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A Civil Liability Law Publication
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(Published as VOLUME 2000 NUMBER 281)
Prison Litigation Reform Act
Prisoner Assault: By Officers
Index of Cases Cited
Prisoner is awarded $4,221.40 against two officers on his claim that they imposed disciplinary sanctions on him, removed him from his job in the mess hall, and transferred him to another facility in retaliation for his complaints about prisoner work schedules which arguably violated state law limiting work hours.
A New York prisoner claimed that two correctional officers imposed disciplinary sanctions on him in retaliation for constitutionally protected activities, in violation of the First Amendment and his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. Specifically, he claimed that after he complained about inmate work schedules, arguing that they violated state law provisions governing the conditions of inmate labor, he was restricted from mess hall work and ultimately transferred to another facility.
The officers asserted that the sanctions were imposed because the plaintiff committed various disciplinary infractions.
The trial court found that the officers were liable for retaliating against the plaintiff prisoner in violation of the First Amendment. While the prisoner was allegedly disciplined for instigating a "work stoppage," no evidence was presented that any such work stoppage ever took place. The prisoner was transferred to another facility and restricted from working in the mess hall approximately one month after he complained about inmate work schedules and asked that work hours be reduced to comply with a state law mandating no more than an eight hour work day, and allowing prisoners a day off.
The court rejected the officers' defense that they were entitled to qualified immunity from liability, as a prisoner's right to not be disciplined for making such complaints was clearly established at the time. At the same time, the court rejected the prisoner's assertion that he was entitled to punitive damages, finding no evidence that the defendants were motivated by any "evil" motive or intent or acted with reckless or "callous indifference" to the prisoner's rights.
The prisoner was entitled, however, to compensatory damages for lost wages and educational costs incurred because of his loss of financial aid after he was transferred to another facility. He was also entitled to pre-judgment and post-judgment compounded interest on the assessed damages of $4,221.40, to be paid equally by the two officers. The court also ordered that the disciplinary records of the inmate were to be expunged. Gaston v. Coughlin, 81 F. Supp. 2d 381 (N.D.N.Y. 1999). [Cross-references: Prisoner Discipline; Prisoner Transfer; Work/Education Programs].
"Short-term and sporadic" delays in delivery of non-legal mail to prisoner that ranged from 2 days to 26 days from the postmark date did not violate the First Amendment rights of either the prisoner or the correspondent.
An Indiana prisoner and the head of his "legal defense fund," who was a frequent correspondent of his, jointly filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against various correctional officials and employees claiming violations of their First Amendment rights resulting from delays in delivery of incoming mail sent by the correspondent.
They kept detailed records of when the correspondent sent mail and the dates on which such mail was delivered. Of some 34 pieces of mail, the time that it took a letter to reach the prisoner varied from as few as 2 days to as many as 26 days. 16 items took 7 days or less from the date of the postmark; ten items took 14 days or less; and 8 items took 14 or more days. Two items classified as "priority mail" took seven days and 20 days respectively.
A federal appeals court rejected the argument that the prisoner had to show "physical injury" to pursue his lawsuit, pursuant to a provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act requiring a showing of physical injury before recovery for emotional or mental injury would be permitted. "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."
Accordingly, the appeals court found that the trial court was incorrect in dismissing the claims on this basis. However, it still affirmed the dismissal of the lawsuit. The delays in the prisoner's receipt of his mail were "relatively short-term and sporadic." There were no allegations that the delays "resulted from a content-based prison regulation or practice." Additionally, there was no allegation that the correspondence in question was legal mail or that it was lost rather than delayed.
The appeals court also found that the trial court erred in ruling that the correspondent's First Amendment claim should be dismissed because he did not have standing to bring it. "Non-prisoners do indeed have a First Amendment right to correspond with prisoners," and "unjustifiable interference with correspondence violates the First Amendment rights of both the recipient and the sender." The appeals court still upheld the dismissal of the correspondent's claims, however, since, like the prisoner, he failed to state a First Amendment claim, mere delay in delivery not being sufficient to establish a violation under these circumstances. Rowe v. Shake, No. 98-4207, 196 F.3d 778 (7th Cir. 1999).
