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(Published as VOLUME 2001 NUMBER 290)
Medical Care: Mental Health
Prisoner Assault: By Inmate
INDEX OF CASES CITED
Federal trial judge rules that attorneys' fees limits of Prison Litigation Reform Act violate equal protection; plaintiff who was awarded $40,000 in damages for inadequate medical care is awarded $88,578.81 in attorneys' fees and costs.
A Wisconsin prisoner was awarded $10,000 in compensatory damages and $30,000 in punitive damages on his claim that prison officials had denied him adequate medical care for his liver disease in violation of the Eighth Amendment by not allowing him to be evaluated for a liver transplant and by failing to authorize that his name be added to the transplant list.
The plaintiff then asked for $101,776.01 for attorneys' fees ($92,997.20) and costs ($8,778.81) as a prevailing plaintiff under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. The amounts asked for exceeded the limits on attorney fees in the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1997e(d), but the plaintiff claimed that these limits violated his right to equal protection of the law because it treats prisoners and non-prisoners differently "without furthering any legitimate government interest."
Specifically, he challenged the constitutionality of the limit on attorney fee awards to $150% of the judgment and the limit on a lawyer's hourly rate to 150% of the rate allowed for court appointed counsel in criminal cases. Application of the limits in question would lower the requested amounts to $45,2301.31 in attorneys' fees and $8,778.81 in costs.
The federal trial court agreed with the prisoner's equal protection argument. It found that there was no rational relationship between the restrictions on attorneys' fees awards to prisoners and the government's interest in reducing frivolous prisoner lawsuits. The only prisoners affected by the limits, the court reasoned, would be those filing meritorious complaints for whom appointed lawyers were unavailable due to the fee cap. Lawyers also would have no incentive to represent prisoners in frivolous cases, whether or not the fee cap applied, since frivolous cases would lead to no recovery, and attorney's fees at all.
The court ruled that an attorneys' fee award of $80,000, 200% of the judgment awarded, would be proportionately related to the relief ordered as required under other provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Yet another provision of the Act requires that a portion of the judgment be applied towards the payment of attorneys' fees, and the court found that a $200 assessment against the judgment would be appropriate in this case. The court therefore awarded $88,578.81 in attorneys' fees and costs. Johnson v. Daley, 117 F. Supp. 2d 889 (W.D. Wis. 2000). [Cross-reference: Prison Litigation Reform Act; Attorney Fees].
Federal Bureau of Prisons agrees to pay $120 million in overtime claims to officers who did not receive compensation for time spent before and after their shifts getting and returning equipment.
The federal Bureau of Prisons agreed to pay $120,353,105 on overtime claims made by AFGE prison union locals. The claims were based on the previously uncompensated 15 minute or more time period officers spent each workday getting or returning equipment. The claims were asserted on behalf of approximately 34,000 workers employed between 1989 and 1996, with payments to individuals ranging from $365 to $8,040 each, depending on the length of service. AFGE and Dept. of Justice, 38 (1879) G.E.R.R. (BNA) 1065 (Aug. 2000).
$50,000 jury verdict in favor of corrections officer who claimed racial discrimination in placement on administrative leave is overturned because of exclusion from evidence of polygraph test taken by prisoner who accused officer of sexual misconduct.
A Washington state correctional officer was placed on administrative leave after a female prisoner accused him of having a sexual relationship with her. He denied the accusations and returned to work three weeks later, and his previous provisional promotion to sergeant was made permanent. The officer, who is Native American/Hispanic, claimed, in a lawsuit against his employer, that racial discrimination was behind his placement on administrative leave, arguing that the department did not put two white male officers on leave when they were the subjects of similar investigations.
At trial, the court excluded evidence that the female prisoner had taken and passed a polygraph test concerning her sexual relations with the plaintiff officer. A jury awarded the officer $50,000 in damages and the trial court later also awarded attorneys' fees and costs of $22,001.
