
Text: <http://pacer.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions/main.php>. [Cross-reference: Defenses: Qualified Immunity; Medical Care].
Prison rule prohibiting religious services in unauthorized areas did not provide Muslim prisoner with adequate notice that his conduct of silent, individual, demonstrative prayer in recreation yard would be a violation of the rule for which he could be disciplined; Attorneys' fee cap of Prison Litigation Reform Act applied despite the fact that the lawsuit was filed before the statute's enactment; $73,694 .36 in fees and costs awarded.
A Muslim prisoner's religious beliefs required him to pray five times daily, at times specified by the "proximity of the sun, moon and earth." During prayer the worshiper stands and faces Mecca, raises his hands to his ears, bows, returns to a standing position, kneels, sits, returns to the bowing position and then stands. This ritual is performed between two and four times, depending on the prayer. The New York state Department of Corrections rules prohibit religious "services, speeches or addresses by inmates" other than those approved by authorities.
The prisoner was in a recreation yard at a time when he was required to pray by the setting of the sun. He proceeded to pray, assuming the proper positions. He was subsequently charged with conducting a "religious service in an unauthorized area" in violence of the rules. At the time, individual prayer was allowed only in the privacy of a cell or in designated religious areas. He was found guilty of the rule violations, and punished with 15 days in keeplock and 15 days without privileges, as well as a $5 fine.
In the federal civil rights lawsuit he filed against correctional officials, the prisoner argued that imposing this discipline on him violated his right to freely exercise his religion, and that the rule in question "does not give fair notice on its face or in practice that it prohibits individual silent prayer."
The trial court agreed, holding that the rule was unconstitutionally vague as applied to the prisoner's silent, individual, demonstrative prayer. It ordered that the prisoner's disciplinary record be expunged, and that the $5 fine be returned to him. It did not reach the merits of his "free exercise of religion" claim. The court also awarded $60,816.63 in attorneys' fees and $12,877.73 in costs to the prisoner as a prevailing party.
A federal appeals court upheld this result. It found that the rule in question did not give the prisoner adequate notice as to what conduct was prohibited, and he therefore could not be punished for violating it. The court noted that the prisoner did not speak to anyone during his prayers, did not block any path and did not create a disturbance. Additionally, the rule appeared to give correctional officers "unfettered discretion" in determining what conduct was prohibited, and there was testimony that some officers allowed prisoners to silently engage in demonstrative prayer in the yard, while others did not.
"We do not hold that prison officials cannot prevent such conduct by clearly stating so in a new or amended Rule and giving inmates appropriate notice," the appeals court stating, but rather did not reach that issue. Additionally, nothing in the court's decision prevents prison officials from disciplining prisoners for silent, individual demonstrative prayer if it violates rules against creating a disturbance or interference with others.
Finally, the appeals court upheld the award of attorneys' fees, and rejected the argument of the plaintiff's attorney that the amount awarded should have been greater. The court found that the attorneys' fee cap imposed by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. Sec. Sec. 1997(e))d), which is $112.50 in the Southern District of New York, applied retroactively in the case despite the fact that the prisoner had filed it before the effective date of the PLRA. This was because the attorney was appointed to represent the inmate after the effective date of the act and was therefore on notice that the fee-cap provision would apply, relying on Martin v. Hadix, 119 S. Ct. 1998 (1999). Full text: <http://www.law.vill.edu/Fed-Ct/sct.html>, reported in Jail & Prisoner Law Bulletin, No. 272, p. 115 (Aug. 1999). Chatin v. Coombe, Nos. 98-2484, 98-2556, 186 F.3d 82 (2nd Cir. 1999).
Text: <http://www.tourolaw.edu/2ndCircuit>. [Cross-references: Attorneys' Fees; Prison Rules and Regulations; Prisoner Discipline; Prison Litigation Reform Act: Attorneys' Fees].
Georgia correctional facility did not err in transferring female prisoner from "transitional center" with low security to prison with more restrictions when she became pregnant while in the community on a work assignment; transfer was not intended to punish her for electing not to terminate her pregnancy, but for violating rules against inmate sexual activity.
A Georgia prisoner was confined at a "transitional center," a less restrictive facility where, in preparation for their release, prisoners could participate in various programs and employment in the community. Only prisoners meeting certain criteria, including the nature of their offense and their behavior while incarcerated were eligible for placement there.
She became friendly with a man in the community she met through her work outside the facility. She subsequently became pregnant and was charged with engaging in sexual activity in violation of facility rules. She was also told that, while she might be allowed stay in the facility if she aborted the pregnancy, that pregnant prisoners who elected to continue their pregnancy were returned to a more restrictive correctional facility because of the need for medical facilities for any pregnancy.