Jail physician who had prescribed pain medicine for detainee with back pain did not act with deliberate indifference to detainee's serious medical needs; international human rights treaty requiring that prisoners be treated humanely did not give prisoner a right to any greater degree of medical care than otherwise already required under federal law.
A Georgia pretrial detainee claimed that a county jail physician and other jail employees were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. The detainee claimed that the physician failed to see the detainee to treat his back pain.
The trial court noted that the physician had previously prescribed medication for the pain, and there was no evidence that the physician acted in any way to intentionally or recklessly deny the detainee any needed medical treatment. Indeed, there was no evidence that the physician even knew that the detainee had additional requests for treatment, much less that he intentionally denied him access to medical care.
The plaintiff prisoner also claimed that the doctor's actions violated the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, an international treaty to which the U.S. is a party. The plaintiff did not specify how the doctor allegedly violated this treaty, but merely pointed to provisions in it requiring that prisoners be treated "with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person,"
The trial court found that the provisions of the treaty were not "self-executing," and did not provide any individual with a private right of action to bring a claim or lawsuit to enforce it or obtain damages for its alleged violation. The court also noted that a specific reservation to the treaty expressed by the U.S. Senate and by the administration of President Bush at the time the treaty was ratified was that it prohibits "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" as defined by the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment and the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments' due process clauses. The court therefore found no basis for a ruling that the treaty required a higher degree of medical care for prisoners than that required by the U.S. Constitution itself. Ralk v. Lincoln County, Georgia, 81 F. Supp. 2d 1372 (S.D. Ga. 2000).
Arizona state department of juvenile corrections reaches $3.33 million in settlements with families of married couple and teenager allegedly killed and another teenager maimed by 16-year-old juvenile released from secure care; lawsuit asserted lack of adequate supervision and wrongful release.
A 16-year-old boy was in the custody of the Arizona state department of juvenile corrections. While he was released from secure care, he shot at a truck in which two other teenagers were riding, fatally injuring one of them. The other teenager was shot in the leg, resulting in a limp.
Approximately four weeks later, the 16-year-old allegedly murdered a man and his wife after breaking into their home. The couple was survived by three minor children.
The estates of the decedents, and the injured teenager, sued the state department of juvenile corrections for alleged failure to provide adequate supervision, treatment, or rehabilitation of the 16-year-old. The lawsuit also asserted that he had been improperly released from secure care.
The lawsuit further asserted that the youth was not taken back into custody despite his involvement in a drive-by-shooting and his confession to his involvement. It also claimed that inadequate steps were taken to take him back into custody when he went into hiding, although he was allegedly still associating with his known friends and in the area where his family lived. The lawsuit further claimed that the department, in violation of its own policies, had never fingerprinted or photographed the youth, resulting in police being unable to identify him during numerous contacts, including investigatory stops and arrests. The defendant argued that it did not have a duty to the plaintiffs to keep the youth in custody or to supervise him once he was not in secure care.
Settlements totaling $3.33 million were reached prior to trial. This included $1.85 million for the couple's three children and $220,000 for the husband's parents. The mother of the deceased teenager received $750,000, while the remainder went to the injured teenager and his parents. Blair v. State, Ariz., Maricopa County Super. Ct., No. CV 98-14890, May 24, 1999, reported in 43 ATLA Law Rptr. 19 (Feb. 2000).
PRISON LITIGATION REFORM ACT: CIVIL COMMITMENT
Persons civilly committed as sexually violent predators under California statute are not "prisoners" for purposes of Prison Litigation Reform Act; Act's exhaustion of remedies and financial reporting requirements, therefore, do not apply to them.
In an increasing number of jurisdictions, prisoners who complete sentences of incarceration for a variety of sexual offenses may be subsequently civilly committed to hospitals or other treatment facilities as sexually dangerous or violent persons, rather than being released into the community. Are such individuals, when they file federal civil rights lawsuits over the conditions of their confinement or other alleged violations of their federal civil rights "prisoners" for purposes of the various provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA)?
