A civil liability law publication for officers, jails, detention centers and prisons

ISSN 0739-0998 – Cite this issue as: 2018 JB November


  • Digest Topics
    • False Imprisonment
    • First Amendment
    • Inmate Property
    • Medical Care
    • Prison Litigation Reform Act: Exhaustion of Remedies
    • Prison Litigation Reform Act: “Three Strikes” Rule
    • Prisoner Assault: By Inmate
    • Privacy
    • Religion
    • Sexual Assault
  • Resources
  • Cross References


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False Imprisonment

       A man arrested for possessing unlawful drugs was held in jail for months pending trial before all charges were dropped after the prosecutor concluded that the pills he had been carrying were legal. He sued almost two years later. A federal appeals court concluded that the lawsuit was timely within a two-year statute of limitations, as his claim accrued when he was released from custody, which was later than when the charges were dropped. The court noted that when a wrong is ongoing rather than discrete, the limitations period does not begin until the wrong ends. Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution was the wrong characterization of the plaintiff’s case; the issue was wrongful custody. A claim cannot accrue until the would-be plaintiff is entitled to sue, yet the existence of detention forbids a suit for damages contesting that detention’s validity. The plaintiff was entitled to seek damages on the ground that detention without probable cause violates the Fourth Amendment.Manuel v. City of Joliet, #14-1581, 2018 U.S. App. Lexis 25584 (7th Cir.).

First Amendment

      Reporters sought in-person recorded interviews with prisoners who participated in the 11-day 1993 Lucasville Prison Riot at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility which resulted in the murder of one guard and nine prisoners, as well as tens of millions of dollars in damages. Four prisoners were sentenced to death for their involvement in the riot and are classified as restricted population inmates, who “pose a direct threat to the safety of persons, including themselves, or an elevated, clear[,] and ongoing threat to the safe and secure operations of the facility.” The prison denied permission for the interviews and a lawsuit by both prisoners and journalists claimed that the denials isolated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. A federal appeals court rejected these claims, finding that the prison regulation involved was reasonably related to legitimate penological interests and therefore constitutional. There was a rational connection between a policy prohibiting face-to-face interviews with the riot participants and the legitimate, neutral penological interest of prison security. Hanrahan v. Mohr, #17-4316, 2018 U.S. App. Lexis 27453 (6th Cir.).

Inmate Property

      A prisoner appealed the denial of his federal post-conviction motion for the return of seized property that he claimed went missing from the physical custody of state officials while federal charges were pending against him. The property, seized from him by state employees at the time of his arrest included a fake mustache; a black wig; numerous items of clothing; a bank robbery demand note; multiple wallets, knives, lighters, bags, and keys; the title to a vehicle; and a small container with a crystalline substance within it that tested positive for methamphetamine. Federal officials had requested that state officials hold the seized property for possible use as evidence in a federal prosecution for bank robbery.

After he pled guilty to state charges, some of the property, including a wallet, the keys, and the van title, were released to his ex-wife, and some other items were released to him after his time for appeal expired, but he claimed that other items were not returned. His motion in federal court was denied because he had other adequate legal remedies, including a state cause of action and a pending federal civil rights lawsuit. And because the court in the federal criminal case lacked subject matter jurisdiction to grant money damages for any missing property. United States v. Bacon, #16-4106, 2018 U.S. App. Lexis 23293 (10th Cir.).

Medical Care

****Editor’s Case Alert****

      After a prisoner was stabbed by a fellow inmate and then died at a hospital, his estate filed a civil rights lawsuit claiming that the warden violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by illegally interfering with the prisoner’s end-of-life medical care with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. The defendant was not entitled to qualified immunity, as his alleged actions, including the entry of a do not resuscitate order and the decision to remove the prisoner from artificial life support, did not fall within the scope of his discretionary authority. Alabama law established that defendant’s discretionary authority did not extend to such actions and therefore he was not entitled to qualified immunity. The Estate of Cummings v. Davenport, #17-13999, 2018 U.S. App. Lexis 27909 (11th Cir.).

Prison Litigation Reform Act: Exhaustion of Remedies

A prisoner was assaulted by his cellmate and filed informal and formal “assault requests” that were denied. He was subsequently transferred to another cell. A counselor had allegedly warned him that unless he stopped filing requests she would place him with a new cellmate known for assaulting other prisoners. An officer allegedly told him that he was being moved because he “didn’t listen.” His new cellmate allegedly threatened to kill him. He subsequently claimed to have suffered cuts, bruises, and emotional distress during altercations with his new cellmate.

      Because he feared further retaliation, he did not file a grievance at his facility, but rather with a Regional Director, who rejected it and directed him to file it at his facility, noting that there was “no record of you being assaulted by your previous or current cellmate. . . your appeal is denied.” His further appeal to the General Counsel was denied on the merits. A federal appeals court vacated, in part, the dismissal of his claims. The court found that his Assault Request was denied at the highest level on the merits and was properly exhausted under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a). His Retaliation Request satisfied the objective test for unavailability. Accepting his allegations as true, “a reasonable inmate of ordinary firmness and fortitude” would be “deter[red] . . . from lodging a grievance.” A Federal Tort Claims Act claim, however, was properly dismissed as concerning discretionary functions. Rinaldi v. U.S., #16-1080, 2018 U.S. App. Lexis 25805 (3rd Cir.).