An intermediate Washington state appeals court has reversed for a new trial, ruling that the polygraph test results were "relevant and admissible" evidence which was "critical to rebut" the officer's assertion that the prisoner's accusations were "untrustworthy," as well as showing the department's "state of mind." The jury could find that the prisoner passing the polygraph "was a key factor in DOC's non-racially motived decision" to place the officer on leave with pay, while the investigation was pending. Subia v. Dept. of Corrections, No. 24627-9-II, 15 P.3d 658 (Wash. App. 2001).
Federal court imposes $250 fine against prisoner for filing frivolous lawsuit complaining that adult magazine's pictorial on Paula Jones was "insufficiently revealing"; judge writes a poem to express the reasons for lawsuit's dismissal.
An inmate in a Texas prisoner, the self identified "Minister of Law of the Mandingo Warriors" prison gang, was enthused when he read a promotional ad concerning plans by Penthouse magazine to publish nude photographs of Paula Jones, previously the plaintiff in a sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton. But he was disappointed when he received the December issue of the magazine, believing that it was not "sufficiently revealing," and that the advertising for it had been "false and deceptive."
He was upset enough that he wrote out a three page complaint that he filed in federal court, suing the magazine's publisher, as well as Paula Jones, claiming that they had caused him to be "very mentally hurt and angered." The way the prisoner figured it, he was owed $500,000 in damages.
A federal judge saw it differently, dismissing the lawsuit as frivolous, and sanctioning the prisoner by imposing a $250 fine for wasting everyone's time. The judge also imposed some poetic justice, presenting the following 12-line poem as the judicial opinion:
" 'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the prison
Inmates were planning their new porno mission.
While the December issue of Penthouse was hitting the stands,
the Minister of the Mandingo Warriors was warming his hands,
For you see, the publishers had promised a pleasurable view
of the woman who sued the President, too.
The minute his Penthouse issue arrived,
The Minister ripped it open to see what was inside.
But what to his wondering eyes should appear --
Not Paula Jones' promised privates, but only her rear.
Life has its disappointments. Some come out of the blue
but that doesn't mean a prisoner should sue."
Joyner v. Guccione, U.S. Dist. Ct. (W.D. Tex. Dec. 20, 2000), reported in The National Law Journal, p. A6 (Jan. 8, 2001).
Correctional officials had a duty to provide continuing medical services for a prisoner being paroled, at least until the prisoner would be able to arrange for treatment on his own; allegation that he was wrongfully paroled without provision for such services when treating physician recommended follow-up surgery stated a claim for violation of constitutional rights.
A New York prisoner claimed that he was denied timely and adequate treatment for a kidney stone while incarcerated, and then wrongfully paroled while he was awaiting surgery and "denied contact with his doctor while out on parole" by his parole officer. The prisoner had surgery to remove a kidney stone shortly before his release and was told by his treating doctor that follow up surgery was needed in several weeks to remove a metal stent from his kidney.
Rejecting the defendants' motion to dismiss, a federal court found that the state had a duty to continue to provide medical services for a parolee, who was in the midst of receiving continuing treatment at the time of his release, for a period of time which was reasonably necessary for him to be able to obtain treatment on his own. The court found that the plaintiff's assertions, that the defendants "in deliberate indifference to his treating physician's instructions that follow up surgery be performed within several weeks, released him from the prison without arranging for such surgery to be performed" stated a claim for violation of his constitutional rights. Lugo v. Senkowski, 114 F. Supp. 2d 111 (N.D.N.Y. 2000).
MEDICAL CARE: MENTAL HEALTH
Mentally ill prisoners in New York City jails are entitled, under state law, to help in obtaining continuing treatment on their discharge; trial court issues preliminary injunction requiring discharge planning for such prisoners.
A New York state trial judge has ruled that a city had a duty to help mentally ill prisoners in its jails obtain continuing treatment when they are released. The court certified prisoners receiving treatment for mental illness in city jails as a class for purposes of a class action lawsuit and granted their request for a preliminary injunction requiring that jail officials engage in "discharge planning" for the prisoners.