"No," according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In consolidated appeals from two federal civil rights cases filed by a man civilly committed to a state hospital under California's Sexually Violent Predator Act, the court ruled that the plaintiff ceased to be a "prisoner" as defined by the PLRA when his prison term ended. Accordingly, it held that the plaintiff was not required to comply with either the exhaustion of administrative remedies or financial reporting requirements of the PLRA.
In order to fall within the PLRA's definition of the term prisoner, the court found, "the individual in question must be currently detained as a result of accusation, conviction, or sentence for a criminal offense. This was the case despite the fact that civil commitment under the statute requires the prior conviction of a sexually violent offense against two or more victims. Page v. Torrey, No. 98-56526, 98-56591, 201 F.3d 1136 (9th Cir. 2000).
Text: <http://www.ce9.uscourts.gov/opinions>. [Cross-references: Prison Litigation Reform Act: Fee; Prison Litigation Reform Act: Exhaustion of Remedies].
EDITOR'S NOTE: See West v. Macht, 986 F. Supp. 1141 (W.D. Wis. 1997) (person confined under Wisconsin's sexual predator law was not a prisoner under PLRA). See also, Greg v. Goord, #97-9340, 169 F.3d 165 (2nd Cir. 1999), full text: <http://www.tourolaw.edu/2ndCircuit> (former prisoner was not required to comply with the PLRA); Doe v. Washington County, #97-3969, 150 F.3d 920 (8th Cir. 1998) (same) full text: <http://www.wulaw.wustl.edu/8th.cir>.; Kerr v. Puckett, #97-2566, 138 F.3d 321 (7th Cir. 1998) (same) full text: <http://www.kentlaw.edu/7circuit/>. In LaFontant v. INS, #k96- 1310, 135 F.3d 158 (D.C. Cir. 1998), full text: <http://www.ll.georgetown.edu:80/Fed- Ct/cadc.html>, the court held that INS detainees are not prisoners under the PLRA.
PRISON LITIGATION REFORM ACT: EXHAUSTION OF REMEDIES
Texas prisoner pursuing only money damages for alleged failure to provide medical treatment for a ruptured eardrum did not need to exhaust administrative remedies when state administrative remedies did not allow for awards of money; appeals court panel urges full Fifth Circuit federal appeals court to reconsider this rule, however.
A Texas prisoner filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against a prison nurse and a clerk at the prison infirmary, claiming that they acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs by refusing to provide treatment for a ruptured eardrum he suffered during a fight with another prisoner. The lawsuit sought only money damages.
The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendant clerk, and granted a motion filed by the nurse to dismiss the prisoner's claim against her for failure to exhaust available administrative remedies, as required by 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e(a) as amended by the Prison Litigation Reform Act. The prisoner admitted that he had failed to pursue and exhaust administrative remedies.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, however, relying on the full 5th Circuit's prior decision in Whitley v. Hunt, 158 F.3d 882 (5th Cir. en banc., 1998), reinstated the prisoner's lawsuit against the nurse. Whitley provides that while an inmate seeking monetary and injunctive relief must exhaust all administrative remedies, "an inmate seeking only monetary relief is not required to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing suit if the prison grievance system does not authorize that type of relief." Texas administrative remedies available to prisoners do not provide for an award of monetary damages.
While feeling bound by the full court's prior precedent, the three-judge panel unanimously urged the full court to use the case to reconsider its ruling in Whitley. Wright v. Hollingsworth, No. 99-40063,201 F.3d 663 (5th Cir. 2000).
Text: <http://www.law.utexas.edu/us5th/us5th.html>. [Cross-reference: Medical Care].
EDITOR'S NOTE: The panel urged the full 5th Circuit to "consider adopting" the interpretation that three other federal appeals courts have given to the PLRA's "exhaustion of remedies" provision: that exhaustion of all administrative remedies is required even if an inmate is seeking only monetary damages. See Brown v. Toombs, #97-1333, 139 F.3d 1102 (6th Cir. 1998), full text: <http://pacer.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions/main.php>. cert. denied, 119 S. Ct. 88 (1999), Perez v. Wisconsin Dep't of Corrections, #98-4012, 182 F.3d 532 (7th Cir. 1999), full text: <http://www.kentlaw.edu/7circuit/>; and Alexander v. Hawk, #96- 3752, 159 F.3d 1321 (11th Cir. 1998), full text: <http://www.law.emory.edu/11circuit/index.html>.