She chose to continue the pregnancy and was subsequently transferred to a more restrictive state prison for violating Department rules by voluntarily engaging in sexual activities while an inmate. At her disciplinary hearing, the prisoner asserted, for the first time, that she had been raped while out on her work assignment.
She subsequently filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against correctional officials, claiming that she was punished because she elected not to abort her pregnancy, and that, under state law, the defendants had intentionally inflicted emotional distress on her.
An intermediate Georgia appeals court upheld the rejection of all these claims. The court found that the prisoner's transfer was a proper response to the prisoner's violation of the rules, and that there was no evidence that she was "punished" for refusing to terminate her pregnancy. Further, none of the actions of the defendants were "egregious or outrageous conduct" which would justify the award of damages for emotional distress.
The court also noted tat the state Department of Corrections, as a state agency, is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity and therefore could not be a defendant in a federal civil rights lawsuit for damages. Jenkins v. Dept. of Corrections, 518 S.E.2d 730 (Ga. App. 1999).
Correctional officers could be liable for assaults on male-to-female transsexual prisoner allegedly caused by the disclosure of prisoner's condition to other inmates; defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity on failure to protect claim, but one defendant did have qualified immunity on privacy/confidentiality of medical records claim.
A correctional officer's action in revealing to others that a prisoner is a male-to-female "transsexual" can constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, a federal appeals court ruled. The appeals court overturned the trial court's dismissal of the prisoner's lawsuit claiming that she suffered harassment from male prisoners after her transsexualism was allegedly revealed to them by prison employees.
The court noted that the prisoner had a constitutional right to privacy concerning medical records indicating transsexualism, and found that there was no valid penological interest in disclosing this status to other prisoners.
At the same time, the court ruled that a prison guard supervisor was entitled to qualified immunity because there was, at the time, no clearly established right to confidentiality of prison medical records. The appeals court also ruled, however, that neither this supervisor or a guard involved in the incident were entitled to qualified immunity on the claim that the guard revealed the transsexualism to other prisoners and that the supervisor failed to train guards to keep such information confidential from other prisoners. This is because there was clearly established Eighth Amendment law prohibiting deliberate indifference to the possibility that a prisoner would be assaulted by other inmates. Powell v. Schriver, No. 97-2851, 175 F.3d 107 (2nd Cir. 1999).
Text: <http://www.tourolaw.edu/2ndCircuit>. [Cross-references: Medical Care].
EDITOR'S NOTE: This decision now establishes a privacy right to the confidentiality of such medical records, so that no qualified immunity would be granted in the 2nd Circuit in the future on such claims.
California prisoner had no protected liberty interest in "family visitation"; prison officials who classified him as a "sex offender" based on his prior arrest, but not conviction, of a sex offense, and used this as a basis to bar family visitation did not violate his rights.
A California prisoner challenged the decision of prison officials to classify him as a "sex offender," despite the fact that he had not been convicted of any sex offense, and their decision, on that basis, to deny him family visitation privileges. In rejecting these claims, the trial court noted that "family visitation" is not a program creating any rights for the prisoner. Instead, it is a "privilege," and it may even be limited to "so many inmates as is possible commensurate with institution security." The prisoner had no constitutionally protected "liberty interest" in being able to have physical contact with his family, and therefore was not entitled to any form of due process hearing before that privilege could be revoked or denied.
This result was reached despite the court's comment, in passing, that designating the prisoner as a sex offender, when he had only been arrested for a sex offense, but never convicted "does seem unjust." But "federal courts are not authorized by law to second-guess the policies of prison administrators in a general sense." Cooper v. Garcia, 55 F. Supp. 2d 1090 (S.D. Cal. 1999).
Prison officials did not violate the rights of a prisoner by reducing his level of privileges and revoking his work assignment based on his refusal to agree to participate in recommended educational and therapy programs.
A Kansas prisoner refused to agree to participate in recommended educational and treatment programs, including a GED education course, a sex offender treatment program, and mental health counseling. As a result of this, the prisoner was reduced to a lower level of privileges, which caused the loss of his prison job and various other privileges. Rejecting the prisoner's objection to this, a federal trial court found that the rule under which the prisoner's privilege level was automatically lowered when he refused to participate in these programs did not constitute an improper retroactive increase in his punishment.
The prisoner made "his own choice whether to sign a program plan," the court noted, and prison officials "have not required him to sign a plan, they have merely taken away his privileges for his refusal." Johnston v. Simmons, 45 F. Supp. 2d 1220 (D. Kan. 1999).
New York prisoner had a protected liberty interest in participation in a work release program that allowed her to live at home; "technical" violation of requirement that she have notice of a hearing to consider her removal from the program only entitled her to $1 in nominal damages when she had no real basis for contesting her removal.