The court found that the state's Mental Hygiene Law created an implied private right of action to sue to protect the mental health of mentally ill inmates. The court further found that the prisoners showed the potential for irreparable harm in the absence of discharge planning, since there was evidence showing that the lack of such planning could result in deterioration of their condition and harm to themselves or to others through substance abuse, mental and physical health deterioration, homelessness, indigence, crime, re-arrest and re-incarceration.
The evidence in the case showed that each year approximately 25,000 prisoners receive mental health care while incarcerated in New York City jails, including the prescription of psychotropic medications and inpatient and outpatient individual and group therapy. But upon their release, they were generally "not provided any mental health services, government benefits assistance, housing referrals, or other services." Rather, they were merely taken by bus to a subway station "between 2:00 and 6:00 AM and given $1.50 plus two subway tokens or a two fare" transit card. The discharge planning ordered by the court could include such things as giving prisoners a supply of medication as they leave, helping them obtain housing, or arranging Medicaid or other coverage for continued medical treatment. Brad v. City of New York, 712 N.Y.S.2d (Sup. 2000).
PRISONER ASSAULT: BY INMATE
Warden was entitled to qualified immunity from liability for prisoner's murder of another inmate some 16 months after he wrote a note threatening to commit "mass murder" in the prison; warden only released prisoner from segregation into the general population after an investigation concluded that the threats were not serious.
A Minnesota prisoner, serving several consecutive life sentences for murdering four people, was disciplined for a number of infractions, and was placed in segregation for threatening to throw hot water on correctional officers. While in segregation, he sent a note to the warden describing himself as "homicidal" and threatening to commit mass murder "minimum of 3 bodies, I'd go for 10 & come real close."
The prisoner later faced a charge of "threatening others" for this note, but the charges were withdrawn because of "undue delay" in bringing them, and he was released to the general prison population, and assigned to work in the prison kitchen. He subsequently murdered a co-worker in the kitchen with a stolen plumber's pipe. He admitted the killing, saying that he had no reason to kill this particular prisoner other than the fact that he was "the nearest available victim." The killing took place some 16 months after the "mass murder" threat.
The heirs of the murdered prisoner sued the warden and other prison officials, claiming that they violated his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to protect him from the fatal assault. A federal appeals court upheld qualified immunity for the defendant warden.
The court noted that the warden, far from responding to the "mass murder" threat with deliberate indifference, immediately responded by ordering an investigation, which included a psychological evaluation. He only released him from segregation after investigators concluded that the threat was not meant seriously but rather was a "cry for help" by a "manipulative, but nonviolent, inmate." By then, the prisoner had "recanted his threats." Further, the murder took place sixteen months after the threat.
Finally, the prisoner's decision to murder a fellow inmate came "without warning," and his selection of the plaintiff's decedent as a victim was a "tragic fortuity," since there was no evidence that the prisoner "harbored any animosity" toward him. Curry v. Crist, No. 99-4184, 226 F.3d 974 (8th Cir. 2000).
County policies were adequate to bar liability for prisoner's successful suicide; appeals court points to training program and American Correctional Association accreditation of jail.
A prisoner serving a thirty-day sentence for DUI in a county jail tried to commit suicide by cutting his wrist with a sharp object. He was placed on suicide watch, but then removed from it on two occasions by a correctional officer. A deputy subsequently found that the prisoner had hanged himself in his cell and died.
The deceased prisoner's estate sued the county and several county officials claiming that his constitutional rights were violated by failure to maintain adequate suicide prevention policies at the jail and failure to adequately train its employees in suicide prevention. The estate also sued the officer who removed the prisoner from suicide watch and the deputy who discovered the body.
A federal appeals court upheld summary judgment in favor of the county and its officials. It found it "undisputed" that correctional officers were required to complete training courses which included suicide prevention. Further, at the time of the suicide, the county jail was accredited by the American Correctional Association, "which requires jails to have a suicide intervention policy," and the county had just recently held a training session at the jail regarding suicide prevention.
County policies required the screening of new inmates for possible suicide indicators and the placement of suicidal inmates on suicide watch, with monitoring of them every thirty minutes. Only a supervisor could remove an inmate from suicide watch and before doing so, an interview and various other steps were required. The county's policy, therefore, did not show deliberate indifference to the rights of others, but rather was "reasonable and comprised an effort to prevent suicides."