Requiring such exhaustion of remedies regardless of what relief was sought, the panel argued, was in keeping with the policy concern of deterring frivolous and malicious prisoner lawsuits which Congress had in mind when it enacted the Prison Litigation Reform Act to begin with.
PRISONER ASSAULT: BY OFFICERS
N.Y. prisoner could not pursue his federal civil rights lawsuit claiming that officers assaulted him and that his medical records were altered as part of a coverup of the use of excessive force against him when a state court previously ruled, in his state law claim over the same incident that no excessive force was used and no "coverup" existed.
A New York prisoner, claiming that three correctional officers assaulted him while another officer watched, asserted in his federal civil rights lawsuit, seeking no less than $10 million in damages, that correctional medical personnel then altered his medical records to cover up the incident, making it look like his back problems preceded his incarceration. He further claimed that the Superintendent permitted a "pattern and policy of unreasonable use of force" at the facility.
Before proceeding much further with the lawsuit, however, the trial court noted that the prisoner had previously filed a claim in state court over the exact same incident, claiming negligence. In that prior lawsuit, after trial, the state court rejected the plaintiff's claims, finding no evidence of a "coverup" of the use of excessive force, and no alteration of medical records. This decision was unanimously affirmed by an intermediate state appellate court without opinion. D'Andrea v. State, 690 N.Y.S.2d 464 (A.D. 1999).
The federal trial court therefore granted the defendants in the federal civil rights lawsuit summary judgment, ruling that the prisoner was precluded, under the doctrine of collateral estoppel, from relitigating the same issues over again in the guise of a federal constitutional claim. "The issues actually to be determined in this case--whether plaintiff was assaulted on August 6, 1994, and whether his medical records were altered to cover up the assault--have already been decided" by a state court in the defendants' favor after a trial on the merits.
The state court also determined that the injuries complained of actually preceded the plaintiff's entry into state custody. Given that the plaintiff had a "full and fair opportunity" to pursue these issues in the state proceeding, he could not pursue them again in federal court. D'Andrea v. Hulton, 81 F. Supp. 2d 440 (W.D.N.Y. 1999). [Cross-reference: Defense: Collateral Estoppel].
Failure to prevent attack on prisoner by another inmate who scaled two nine-foot fences to get to him and cut him with a razor blade could not be the basis for city liability when testimony showed that this had never happened before and that placing rival groups of prisoners in two exercise cages was contrary to ordinary prison practice.
A New York prisoner suffered injuries when he was attacked by another prisoner in the yard, and cut on his face and back with a razor. He filed a lawsuit against the city's Department of Correctional Services and the warden of the facility in which he was confined, complaining of their failure to protect him against the attack.
The trial court dismissed the claims against the city Department of Correctional Services. Prior case law established that this Department was a non-suable entity, and that all lawsuits had to be brought, instead, against the City of New York itself. Even if the court construed the complaint as naming the city as a defendant, however, it ruled that the plaintiff failed to state a viable civil rights claim, since he pointed to no municipal policy or custom which allegedly caused or help to cause his injuries. In the incident in question, two rival groups of prisoners were brought to adjacent exercise cages and one prisoner scaled two nine-foot fences to get to him and attack him. The plaintiff prisoner himself stated that bringing inmates to adjacent cages in the yard was a departure from ordinary prison practices, and that no other inmate had ever scaled the two fences separating exercise cages.
"The only reasonable inference from the testimony is that this incident was an isolated event and thus not attributable to any prison policy or practice," the court concluded. The claims against the warden were also insufficient, since all they did was assert his job as supervisor of the facility, and did not point to any personal participation on his part in the incident, or any failure to remedy a violation, creation of a policy or custom which perpetuated a violation, or any other wrongdoing on his part.
