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Trial Required on Clothing Claim

When prison guards apply force maliciously and sadistically, they are violating the eighth amendment and can be held liable for their actions. Courtney Wilkens is a Missouri state prisoner. Prison guards claimed Wilkens was wearing gang colors in the prison dining hall and attempted to reprimand him. Wilkens and two other prisoners asserted his right to wear a bandanna which resulted in an altercation that Wilkens did not participate in. A half hour later Wilkens was taken to an office where guards demanded that he give a statement exonerating the guards in the dining room incident. Wilkens refused and the guards slapped him, jerked on his handcuffs and hit him in the back of the head. A prison supervisor ordered guards to "place Wilkens' 'stinking black ass' in detention." Wilkens spent the next 22 hours naked in a segregation cell with unclean bedding, poor lighting and no blankets. While in the segregation cell for the 22 hour period various prison guards came in to hit, slap and slam him, jerk his handcuffs, and one guard inserted his gloved fingers into Wilkens' rectum. Wilkens filed suit claiming that this conduct by prison guards violated his eighth amendment rights.

The district court agreed and held that a jury reviewing Wilkens' claims could easily conclude that the assaults did occur and were inflicted maliciously and sadistically to cause harm. The court denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment and ordered a trial on the assault claims. The defendants claimed they were entitled to qualified immunity on the claim that Wilkens was kept naked in the segregation cell for 22 hours and appealed.

The court of appeals for the eighth circuit affirmed the denial of qualified immunity holding that when injury occurs during the course of strip cell confinement, immunity is not proper. The court discusses numerous cases which discuss prisoners' right to clothing and where prisoners were placed in strip cells. The key issue in the court's analysis was that the deprivation of clothing allegations incorporated the assault allegations. "The facts, as asserted by the plaintiff, recite a continuous course of mistreatment that includes the strip cell detention, beatings at the hands of several prison guards, the indignity of having a prison guard run his finger into the plaintiff's rectum..., as well as other indignities."

The court held that the entire scenario, including the clothing deprivation, supports a jury question of whether force was applied maliciously and sadistically to cause harm or in a good faith effort to restore order and maintain discipline. The jury would have to consider both the excessive force and the denial of clothing claims together in order to reach a verdict. The court affirmed the denial of qualified immunity and remanded the case back to the district court for a trial on the merits. See: Wilkens v. Moore, 40 F.3d 934 (8th Cir. 1994).

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Related legal case

Wilkins v. Moore

[29] Wilkins v. Moore, et al., No. 91-1522-C-7 (E.D. Mo. Jan. 24, 1994) (Memorandum and Order at 6-7, 8, 10, 11, 19).

[30] The district court concluded:

[31] By his deposition testimony and affidavit, Plaintiff has demonstrated a factual dispute as to whether Officer David McPeak maliciously and sadistically yanked on Plaintiff's handcuffs, slammed him into walls and doors, and struck him about the head and shoulders on numerous

[32] occasions on March 2 and 3, 1991. Plaintiff also shows a factual dispute as to whether shift supervisor Norma Lavrrar gratuitously struck him in the "little room by Medical" after he refused to sign a statement on the evening of March 2. Plaintiff has raised a dispute of material fact as to whether Officers McPeak, Salts, and Nixon maliciously restrained Plaintiff while Officer McGinley stuck a finger in Plaintiff's rectum on March 3, 1991. Finally, Plaintiff has demonstrated a factual question on whether Officer Diane Pashea acted maliciously and sadistically when she handcuffed Plaintiff roughly during a cell search on March 7, 1991. Because Plaintiff may be able to make out an Eighth Amendment claim under Hudson against Officers McPeak, Lavrrar, Salts, Nixon, McGinley, and Pashea, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims in Count I is denied as to these Defendants on these occasions.

[33] Id. at 18-19.

[34] In rejecting defendants' qualified immunity defense on the deprivation of clothing claim, the district court stated that a factual dispute existed for a jury determination of the guards' improper punitive motive for placing Wilkins' naked body in a strip cell. The court rejected appellants' argument that as a matter of law the conduct constituted a legitimate security measure, and observed some differences in result in several Eighth Circuit cases cited below. Compare Rodgers v. Thomas,879 F.2d 380 (8th Cir. 1989) (dismissal affirmed; deprivation of all clothing but socks and underwear for five days does not demonstrate wanton infliction of pain where prisoner given a mattress, sheets and blankets and suffered no pain); Johnson v. Boreani,946 F.2d 67 (8th Cir. 1991) (although naked confinement to strip cell can constitute cruel and unusual punishment, prison officials entitled to qualified immunity where no allegation of pain or other injury is shown) with Porth v. Farrier,934 F.2d 154 (8th Cir. 1991) (confinement in strip cell for twelve hours without clothes, bedding or mattress creates a fact question for jury on eighth amendment violation, but not a per se violation). The court, in support, also cited Maxwell v. Mason,668 F.2d 361, 363 (8th Cir. 1981) and Wycoff v. Brewer, 572 F.2d 1260, 1263 n.5 (8th Cir. 1978).

[35] The district court concluded:

[36] However, applying Porth, the Court finds that Plaintiff has stated sufficient facts to survive summary judgment on Count II, and that his Eighth Amendment claim is for the jury to determine.