The appeals court also found that the officer who removed the prisoner from suicide watch, as well as the deputy who discovered the prisoner's body, were both entitled to qualified immunity. While the decedent's estate complained that the officer should have consulted a mental health professional and completed a suicide prevention screening form before removing him from suicide watch, the officer testified that her routine practice for removing someone from suicide watch was that she would evaluate and interview the inmate and review the contact journal containing information on his eating, sleeping and social habits. This also did not show deliberate indifference to a known risk of suicide.
As for the deputy who discovered the body, she was shown to have followed her routine practice of checking the cells at regular intervals and had no reason to do so more frequently when the prisoner was no longer on suicide watch. Yellow Horse v. Pennington County, Nos. 99-2419, 99-2420, 225 F.3d 923 (8th Cir. 2000).
Sheriff and chief deputy were not entitled to qualified immunity in lawsuit over prisoner's successful suicide when they knew of her prior suicide attempt and of another prisoner's successful suicide in the same cell, which had a "blind spot" not viewable from a control room and several places from which a prisoner could tie a sheet to hang herself.
A woman was arrested for murdering her uncle, who she believed had sexually molested one of her sons years before. The arresting officers informed an investigator for the sheriff's department that the arrestee told them that, after shooting her uncle, she had tried to kill herself by placing a loaded gun in her mouth and pulling the trigger, but the gun had jammed. This information was conveyed to the sheriff and one of his deputies.
The arrestee was placed in a cell used to house inmates who are intoxicated, need to be isolated for safety reasons, or who are designated for placement on a suicide watch. The prisoner subsequently hung herself in the cell, using a sheet which she had been given.
A federal appeals court ruled that the sheriff and his senior deputy, both of whom knew of a prior suicide in the cell under similar circumstances, could possibly be found to have acted with deliberate indifference to the arrestee's known suicidal tendencies, and were therefore not entitled to qualified immunity. The cell was known to have a "significant blind spot" which could not be observed from the jail's control room, and had several "tie-off" points (bars and light fixtures from which a makeshift rope could be suspended).
The court also ruled, however, that a recently hired deputy sheriff, also a defendant in the case, was entitled to qualified immunity, since he "was essentially following orders" from his superiors which were "not facially outrageous." He could not be said to have the same knowledge as his superiors concerning the "obviously inadequate" nature of the cell in which the prisoner was being held, and did not make the decision to place her in it. It was the senior deputy on duty "with over twenty years of experience," who made that decision. The recently hired deputy also had nothing to do with the order which was interpreted as entitling the prisoner to a loose sheet. Jacobs v. West Feliciana Sheriff's Dept., No. 99-30185, 228 F.3d 388 (5th Cir. 2000).
Federal trial judge rules that employees of a private company hired to run a detention facility operated by a private company created by a city could not be sued for alleged violations of federal pre-trial detainee's right to religious freedom in seeking diet free from meat and meat products.
A federal pre-trial detainee asked that his religious preference for an "Ital" diet, free of meats or meat products, be honored. He was allegedly told that the facility would not accommodate his religious diet and that he would have to avoid the foods that he could not eat. He asserted that his religious beliefs also prohibited him from touching meats.
The detainee was being held in a detention facility operated by a private company. He sued the employees of the company for violation of his constitutional right to exercise his religion. Granting the defendants' motion to dismiss, a federal trial court found that the employees of the private corporation, which was hired to operate a detention facility owned by a public corporation created by a city could not be said to be acting under color of state law, as required for federal civil rights liability under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983.
The court rejected the argument that the private company was exercising powers that are "traditionally the exclusive prerogative of the State," noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has stated, in Richardson v. McKnight, 521 U.S. 399, 405 (1997) that "correctional facilities have never been exclusively public." Further, the court noted, the state did not delegate to the company its responsibility for housing state inmates, since the facility in question houses only federal pretrial detainees and was created "as a money making venture."
