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Florida PLN Writer Settles Retaliation Suit for $3,000

by David M. Reutter

A 42 U. S. C. § 1983 action filed in a Florida State Court alleging retaliatory job changes for the filing of grievances and lawsuits that challenged the general living conditions at Glades Correctional Institution (GCI) has been settled for $3,000. In June 1993, David Reutter, a Florida prisoner and PLN writer, began filing grievances challenging the living conditions at GCI, which was built in 1934. GCI sits on the tip of the Everglades, a mile south of Lake Okeechobee, and is surrounded by sugarcane grown in the mucky soil; hence, GCI's moniker: "The Muck." GCI had previously been subject of previous litigation challenging its conditions. See: LaMarca v. Turner, 995 F.2d 1526 (11'h Cir. 1993).

By 1993, The Muck was a dilapidated run down prison that was infested with rats and insects. Its overcrowded, single story, open bay dormitories are built on pylons and housed 184 to 242 prisoners each. While housed in C dorm, Reutter discovered the putrid smell that permeated the air was from a pool of raw sewage that sat under the dorm. The windows were broken, window screens were ripped or non-existent, subjecting prisoners to the Everglade's population of giant mosquitoes. The roof leaked and prisoners marked the floor to indicate the best location to set mop buckets when it rained. Electric wiring was exposed, and there was no battery operated emergency lighting. The guards had no keys or radios after the nightly yard lock down; they could only contact assistance by telephone.

After grievances to the Florida Department of Corrections and complaints to the County Public Health Unit (PHU) resulted in denial of problems, Reutter filed a motion for Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to correct the unconstitutional conditions. Reutter went to court twice on the TRO. Upon return the first time, he was reinstated as a law clerk. The second time he was terminated. At the hearing, a guard testified a rat bit him while reaching into a cabinet in the guard's station. Sgt. John Runkles testified there was a rodent control problem, and not enough time was being devoted to correcting that problem. The Court denied the TRO.

Upon return to GCI from the TRO hearing, Librarian Donald Obrakta informed Reutter that Assistant Superintendent Townsend ordered his termination. GCI institutional operating procedures prohibited Townsend from making such an order. According to Obrakta's detailed daily log, he contacted Townsend in order to respond to Reutter's request seeking the reason for his termination. Townsend replied law clerks may not work on personal law work on duty, and Reutter violated that rule. During litigation of this action the defendants were unable to provide any such rule. On discovery, Reutter obtained a memorandum that showed action to create such a rule was taken 30 days after the termination. Reutter's new job assignment was as a "Rat Man" on the newly created Rodent Control Squad, which required setting rat traps 7 days a week over a 4 month period. After denial of administrative remedies Reutter filed the § 1983 action in state court alleging the job changes violated his First Amendment right to be free from retaliatory action for exercising his right to file complaints with courts and administrative bodies.

After eight years of litigation and discovery, the case was set on the trial docket and ordered into mediation. On June 5, 2002, Reutter agreed to dismiss the suit for $3,000. The defendants denied wrong doing. Reutter represented himself pro se in the suit. See: Reutter v. Townsend, Case No: CL 94-8349A1, Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Court, Palm Beach County, Florida. g

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Related legal case

Reutter v. Townsend