A New York prisoner serving a sentence for conspiracy was placed in a form of work release allowing her to live at home. After a drug test indicated the presence of opiates, she was confined to a facility and her participation in the work release program was ended. She reacted to this by asserting that she had not taken drugs and locked herself in a bathroom, refusing to eat or drink. She also made statements that could be construed as suicidal and threatening harm to other persons.
A psychologist subsequently concluded that the prisoner was a threat to herself and others, downgrading her mental health level to two on a seven-level scale. A level of at least six is required for the work release program. She therefore was also transferred to a more secure facility. There, her mental health classification was further lowered to one after she made statements indicating a continuing with to "die" if she could not show that she had not taken drugs.
At a later point, when her mental health status improved, she was reinstated in the work release program. But she then filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against correctional officials claiming that they violated her right to due process by removing her from the program without at least twenty-four hours notice of a removal hearing and a statement of the reasons for the removal.
A jury returned a verdict in favor of the prisoner against two defendants, awarding her compensatory damages of $2,750 and punitive damages of $2,000 each against the defendants, for a total award of $6,750. The trial court set aside the entire award, finding no evidence to show that the prisoner's emotional distress was caused by the lack of notice of the reason for her removal from work release.
An appeals court agreed that the type of work release program involved, in which the prisoner lived at home and worked at a job, while regularly reporting to a facility, "is virtually indistinguishable from" traditional parole or the Oklahoma "preparole conditional supervision program" considered by the U.S. Supreme Court in Young v. Harper, 520 143 (1997). In Young, the Court found that program sufficiently like parole to require procedural due process protections against its loss. Therefore, in this case, the plaintiff prisoner had a "liberty interest" in her participation in the work release program.
The court also ruled that prisoner was entitled to notice of the removal hearing and reasons for her removal from work release, even though it appeared that she would not have prevailed if she had it, since the change in her mental health classification mandated her removal from the program.
The appeals court ruled that one of the two defendants found liable had no liability, however, she did not have knowledge of when the removal hearing would be held and therefore had no liability for failure to provide notice of it. The appeals court also found that the punitive damages award could not stand, as there was no evidence of the type of "egregious behavior that would warrant such damages." Ultimately, the court concluded, since the prisoner had "no basis for contesting" her removal from work release, the denial of procedural due process in this case "was a technical violation that resulted in no compensable damages," so the plaintiff was only entitled to nominal damages" of $1. Kim v. Hurston, No. 98-7051, 182 F.3d 113 (2nd Cir. 1999).
Text: <http://www.tourolaw.edu/2ndCircuit>. [Cross- references: Prisoner Discipline; Work Release].
INDEX OF CASES CITED
Page numbers in [brackets] refer to the print edition.
Nos. 98-2484, 98-2556, 186 F.3d 82 (2nd Cir. 1999).[42-43]
Cooper v. Garcia, 55 F. Supp. 2d 1090 (S.D. Cal. 1999).
Hadix v. Johnson, Nos. 96-2387, 96-2397, 182 F.3d 400 (6th Cir. 1999).[35-36]
Jenkins v. Dept. of Corrections, 518 S.E.2d 730 (Ga. App. 1999).[43-44]
Johnston v. Simmons, 45 F. Supp. 2d 1220 (D. Kan. 1999).[45-46]
Kim v. Hurston, No. 98-7051, 182 F.3d 113 (2nd Cir. 1999).[46-47]
Kimel v. Florida Bd. of Regents, #98-791, 98-796, 120 S. Ct. 631 (2000).
Lockley v. New Jersey, L-03195-94, New Jersey trial court, reported in
The National Law Journal, p. B7 (June 21, 1999).[37-38]
Lockley v. New Jersey, L-03195-94, New Jersey trial court, reported in
The National Law Journal, p. A12 (September 27, 1999).[37-38]
Mauro v. Arpaio, No. 97-16021, 188 F.3d 1054 (9th Cir. 1999).
McNally v. Prison Health Services, 52 F. Supp. 2d 147 (D. Me. 1999).
Onishea v. Hopper, #96-6213, 171 F.3d 1289 (11th Cir. 1999),
cert. denied, sub nom. Davis v. Hopper, #98-9663, 200 U.S. LEXIS 566.[36-37]
Palmer v. Johnson, No. 98-50595, 193 F.3d 346 (5th Cir. 1999).[38-39]
Payton v. Horn, 49 F. Supp. 2d 791 (E.D. Pa. 1999).[39-40]
Powell v. Schriver, No. 97-2851, 175 F.3d 107 (2nd Cir. 1999).[44-45]
Rumbles v. Hill, No. 98-16794, 182 F.3d 1064 (9th Cir. 1999).
Williams v. Mehra, No. 97-1118, 186 F.3d 685 (6th Cir. 1999).[41-42]
Williams v. Patel, No. 96-1369, U.S. Dist. Ct (C.D. Ill.),
reported in The National Law Journal, p. A12 (Feb. 21, 2000).
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