The court noted that the U.S. Supreme Court in Richardson "reserved the question of whether private prison guards are state actors for purposes of Sec. 1983," and "this court finds that the named defendants are not proper defendants under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983."
The court also found that the defendants could not be sued for violation of federal civil rights under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971) (allowing claims against federal agents for violations of constitutional rights), since they were hired to operate a detention facility owned by a public corporation created by a city, and were not affiliated in any way with the federal government.
The court also rejected the argument that the prisoner could assert a claim for violation of a regulation of the prison itself providing for the accommodation of religious dietary requests, "this court has previously held that no private cause of action is available to inmates for violations of prison regulations." Lawson v. Liburdi, 114 F. Supp. 2d 31 (D.R.I. 2000). [Cross-references: Diet; Religion].
Washington state Dept. of Corrections reaches $8.8 million settlements in lawsuits alleging failure to adequately supervise paroled rapist who then raped and killed one woman and slashed another woman's throat, leaving her for dead; correctional employees allegedly missed numerous required contacts with former prisoner.
The Washington state Department of Corrections has reached settlements totaling $8.8 million in lawsuits based on alleged failure to adequately supervise a released violent rapist. The former prisoner raped and killed a 52 year old woman when she was jogging near her home and then five days later attacked another woman at a rest stop in North Dakota, slashing her throat and leaving her for dead. She survived and her notes describing her attacker and his vehicle helped catch the assailant, who shot himself when he was surrounded. These events took place three years after his parole from his sentence for raping a friend's 86-year-old grandmother.
Lawsuits brought by the family of the deceased woman and by the surviving attack victim claimed that correctional employees supervising the parolee did not actually make 21 of 27 required contacts with him, and then failed to follow up. The lawsuits further asserted that there were a number of "warning signs" about his future criminal activity, including his arrest two years after his release for failure to register with police as a sex offender. He was released two days after that arrest.
Washington state does not have statutory sovereign immunity and under prior caselaw, see Taggart v. State, 822 P.2d 243 (Wash. 1992), the state is liable for negligence in the supervision of paroled felons. The settlement reached involves the payment of $4.4 million in both of the cases. Schultz, Underdahl v. State of Washington Dept. of Corrections, Nos. 99-2- 20537-5-KNT, 99-2-20542-1 (Super. Ct., King Co. Washington), reported in The New York Times, National Edition, p. A29 (Jan. 19, 2001).
Requirement that Muslim prisoner be clean shaven, and not allowing him even a 1/4 inch beard, was not a violation of his rights, despite allowance of 3/4 inch beards for inmates with medical conditions aggravated by shaving.
A Muslim prisoner in a Tennessee correctional facility asserted that a prison grooming policy requiring inmates to be clean-shaven violated his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion. He also pointed to the fact that the prison granted an exception for prisoners with medical conditions that are aggravated by shaving. They are allowed to wear beards not to exceed 3/4 inch in length. The prisoner argued that he should at least be allowed to wear an even shorter (1/4 inch) beard for religious reasons. A federal appeals court rejected this claim, finding that the policy of requiring prisoners to be clean-shaven is obviously "reasonably related to legitimate penological interests" concerning the need for quick identification of prisoners, "as when investigating escapes or intra-prison crimes," and the prevention of the hiding of contraband in beard hair. The appeals court found that "beards of any length can change one's appearance," and further that "beards and hairstyle are also used by inmates to signal gang affiliations."
The court noted that the number of inmates warranting a medical exemption to the grooming policy "is quite small, but the number of inmates likely to seek qualification for a religious exception would be much greater," and would "place prison administrators in the untenable position of trying to determine which asserted religious beliefs, and even which professed religions, are legitimate." Green v. Polunsky, No. 00-40156, 229 F.3d 486 (5th Cir. 2000).
EDITOR'S NOTE: Other federal appeals courts considering the issue of short beards have upheld prison grooming policies. See Hines v. South Darolina Dept. of Corrections, 148 F.3d 353 (4th Cir. 1998); Harris v. Chapman, 97 F.3d 499 (11th Cir. 1996); and Friedman v. Arizona, 912 F.2d 328 (9th Cir. 1990).