The prisoner's claims against an officer who was on the scene were held to be time barred, as he initially misspelled the officer's name in the complaint and did not make any effort, through the discovery process, to determine the officer's true name. Echevarria v. Dept. of Correctional Services of NYC, 48 F. Supp. 2d 388 (S.D.N.Y. 1999).
EDITOR'S NOTE: See also Snell v. DeMello, 44 F. Supp. 2d 386 (D. Mass. 1999), holding that supervisory liability for prison employees' failure to prevent an assault on one inmate by another can only be based on "deliberate indifference" to a substantial risk of harm that the supervisor knew of or should have known of. Mere negligence by a supervisor in failure to prevent such an attack is not enough for federal civil rights liability.
Federal government liable for $1.8 million for suicide of pre-trial detainee, based on repeated failure to respond to signs that he might be suicidal; trial judge finds that policies and training programs were in place to help officers identify and aid suicidal prisoners, but these policies were not followed.
A federal prisoner's decision to hang himself, "the decision to commit suicide," was his alone, a federal trial judge ruled. Further, the prisoner was awaiting trial on criminal gambling charges during his six months of confinement, and the judge acknowledged that nobody else "bears any legal responsibility" for mental distress that the prisoner may have suffered during that confinement.
At the same time, he found the U.S. government liable for failure to prevent the suicide, and ordered the payment of $1.8 million to the prisoner's surviving family. The damages included $200,000 on a wrongful death claim and $1.6 million on a negligence- survival claim.
The judge found that when the prisoner "lost his freedom, the law visited certain obligations upon his jailers. Some intervention and concern for his health was called for. The evidence established with great clarity, however, that there was no intervention and no help, even in the face of his need." He ruled that correctional employees repeatedly ignored warnings that the prisoner was suicidal," stating that breaching a duty of care owed to the prisoner on only one or two occasions would not have been enough to impose liability for the suicide.
"But it was not once or twice, it was many times," the court continued. "The collective indifference" to the prisoner's "circumstances requires the conclusion that the indifference contributed to and was, therefore, a proximate cause of his death." The prisoner was a "loner" who was depressed and anxious. He had trouble keeping roommates, and developed open, bleeding sores on his body caused by his own scratching. He also frequently slept during the day.
The judge found that evidence in the case showed that officers at the federal correctional center observed the prisoner's behavior and also heard various comments and complaints about his condition from other prisoners, but did nothing to assist him. The decedent's cellmate reported the open sores on the prisoner's body and suggested that he be taken to a psychiatrist or psychologist, indicating on a form that his cellmate's problems were "very serious."
A physician's assistant saw the decedent approximately twelve hours before his death, but did not physically examine the prisoner or read the sick call form submitted by his cellmate. The decedent allegedly told this physician's assistant that he needed medication to cope with his mental condition, and was merely counseled to tell the officer on his unit that he needed to see a psychologist.
Correctional center policies, including those established by the chief psychologist at the center at the time, required the physician's assistant to take steps themselves to see that the prisoner received required attention, including a referral to a psychologist.
While policies in place, including training programs, were designed to help identify suicidal prisoners and address their needs, in this case, the judge found, the signs of the prisoner's depression and anxiety were not responded to. "Because of the individual and collective failures of the unit officers and staff officials," the chief psychologist "never had the opportunity to use his skill, training and judgment in an effort to rid" the prisoner "of his personal demons. The best policies in the world will not be useful if they are not effectuated." Jutzi-Johnson v. U.S., No. 96-C-5708, U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Ill. March 29, 2000, reported in The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, p. 1 (March 30, 2000).
Jail employees and officials were not liable for mentally ill detainee's death from asphyxiation which was either suicide or an accidental death caused by his illness; while jail personnel may have been negligent in how they treated this detainee, their conduct did not rise to the level of "deliberate indifference" required for federal civil rights liability.
A pre-trial detainee in an Alabama city jail died from asphyxiation. A spoon was found lodged in his throat. Whether this constituted suicide or an accidental death caused by his mental illness was unclear. His surviving family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking to impose liability on the city on the basis of an alleged failure of the jail staff to supervise him properly.
