A civil liability law publication for officers, jails, detention centers and prisons
ISSN 0739-0998 – Cite this issue as: 2017 JB March
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Medical Care (2 cases)
Prisoner Assault: By Officer (2 cases)
MONTHLY CASE DIGEST
Some of the case digests do not have a link to the full opinion.
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Each of the plaintiff inmates was sentenced to death in Pennsylvania and housed on the death row of a state prison in solitary confinement. Each of their death sentences was vacated, but several years went by before they were resentenced to life without parole. They sued seeking damages for the time spent in solitary confinement on death row after their death sentences were vacated, claiming that this continued solitary confinement without meaningful review violated Fourteenth Amendment due process. A federal appeals court upheld summary judgment for the defendants. While the court found that there was a constitutionally protected liberty interest that prohibits the state from continuing to house inmates in solitary confinement on death row after they have been granted resentencing hearings, without meaningful review of the continuing placement, that principle was not previously clearly established, so prison officials were entitled to qualified immunity. Williams v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, #14-1469, 2017 U.S. App. Lexis 2327 (3rd Cir.).
An Illinois inmate suffered an asthma attack in his segregation unit cell, which had no emergency call button. A number of hours later, his cellmate alerted guards by banging on the door, and the inmate was taken to a prison medical unit operated by a private company. Wheezing and having difficulty breathing, he was given medications and started on oxygen by a nurse, who then called a doctor, who was on-call for several prisons. He slept through the call, but later returned the call, prescribing medications, and then ordering the inmate sent to a hospital via ambulance when his difficulties continued. At the emergency room, more medications were administered for two hours before a breathing tube was inserted. Then the inmate died. A federal appeals court upheld a jury verdict in favor of the warden, the private healthcare company, and the guards. Evidence in the case didn’t support a reasonable inference that the warden consciously disregarded a substantial risk of harm to the inmate by failing to install emergency call buttons or to fill the vacant position of permanent medical director in a timely manner, or that a company policy caused the death. Chatham v. Davis, #14-3318, 839 F.3d 679 (7th Cir. 2016). .
Upon arrival at a new unit at a prison, an inmate told a guard that he had a brain tumor and was entitled to a lower bunk. The guard stated that he had to just follow his upper bunk assignment. The inmate subsequently fell out of the bunk, was examined in a hospital emergency room, and returned to the prison, where his upper bunk assignment continued. The prisoner failed to follow the procedure for requesting a new bunk assignment, but continued to complain to the guard. He then broke his back when he again fell out of his bunk. After surgery, he was again temporarily returned to the upper bunk. He sued the guard he complained to and the warden, but not the guard responsible for making bunk assignments or medical personnel responsible for determining which prisoners had a medical need for a lower bunk. A federal appeals court upheld summary judgment for the defendants. Inaction after receiving an inmate’s complaint about someone else’s alleged misconduct was insufficient to impose liability. Estate of Miller v. Marberry, #15-1497, 2017 U.S. App. Lexis 1655 (7th Cir.).
Prisoner Assault: By Officer
****Editor’s Case Alert****
A federal appeals court reinstated a prisoner’s claim that he was beaten by prison officers while he was restrained in handcuffs and legs irons. There was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the officers’ use of force resulted in the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain or suffering. The court upheld the dismissal of a claim against one officer for failure to intervene, however, as the prisoner had failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies on that claim as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Manley v. Rowley, #15-15320, 2017 U.S. App. Lexis 1590 (9th Cir.).
A prisoner claimed that two correctional officers used excessive force when they administered pepper spray to gain his compliance with an order to submit to wrist restraints. Upholding summary judgment for the officers, a federal appeals court found that the evidence did not clearly refute the trial court’s finding that one officer did not intentionally apply pepper spray to the plaintiff’s genitals or that the decision to use pepper spray in general was not a pretext to punish the prisoner but instead a direct response to his refusal to comply with orders. Ward v. Smith, #15-2583, 844 F.3d 717 (8th Cir. 2016).