It should also be noted that the above decision, while dated Oct. 18, 2000, almost a month after the enactment of the new federal "Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act," Public Law 106-274 (Sep. 22, 2000), see Jail & Prisoner Law Bulletin No. 287, p. 173 (Nov. 2000), does not apply the legal test stated in that statute, requiring that an action that imposes a substantial burden on religious practices or beliefs must be justified as in furtherance of a "compelling governmental interest" and used the "least restrictive means" of furthering that interest.
There was probable cause for a warrant to search prisoner's jail cell based on his alleged statements to a cellmate regarding plans to take retaliatory reprisals against his inlaws; defendant officials were entitled to qualified immunity on alleged seizure and reading of a letter from prisoner to attorney.
A county detective received a complaint from a prisoner's inlaws, asserting that the prisoner was planning possible retaliatory reprisals against them. This information came to them from the prisoner's former cellmate, who told them that the prisoner had stated that he planned to "make trouble" for the family upon his release from the county jail and that the prisoner kept notes on the family in his cell. The prisoner's wife had previously obtained a protection from abuse order against the prisoner. Following an investigation, a search warrant was obtained for a search of the prisoner's cell.
A search of the cell was conducted and various documents were seized and reviewed. They were later returned to the prisoner after a determination was made that they did not contain any statements that constituted the crime of terrorizing. The prisoner filed a lawsuit asserting that the search and seizure of the documents from his cell violated his rights under the Fourth and Sixth Amendments. The trial court rejected these claims, finding that there had been probable cause for the issuance of the warrant, eliminating any Fourth Amendment claim.
The court found that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity for the alleged seizure and alleged reading of a letter the prisoner had drafted for his attorney, since the law was not clearly established on the subject of whether legal mail or material kept in a prisoner's cell was entitled to Sixth Amendment protection. Barstow v. Kennebec County Jail, 115 F. Supp. 2d 3 (D. Me. 2000). [Cross-reference: Access to Courts/Legal Info; Mail].
Female detainee compelled to strip and dance for male and female inmates and guards was properly awarded $350,000 in compensatory damages; District of Columbia, as a municipality, could not, however, be held liable for $5 million in punitive damages.
A woman was arrested in the District of Columbia on drug charges and incarcerated in one of its correctional facilities awaiting trial. During the ten months she spent there, she asserted, in her federal civil rights lawsuit, that she was subjected to a constant barrage of harassment, ranging from being called a "whore," "white bitch," and "cracker" by guards and inmates alike to being pressured to grant sexual favors.
She was physically assaulted by two inmates after having been threatened in the presence of several guards. The jail librarian allegedly refused to give her any assistance after she rebuffed his sexual advances, and a guard allegedly took her to the library on another occasion when a male inmate was waiting and proceeded to attempt a sexual assault on her. The prisoner observed a routine acceptance of sexual encounters between staff and inmates, including the setting aside of one empty cell specifically to be used for sex between prisoners and guards and for staff members to "sleep off drunkenness."
Despite more than fifteen official grievances the plaintiff filed, as well as letters she sent to the warden, deputy warden, and director of the department of corrections, there was no intervention in her situation. A female guard who supervised the evening shift then allegedly organized a series of evenings during which female inmates "stripped and danced provocatively to loud music," and at which some guards assaulted inmates who refused to dance. The plaintiff prisoner was allegedly compelled to strip to her underwear and dance in front of numerous prisoners and both male and female guards. During this incident, one inmate began rubbing baby oil all over her body and then began rubbing her own body against the plaintiff prisoner, laying on top of her she lost control of her legs and collapsed to the ground.
When she was allowed to return to her cell, she was approached that evening by both guards and inmates attempting to communicate sexual interest, including a guard who exposed herself to the prisoner. When she complained after this, she was placed in solitary.