The detainee suffered from paranoid schizophrenic psychiatric problems, and was periodically arrested for disorderly conduct and harassment, which consisted of "preaching the Bible" on or near business premises. He would sometimes pester business customers for food and loudly quote passages from the Bible. When he was arrested the final time, for disorderly conduct at a gas station, he claimed that the police and jail personnel were out to kill him, that he was going to die, and that he would stop breathing in his sleep.
He refused to cooperate with jail booking procedures and repeated his claim that he was going to die. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit later asserted that they informed authorities that he needed his medication, and that medicine he had for high blood pressure was confiscated from him on his arrest. He was monitored in his cell periodically by jail officers, including on the day of his death.
The trial court ruled that the facts did not show deliberate indifference, as required to establish jail official's liability in these circumstances. Such deliberate indifference can be established only when the prisoner's condition and conduct demonstrates a "strong likelihood" rather than merely the possibility, that suicide would result from jail officials' actions or inaction. The court found that the evidence showed, at most, "reprehensible" negligence in some of the ways the jail handled this "mentally ill person." Negligence, however, does not rise "to a level that violated federal law." The court also found no evidence that the failure to prevent the death was motivated by racial or other class-based discriminatory animus. Thornton v. City of Montgomery, 78 F. Supp. 2d 1218 (M.D. Ala. 1999). [Cross-reference: Prisoner Death/Injury].
Orthodox Jewish prisoners who were sincere in their religious beliefs were entitled to receive a kosher diet; proposed policy under which they would be required to make a co- payment of 25% of the cost was an unreasonable burden on their exercise of their religion.
Three orthodox Jewish prisoners in Colorado state prisons challenged the failure of correctional officials to provide them with kosher meals, as well as arguing against the constitutionality of the prison system's proposed kosher diet cost-sharing program, making the prisoners bear 25% of the cost.
The cost-sharing proposed by prison officials was for the purpose of preventing abuse of any kosher diet program (or other religious diets) by inmates who are not sincere in their religious beliefs. They argued that if an inmate must pay for kosher meals, there might be fewer requests from inmates who want such diets simply because it breaks routine or seems more desirable.
The trial court found that all three plaintiff prisoners were sincere in their religious beliefs, and were therefore entitled to obtain a kosher diet. The court also found that the cost- sharing program put an unreasonable burden on the plaintiffs' exercise of their religion, since it was "not rationally related" to the goal of preventing inmate abuse of religious diets. If the plaintiffs were "unable or unwilling to make the co-payment, there is no feasible alternative which would allow them to keep kosher."
The court also found that the cost of accommodating Jewish prisoners' requests for a kosher diet was minimal, amounting to only $13,000 per year, or 0.158% of the prison system's annual food budget of $8.25 million. The judge ordered the Colorado prisons to provide a kosher diet to the plaintiffs "without requiring co-payment." Beerheide v. Suthers, 82 F. Supp. 2d 1190 (D. Colo. 2000). [Cross-references: Diet; Inmate Funds].
Initial strip search of non-felony female DUI detainee in county jail by female officer was unconstitutional in the absence of reasonable suspicion of concealment of contraband, but Alabama sheriff and his employees were entitled to qualified immunity from liability; examination and touching of detainee's pelvic region as she was left alone with then unidentified male medical clinic employee in a purported search for lice just before she was released could not be justified in any way, however.
An Alabama woman arrested for driving under the influence was required to stay overnight at the county jail because of her degree of intoxication. After being booked, she was taken to a restroom by a female officer who told her to disrobe, to turn and face the wall, and to squat and cough. After spending the night "sleeping it off," she was instructed to go the infirmary, where she found three female inmates and a male in jeans and a t-shirt.