Prison Litigation Reform Act: “Three Strikes” Rule

       A federal prisoner filed a lawsuit alleging that prison officials had injured him by placing him in restraints, and successfully moved to proceed as a pauper under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which waives fees if the prisoner demonstrates that he cannot afford the fees. Under 28 U.S.C. 1915(g), the “three strikes rule,” a prisoner cannot proceed as a pauper if he has on three or more prior occasions, brought an action that was dismissed as frivolous, malicious, or failing to state a claim. He later filed another complaint, alleging that prison employees were deliberately indifferent to his serious mental health issues. He again sought to proceed as a pauper and subsequently filed an explanation that he had been informed that he had three strikes and would invoke section 1915(g)’s “imminent danger” exception.

     The trial court denied his motion for pauper status in the second lawsuit, in concluding that he did not qualify for the exception, and vacated its decision on pauper status in the first lawsuit. The prisoner then filed a third federal civil rights action, claiming that a prison physician assistant denied him treatment for burns after he spilled hot water on himself. The court again held he did not meet the exception and dismissed the case. In consolidated appeals, a federal appeals court reversed, concluding that it must use its own precedent to evaluate whether prior cases are strikes, rather than that of the Circuit from which the potential strikes emanated. The prisoner’s third “strike” did not qualify because the case was closed for failure to state a claim without having actually been filed in the trial court. Brown v. Sage, #17-1222, 2018 U.S. App. Lexis 25419 (3rd Cir.).

Prisoner Assault: By Inmate

       Given an inmate’s own inability to anticipate a surprise attack by another prisoner which injured him, and his decision not to report his altercation with that prisoner the previous afternoon, his claim that prison employees failed to protect him from a specific threat posed by the other prisoner failed. Even assuming that the plaintiff satisfied the objective component of his failure-to-protect claim, the record was devoid of evidence suggesting that any of defendants were subjectively aware of, or deliberately indifferent to, a substantial risk of harm to inmate safety. Patterson v. Kelley, #16-3891, 2918 U.S. App. Lexis 25131 (8th Cir.).


     A detainee claimed that two jail officials in Coffey County, Kansas, violated his constitutional rights by disclosing medical information about him that they had properly obtained. He was set to be extradited from Illinois to Kansas, and the Kansas jail requested that Illinois arrange for multiple medical examinations of him to determine whether he had suffered injuries after being tasered by U.S. Marshals. The Kansas official learned that the plaintiff had bone lesions and possibly cancer. This information was conveyed to the Coffey County Sheriff, who conveyed it to Coffey County Hospital, and then to the plaintiff’s family and friends, without first obtaining his permission. A federal appeals court ruled that the defendant officials were entitled to qualified immunity, as their actions did not violate any clearly established law, and dismissed the case. Leiser v. Moore, #17-3206, 2018 U.S. App. Lexis 25284 (10th Cir.). 


After state correctional officials banned incarcerated adherents of the Nation of Gods and Earths (also known as the Five-Percent Nation) from congregating together as their religion requires, a prisoner filed a lawsuit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). A federal appeals court vacated the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants, ruling that the state failed to make any argument that its ban on Nation assembly did not substantially burden plaintiff’s exercise of his sincere religious beliefs. The court also held that there were genuine disputes of material fact as to whether the state’s ban advanced a compelling interest through the least restrictive means.  Tucker v. Collier, #15-1643, 2018 U.S. App. Lexis 28028 (5th Cir.).

 Sexual Assault

****Editor’s Case Alert****

      A male jail corrections officer was told that a county’s zero-tolerance policy forbid him to have any sexual contact with inmates. The county repeatedly instructed him not to engage in any such contact and trained him to avoid it. He gave answers to quizzes indicating he understood the training. He nonetheless raped a woman in jail. She sued him and sued the county for indemnification under a Wisconsin state statute. A jury awarded her $6,700,000 against the county, finding that the assaults were in the scope of employment.

     A federal appeals court reversed. Even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and the verdict, the court ruled that no reasonable jury could find the sexual assaults were in the scope of the officer’s employment; that the sexual assaults were natural, connected, ordinary parts or incidents of contemplated services; that the assaults were of the same or similar kind of conduct that the officer was employed to perform; or that the assaults were actuated even to a slight degree by a purpose to serve the county. No reasonable jury could even regard the sexual assaults as improper methods of carrying out employment objectives. The plaintiff presented no evidence that the officer’s training was deficient or that he did not understand it.  Martin v. Milwaukee County, #18-1060, 2018 U.S. App. Lexis 26124 (7th Cir.).


     Federal Prison Policies: Adjusted Release Notification Procedures, Program Statement #004-2018, Federal Bureau of Prisons (Sept. 21, 2018).

     Federal Prison Policies: Staff Personal Weapons Storage, Program Statement #5575.01, Federal Bureau of Prisons (Sept. 5, 2018).