An internal investigation ultimately concluded that she had been forced to dance against her will and that nude dancing had taken place on three earlier dates the same month. Fourteen guards were named in the report as aiding and abetting sexual misconduct "and/or assault," including the lead guard. The report blamed the incidents on, among other things, "poorly trained supervisors," and also concluded that officers had tried to cover up the incidents by providing false information.
A jury awarded the plaintiff $350,000 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages on claims of violations of federal civil rights, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
A federal appeals court upheld the award of compensatory damages. It noted that there had been prior litigation, Women Prisoners v. District of Columbia, 877 F. Supp. 634 (D.D.C. 1994), in which a pattern of rape and sexual assault--coupled with other forms of sexual harassment, inadequate or non-existent staff training, and retaliation against women who filed complaints--was found in the District of Columbia correctional system and was ruled to have risen to a "level of objective cruelty sufficient to violate the Eighth Amendment."
While the District issued a sexual harassment policy in response to the litigation, and some officers saw or received it, it was never posted and "there was no evidence that the training requirements were implemented" or that "any significant corrective intervention occurred."
The appeals court found that misconduct in this case was not "that of a few 'rogues,'" especially since the series of "bacchanalian nights" was "open and notorious," from which the jury could reasonably have concluded that "if such behavior were not known to prison policymakers, it was only because of their deliberate indifference to conditions at the jail."
The appeals court found, however, that the District of Columbia could not be held liable for punitive damages either under federal civil rights law or the law of the District of Columbia, and therefore overturned the $5 million award of punitive damages. Daskalea v. District of Columbia, #98-7207, 227 F.3d 433 (D.C. Cir. 2000).
Text: <www.ll.georgetown.edu:80/Fed-Ct/cadc.html>. [Cross-reference: Damages: Punitive].
Woman arrested for misdemeanor who was subjected to strip and body cavity searches without any reasonable suspicion that she possessed weapons or contraband was properly awarded $19,465 in compensatory damages, but city could not be held liable for the $5 million in punitive damages that the jury awarded.
A woman in New York arrested for aggravated harassment following a complaint by her neighbor was subjected to a strip and body cavity search by two female Corrections Department employees. After she spent the night in jail on the misdemeanor accusation, charges against her were dismissed. The searches were carried out under a policy mandating that all prisoners received by the city's Correction Department would be strip searched, even when there was no reasonable suspicion of possession of weapons or contraband.
She sued the city, alleging that the experience caused her to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, requiring therapy and the taking of antidepressant medication. The trial court concluded that the strip search was conducted pursuant to an official policy that was contrary to the long settled law of the jurisdiction. (In Weber v. Dell, 804 F.2d 796 (2nd Cir. 1986), the court ruled that the "Fourth Amendment precludes prison officials from performing strip/body cavity searches of arrestees charged with misdemeanors or other minor offenses unless the officials have a reasonable suspicion that the arrestee is concealing weapons or other contraband."
The trial court therefore instructed the jury that punitive damages could be awarded against the city if it found that the city had acted maliciously or wantonly. The jury awarded $19,645 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.
A federal appeals court overturned the punitive damage award, relying on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247 (1981), holding that ordinarily, municipalities are immune from punitive damages under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. The only narrow exception even hinted at in Newport, the court noted, was in a footnote which stated that municipalities might be held liable for punitive damages in cases where "the taxpayers are directly responsible for perpetrating an outrageous abuse of constitutional rights."
The appeals court pointed out that, despite the arguments of the plaintiff, the footnote did not create an "outrageous abuse" exception to the general municipal immunity to punitive damages, but only an exception for "outrageous abuses for which the taxpayers are directly responsible," such as "a referendum in which the taxpayers directly adopted the invalid policy." Further, the court was aware of no case in which an award of punitive damages has been upheld against a city on the basis of this exception. Ciraolo v. City of N.Y., #99-7550, 216 F.3d 236 (2nd Cir.), cert. denied, 121 S. Ct. 484 (2000).
Text: <www.tourolaw.edu/2ndCircuit>. [Cross-reference: Damages: Punitive].