While he was not identified at the time, and wore no badge or identification, he was an employee of a local medical center, which had a contract with the sheriff to perform certain medical services at the jail. He asked the three other inmates to leave and then informed the detainee that he was required by law to run some tests on her. He took a blood sample from her and then told her to stand up in front of him and to pull down her pants so that he could check her for "crabs." She pulled her pants down below her pubic hair, whereupon this man ran his fingers back and forth through her public hair eight or ten times, purportedly looking for lice. She was released shortly thereafter, and filed a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging the strip search and the physical touching and inspection of her exposed pelvic region.
The trial court ruled that the initial strip search of the detainee was not permissible, given that she was a non-felony detainee who was held without being "intermingled with the general population," and had had no contact with anyone since her initial arrest. There was no "reasonable suspicion" of something that might prompt and justify a search. The court was also troubled by the fact that the jail evidently only subjected female DUI detainees to such strip searches. Male DUI detainees brought to jail to "sleep it off" were provided with a holding cell outside the general population and are not required to undergo a strip-search.
At the same time, the court found that the sheriff and his employees were entitled to qualified immunity on the strip search, since prior case law in the jurisdiction had not "clearly established" the unconstitutionality of such a search in the absence of reasonable suspicion of concealment of contraband or weapons.
The touching of the detainee's pelvic region as she was about to be discharged from the jail, however, was a different matter. "The physical touching and inspection of the exposed pelvic region of a female non-felony detainee," conducted by "an unidentified male dressed in blue jeans and a t-shirt," with no "probable cause" or "reasonable suspicion" of wrongdoing by the person being searched was an intrusion on the detainee's privacy which "cannot hold up to measurement by any objective standard, either under Fourth Amendment analysis or under Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process analysis."
There was "simply no legitimate basis for this pelvic inspection, which becomes absolutely uncivilized when conducted by an unknown male." At the time of this incident, with the detainee about to be released, she was hardly about to "introduce" lice into the jail. The court rejected arguments by the sheriff and other defendants that this "search" was reasonable because lice infestations are a serious problem at the jail, that the search was not carrier out pursuant to jail policy, which only mandated that lice searches be carried out (and not the timing or manner of the searches), and that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity.
The court rejected the qualified immunity argument even though it could not find a similar prior case from either the United States Supreme Court or from the federal appeals court with jurisdiction over the state of Alabama. "When a violation of a fundamental right is so obvious that no half-way intelligent public official could conclude in good faith that his proposed action is costitutional, a public official who does it anyway cannot claim qualified immunity." Skurstenis v. Jones, 81 F. Supp. 2d 1228 (N.D. Ala. 1999).
Federal Bureau of Prisons policy requiring that a transsexual inmate provide documentation of hormone therapy before incarceration in order to receive hormone therapy in prison did not violate equal protection; policy was rationally related to a legitimate government interest in protecting inmate health and safety.
A federal prisoner who is a pre-operative male-to-female transsexual suffering from "gender dysphoria" (or gender identity disorder) filed a equal protection challenge to the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) policy which required that a prisoner in such circumstances document that they received hormone therapy received prior to incarceration before the BOP will administer hormone therapy to the inmate.
The lawsuit claimed a violation of the Fifth Amendment's equal protection clause because inmates suffering from other mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, depression, or manic-depression, need not document prior treatment in order to receive treatment while incarcerated. The trial court found that the plaintiff prisoner had standing to pursue her equal protection claim, despite the defendants' claim that, even if the policy in question was found violative of the equal protection guarantee, the plaintiff would still be ineligible for hormone therapy because she has AIDS. However, the court ruled that, even if the plaintiff could establish that individuals with gender identity disorder were similarly situated to individuals with other mental illnesses, she would have to show that the BOP's policy lacked a rational basis for its "differential application." Because the policy in question "neither disadvantages a suspect class nor impinges on the exercise of a fundamental right," it is only required that the disputed policy be "rationally related to a legitimate government interest."
The court concluded that the plaintiff prisoner could not establish that the policy lacked a rational basis. "BOP's policy [of administering hormones only at the same levels the inmate was receiving prior to incarceration] is a rational response to legitimate health and safety concerns: hormone therapy brings about drastic and permanent physical changes and must be closely monitored by trained professionals. Moreover, such treatment cannot be administered lightly, or merely upon the basis of self-reporting" by the prisoner. The court noted that this policy complied with what both sides agreed were the standard medical standards for treatment of transsexual prisoners.