A prisoner claimed that the defendant prison employees falsely classified him as a gang member in retaliation for him filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against their co-workers. California courts rejected his claim for habeas relief, finding sufficient evidence to support the gang classification. A federal appeals court ruled that this determination by the California courts precluded the prisoner’s subsequent federal civil rights lawsuit asserting claims for violation of his First Amendment retaliation and equal protection rights based on the same classification. The appeals court held that the same primary right—the prisoner’s right to be free from unlawful gang validation and placement in segregated housing —was at issue in both suits. Because the suit involved the same cause of action between the same parties after a final judgment on the merits of the first suit, the subsequent suit was barred. Furnace v. Giurbino, #13-17620, 838 F.3d 1019 (9th Cir. 2016).
A Minnesota prisoner sued the Department of Corrections and various individual correctional employees after he injured himself while using industrial equipment during a work assignment. The trial court dismissed claims for violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments and for negligence under state law. A federal appeals court upheld qualified immunity for individual prison employees on the Eighth Amendment claim. Even if the court were to assume that the prisoner’s assignment to operate the beam saw with no safety guards and no formal training presented an objective risk of serious harm, he had not alleged facts sufficient to show that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to that risk simply because of an absence of safety equipment or procedures and an awareness of similar injuries. Their actions were, at worst, negligence, insufficient for Eighth Amendment liability. Kulkay v. Roy, #16-1801, 2017 U.S. App. Lexis 1845 (8th Cir.).
An Arizona former pre-trial detainee (and current convicted prisoner) claimed that a county facility’s alleged policy allowing female guards to daily observe male detainees showering and using the bathroom from four to five feet away violated their constitutional rights to bodily privacy. The trial court dismissed the complaint during screening, finding the claim precluded by prior precedent. The federal appeals court disagreed, reinstating the lawsuit. The plaintiff’s status a pre-trial detainee at the time of the incidents at issue was enough to distinguish his allegations from a precedent concerning convicted prisoners; even if he was now a convicted prisoner. It might be that the prison’s up close and personal policy of female guards observing male pretrial detainees was necessary to ensure security and provide equal work opportunities in the prison, but that was yet to be decided. Byrd v. Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. #15-16282, 845 F.3d 919 (9th Cir. 2017).
A prisoner placed in solitary confinement for twenty-two years under administrative segregation claimed that this violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights to procedural and substantive due process. A federal appeals court ruled that the record presented triable issues of fact regarding the inmate’s Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process claim, as there were factual questions about whether his periodic state-mandated reviews of his administrative segregation had been meaningful. The trial court also acted erroneously by acting on its own to grant summary judgment on the plaintiff’s substantive due process claim. Proctor v. LeClaire, #15-3673, 2017 U.S. App. Lexis 1201 (2nd Cir.).
Overturning a trial court order, a federal appeals court found that Minnesota’s sex offender civil commitment statute and the regulations and procedures used to enforce it were rationally related to the state’s legitimate interest of protecting the public from sexually dangerous persons or persons who have a sexual psychopathic personality, and thus the statute was facially constitutional; and the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that any of the identified actions of the state defendants or arguable shortcomings in the statute or its enforcement were egregious, malicious, or sadistic as is necessary to meet the conscience-shocking standard, and thus plaintiffs’ as-applied due process violation claims failed. Karsjens v. Johnson Piper, #15-3485, 845 F.3d 394 (8th Cir. 2017).
Federal Prison Policies: Escapes/Deaths Notifications Program Statement 5553.08, Federal Bureau of Prisons (Jan. 4, 2017).
Federal Prison Policies: Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) Aerosol Spray Program Statement 5576.04 Federal Bureau of Prisons (Feb. 6, 2017).
Federal Prison Policies: Transgender Offender Manual Program Statement 5200.04 Federal Bureau of Prisons (Jan, 18, 2017).
- Abbreviations of Law Reports, laws and agencies used in our publications.
- AELE’s list of recently-noted jail and prisoner law resources.
Chemical Agents – See also, Prisoner Assault: By Officer (2nd case)
First Amendment — See also, Prisoner Classification
Prison Litigation Reform Act: Exhaustion of Remedies – See also, Prisoner Assault: By Officer (1zt case)
Private Prisons and Entities – See also, Medical Care (1st case)
Retaliation – See also, Prisoner Classification
Segregation: Administrative – See also, Death Penalty
Work Programs – See also, Prisoner Death/Injury