EDITOR'S NOTE: On remand to the trial court, it also awarded the plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees and costs of $19,116.45, reflecting the costs and attorneys' fees incurred before the defendants made a pre-trial offer of judgment of $25,000 plus reasonable attorneys fees. This offer was made formally under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68. Because the plaintiff did not accept it, and was ultimately awarded a smaller amount of damages ($19,645) after appeal, their right to recover additional attorneys' fees and costs following that rejection were cut off. Further, the defendants were awarded $8,038.40 for necessary costs they incurred after the rejection of their offer. Ciraolo v. City of New York, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14940 (S.D.N.Y. 2000).
City was liable for strip search of female arrestee in custody for violation of municipal code provision prohibiting possession of an unlicensed dog, since there was no reasonable suspicion that she possessed weapons or other contraband.
A female arrestee in New York claimed that she was improperly strip-searched in a police station. Her arrest was for possessing an unlicensed dog, a violation of the municipal code. During her arrest, she was asked to remove all of her outer garments, and while her underwear were still on, she was asked to lift her bra and expose her breasts. She filed a federal civil rights lawsuit asserting that this violated her rights under the Fourth Amendment.
Ruling that the plaintiff was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of liability, an intermediate New York appellate court noted that "strip-searches of arrestees charged with misdemeanors or other minor offenses violate the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution unless there is a reasonable suspicion that the arrestee is concealing weapons or contraband based on the crime charged, and the circumstances of the arrest." In this case, the search was made "pursuant to an official policy that provided for the strip-search of all arrestees detained in a cell." The record indicated that neither the arresting officer nor the matron who conducted the search suspected that the plaintiff possessed any weapons or other contraband, so that the search was "unreasonable and in violation of the plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights." Huck v. City of Newburgh, 712 N.Y.S.2d 149 (A.D. 2000).
INDEX OF CASES CITED
Page numbers in [brackets] refer to the print edition.
AFGE and Dept. of Justice,
38 (1879) G.E.R.R. (BNA) 1065 (Aug. 2000).[19-20]
Barstow v. Kennebec County Jail, 115 F. Supp. 2d 3 (D. Me. 2000).[27-28]
Brad v. City of New York, 712 N.Y.S.2d (Sup. 2000).
Ciraolo v. City of N.Y., #99-7550, 216 F.3d 236 (2nd Cir.), cert. denied, 121 S. Ct. 484 (2000).[29-30]
Ciraolo v. City of New York, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14940 (S.D.N.Y. 2000).
Curry v. Crist, No. 99-4184, 226 F.3d 974 (8th Cir. 2000).[22-23]
Daskalea v. District of Columbia, #98-7207, 227 F.3d 433 (D.C. Cir. 2000).[28-29]
Green v. Polunsky, No. 00-40156, 229 F.3d 486 (5th Cir. 2000).[26-27]
Huck v. City of Newburgh, 712 N.Y.S.2d 149 (A.D. 2000).[30-31]
Jacobs v. West Feliciana Sheriff's Dept., No. 99-30185, 228 F.3d 388 (5th Cir. 2000).[24-25]
Johnson v. Daley, 117 F. Supp. 2d 889 (W.D. Wis. 2000).
Joyner v. Guccione, U.S. Dist. Ct. (W.D. Tex. Dec. 20, 2000), reported in
The National Law Journal, p. A6 (Jan. 8, 2001).[20-21]
Lawson v. Liburdi, 114 F. Supp. 2d 31 (D.R.I. 2000).[25-26]
Lugo v. Senkowski, 114 F. Supp. 2d 111 (N.D.N.Y. 2000).
Schultz, Underdahl v. State of Washington Dept. of Corrections, Nos. 99-2-20537-5-KNT, 99-2-20542-1 (Super. Ct., King Co. Washington),
reported in The New York Times, National Edition, p. A29 (Jan. 19, 2001).
Subia v. Dept. of Corrections, No. 24627-9-II, 15 P.3d 658 (Wash. App. 2001).
Yellow Horse v. Pennington County, Nos. 99-2419, 99-2420, 225 F.3d 923 (8th Cir. 2000).[23-24]
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