[37] Defendants make a conclusory, blanket assertion of qualified immunity on all counts in their motion (P 13). However, they provide no support in their Memorandum for qualified immunity on Count II. Although Porth was decided several months after the events giving rise to this lawsuit, the Court finds that Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment right to adequate clothing was clearly established by Maxwell and Wycoff, and that Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity. Anderson v. Creighton,483 U.S. 635, 639-40, 97 L. Ed. 2d 523, 107 S. Ct. 3034 (1987) (official not entitled to qualified immunity if he violated "clearly established" right). Therefore Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim in Count II is denied as to Defendants Lavrrar (who ordered that Plaintiff be stripped), McPeak, McCory, and Herman. Although Defendant Ben Davis participated in stripping Plaintiff, he has been dismissed for lack of service.

[38] Wilkins v. Moore, et al., No. 91-1522-C-7 (E.D. Mo. Jan. 24, 1994) (Memorandum and Order at 26-27) (footnote omitted).


[40] On this appeal, appellants reargue their qualified immunity defense to Wilkins' deprivation of clothing claim. Appellants argue that no established law demonstrates any constitutional violation where the duration of the strip cell confinement is twenty-two to twenty-three hours, as here, and where no allegations of serious injuries occurred.

[41] The decisions in Boreani, 946 F.2d at 71; Porth, 934 F.2d at 157-58; and Rodgers, 879 F.2d at 385, may be distinguishable on their facts. In Boreani, no injury occurred during the duration of the strip cell incarceration. Here, injury occurred within the scope of the strip cell confinement, even though outside the cell. Porth, as noted, decided no liability as a factual matter. As to Rodgers, appellants properly note the lack of physical or emotional pain suffered by the prisoner in that case, save for some minor flu symptoms. Moreover, the court in Rodgers distinguished Maxwell on its facts and the instant case may be distinguishable.

[42] But we need not and do not rely on any Maxwell /Rodgers distinction, nor do we need to distinguish this case from Boreani and Porth. Because there exists an interrelationship between the assaults already determined to be a fact issue for trial and the deprivation of Wilkins' clothing, one claim cannot be analyzed independently from the other.

[43] We are not dealing here with an amorphous "overall prison conditions" claim as discussed in Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 115 L. Ed. 2d 271, 111 S. Ct. 2321 (1991), nor are we dealing here with the more particularized claim of prison officials failing to ensure an inmate's safety under the deliberate indifference standard of Farmer v. Brennan, 128 L. Ed. 2d 811, 114 S. Ct. 1970 (1994). Here, we deal with allegations of unnecessary and wanton brutality that is supported by evidence in a prison setting.

[44] The allegations relating to the deprivation of clothing, as we have already noted, incorporate the assault allegations. The facts, as asserted by the plaintiff, recite a continuous course of mistreatment that includes the strip cell detention, beatings at the hands of several prison guards, the indignity of having a prison guard run his finger into the plaintiff's rectum, cf. McRorie v. Shimoda,795 F.2d 780, 784 (9th Cir. 1986), as well as other indignities.

[45] Although "prison administrators . . . should be accorded wide-ranging deference in the adoption and execution of policies and practices that in their judgment are needed to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security," Bell v. Wolfish,441 U.S. 520, 547, 60 L. Ed. 2d 447, 99 S. Ct. 1861 (1979), "it does not insulate from review actions taken in bad faith and for no legitimate purpose." Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 322, 89 L. Ed. 2d 251, 106 S. Ct. 1078 (1986); Stenzel v. Ellis, 916 F.2d 423, 427 (8th Cir. 1990).

[46] Here, the entire scenario, including the deprivation of clothing, supports a jury question as to "whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline or maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm." Whitley,475 U.S. at 320-21; Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 117 L. Ed. 2d 156, 112 S. Ct. 995, 999 (1992). Appellants have already conceded the necessity of a trial on the merits for the assault claim asserted in count 1. On the record here, the deprivation of clothing claim that constitutes count 2 is part and parcel of the larger claims of brutality and excessive force. In fact, the very factors that go into the Whitley /Hudson test of "excessive force," including the need for force and the correlation between the need for force and the amount of force used, Whitley,475 U.S. at 321; Hudson, 112 S. Ct. at 999; Stenzel, 916 F.2d at 427, would require the trial court in this case to consider with the assault claim the deprivation of clothing claim.

[47] Thus, a fact finder may draw "reliable inferences" "as to whether the use of force could plausibly have been thought necessary," Whitley,475 U.S. at 321-22, or instead "exceeded the amount of force that was justified under the circumstances." McLaurin v. Prater, 30 F.3d 982, 984 (8th Cir. 1994); see also Hickey v. Reeder, 12 F.3d 754, 758-59 (8th Cir. 1993).

[48] The fact finder will need to determine, on all the evidence relating to beatings, removal of all clothing and other indignities, if established, whether the officers' conduct satisfied reasonable safety and security concerns or, rather, was exercised maliciously and sadistically. Because the "excessive force" and "conditions-of-confinement" claims in this case are so analytically and factually intertwined, the plaintiff's charges require consideration of the evidence relating to both claims as a continuous course of conduct.

[49] Accordingly, for the reasons stated herein, we affirm the denial of qualified immunity on the claim asserted in count 2.

Opinion Footnotes

[50] *fn1 The Honorable Jean C. Hamilton, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Missouri.

[51] *fn2 Wilkins is currently an inmate at Moberly Correctional Center, Randolph County, Missouri. At all times relevant to this lawsuit, Wilkins was an inmate at the Potosi Correctional Center.