The court also noted that the policy did not absolutely preclude the commencement of hormone therapy for a prisoner after incarceration if the Clinical Director of a facility determines that "such treatment is warranted" and the Medical Director approves. The policy in question concerns the administration of hormone therapy when the Clinical Director and Medical Director have "not independently made such determinations." Under these circumstances, "requiring verification from community physicians and hospitals that the inmate is in fact undergoing hormone therapy is an eminently prudent policy, rationally related to the legitimate government interest of protecting the health and safety of the inmate." Farmer v. Hawk-Sawyer, 69 F. Supp. 2d 120 (D.D.C. 1999).
Idaho prisoner injured while performing maintenance work duties at the facility she was incarcerated at did not qualify as a "community service worker" entitled to workers' compensation benefits under state law.
An Idaho prisoner was injured while involved in the performance of maintenance work duties at the community work center where she was serving her sentence. She filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits under state law.
The Idaho Supreme Court ruled the prisoner was not entitled to benefits. While a provision of the Idaho statute allows the payment of such benefits to "any person who has been convicted of a criminal offense" who "performs a public service for any department or institution," the court found that this claimant did not qualify. The court noted that "community service was not part of the sentence imposed" on the claimant for her conviction.
The work being done was maintenance work at the facility at which she was incarcerated, and was the sort "typically required of prisoners." The "public service aspect of community service envisioned by the legislature is other than the benefit derived by the institution from having inmates engage in productive activities directed toward maintaining the prison facility." Crawford v. Dept. of Correction, 991 P.2d 358 (Idaho 1999). [Cross-references: Workers' Compensation].
INDEX OF CASES CITED
Page numbers in [brackets] refer to the print edition.
Beerheide v. Suthers,
82 F. Supp. 2d 1190 (D. Colo. 2000).[75-76]
Blair v. State, Ariz., Maricopa County Super. Ct., No. CV 98-14890,
May 24, 1999, reported in 43 ATLA Law Rptr. 19 (Feb. 2000).[69-70]
Brown v. Toombs, #97-1333, 139 F.3d 1102 (6th Cir. 1998), cert. denied, 119 S. Ct. 88 (1999).
Crawford v. Dept. of Correction, 991 P.2d 358 (Idaho 1999).
D'Andrea v. Hulton, 81 F. Supp. 2d 440 (W.D.N.Y. 1999).Echevarria v. Dept. of Correctional Services of NYC, 48 F. Supp. 2d 388 (S.D.N.Y. 1999).[72-73]
Farmer v. Hawk-Sawyer, 69 F. Supp. 2d 120 (D.D.C. 1999).[77-78]
Gaston v. Coughlin, 81 F. Supp. 2d 381 (N.D.N.Y. 1999).
Greg v. Goord, 169 F.3d 165 (2nd Cir. 1999).
Jutzi-Johnson v. U.S., No. 96-C-5708, U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Ill. March 29, 2000,
reported in The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, p. 1 (March 30, 2000).[73-74]
Page v. Torrey, No. 98-56526, 98-56591, 201 F.3d 1136 (9th Cir. 2000).
Perez v. Wisconsin Dep't of Corrections, #98-4012, 182 F.3d 532 (7th Cir. 1999).
Ralk v. Lincoln County, Georgia, 81 F. Supp. 2d 1372 (S.D. Ga. 2000).[68-69]
Rowe v. Shake, No. 98-4207, 196 F.3d 778 (7th Cir. 1999).[67-68]
Skurstenis v. Jones, 81 F. Supp. 2d 1228 (N.D. Ala. 1999).[76-77]
Snell v. DeMello, 44 F. Supp. 2d 386 (D. Mass. 1999).
Thornton v. City of Montgomery, 78 F. Supp. 2d 1218 (M.D. Ala. 1999).[74-75]
Wright v. Hollingsworth, No. 99-40063, 201 F.3d 663 (5th Cir. 2000).
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