In the Media

Supreme Court won't allow inmate to sue prison for alleged mistreatment

PUBLISHED January 11, 2012

Richard Pollard had tried to sue a California prison for allegedly neglecting his two broken elbows while in jail

The Supreme Court won't allow employees at a privately run federal prison to be sued by an inmate in federal court despite his complaint that their neglect left him with two permanently damaged arms.

The high court ruled 8-1 Tuesday to throw out the federal lawsuit by inmate Richard Lee Pollard against employees of the GEO Group Inc, formerly known as Wackenhut Corrections Corp. Pollard wanted to sue for his treatment after he fell and fractured both of his elbows at the privately run Taft Correctional Institution in Taft, California.

Pollard said GEO officials put him in a metal restraint that caused him pain, and refused to provide him with a splint, making his injuries worse and causing permanent impairment. He sued in federal court for money, claiming GEO officials had violated the eighth amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The federal appeals court allowed his lawsuit against the GEO officials to move forward. Courts normally don't allow government employees to be sued in those types of lawsuits. The high court has authorised some such lawsuits if constitutionally-protected rights have been violated by the federal employee and there is no state court remedy.

But this was not one of the times where they could allow a federal lawsuit, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the court's majority opinion.

"Because we believe that in the circumstances present here, state tort law authorises adequate alternative damages actions ? actions that provide both significant deterrence and compensation ? we cannot do so," Breyer said.

Breyer noted that a state-level lawsuit "may sometimes prove less generous" because of a cap on damages or a prohibition against recovery for emotional suffering connected with physical harm, or by imposing procedural obstacles.

But he also said that the justices could not find in this fact "sufficient basis to determine state law inadequate."

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the only dissenter in this case.

"Were Pollard incarcerated in a federal- or state-operated facility," she said, "he would have a federal remedy for the eighth amendment violation he alleges. I would not deny the same character of relief to Pollard, a prisoner placed by federal contact in a privately operated prison." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds