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Georgia DOC Settles Failure-To-Protect Suit for $15,000

In September 2004, the Georgia Department of Corrections (CDOC) settled for $15,000 a prisoner lawsuit alleging that understaffing at the maximum-security Georgia State Prison (GSP) compromised prisoner safety. The GDOC also agreed to increase staffing levels in prisoner housing areas at the prison.

GSP prisoner Gregory M. Lamb claimed that on January 21, 2001, he was beaten and stabbed by four other prisoners who were attempting to rob him. The attack reportedly happened when guard Virginia Williams opened Lamb's locked cell door at a time when the prison was severely understaffed.
Lamb contended that only one guard had been assigned to cover four dormitories, when in fact one guard should have been assigned to each dorm. Lamb also claimed, among other things, that he was seriously injured in December 2001 when four John Doe guards attacked him; he was misclassified; he received inadequate medical treatment following the attack; and prison officials placed him in solitary confinement in retaliation for attempting to write a prison newsletter.

Lamb and four other prisoners alleging similar failure-to-protect claimsJames Chapman, Frederick Murray, Ché Clemons, and Phil Minceyalso sought to join a class action with GSP prisoner David Roberts in quest of an injunction to restore security to the norm established by Guthrie v. Evans, Civ. A. No. CV3068 (USDC SD GA 1973) (civil rights/prison disciplinary procedures/class action desegregation GSP); 93 F.R.D. 390 (USDC SD GA 1981) (procedural history). Until it was terminated in the wake of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA), Guthrie mandated that a guard must be assigned to each dormitory except at night. To support their request for class action certification, the prisoners introduced evidence showing that in the previous several years, GSP prisoners suffered 1,129 violent assaults and 4 deaths due to the lack of security.

In a bifurcated opinion filed July 7, 2004, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia first dealt with the request for class action certification. After making several determinations favorable to the prisoners, the Court granted in part and denied in part Roberts's class-action motion without prejudice to his right to renew the denied portion" at an ensuing evidentiary hearing.

Next, the Court addressed the summary judgment motions of Lamb and the defendants. As it did throughout the opinion, the Court criticized the defendants' failure to provide evidence supporting their assertions (i.e., that staffing levels were sufficient to ensure prisoner safety). Moreover, prison officials admitted in court documents that only one guard was assigned to work 2 or even 4 dormitories during some shifts and that at times they have even failed to protect prisoners in protective custody. Consequently, the Court held that a reasonable jury could view these materials as proof that GSP lacked sufficient security with which to reasonably protect Lamb" the day be was attacked.

To further support his claim, Lamb admitted evidence showing that a guard was murdered at GSP in 2002; two prisoners were stabbed in January 2003one of them fatally; prisoner Jerome Barton (one of Lamb's alleged attackers) stabbed another prisoner around January 2001; prisoner Mark Gross was seriously beaten and suffered massive brain trauma in June 2001; prisoner Doak Collingsworth was gang attacked; prisoner Terry Battle was beaten with a stick in spring 2001; prisoner Michael Wise was stabbed in 1999; prisoners Edward Gamble, Larry Sanders (twice), Phil Mincey and an unidentified prisoner were stabbed between 2000 and 2002; and prisoners Myles Lundy and Justin Laister were attacked by other prisoners in July 2002.

Based on this, the court held that a material issue of fact precludes defendants' summary judgment motion on [Lamb's] failure-to-protect claim." However, the court also held that Lamb had not shown entitlement to summary judgment, either.

In September 2004, shortly after the ruling, the GDOC agreed to settle the complaints of Lamb and the other prisoners, including the Roberts class action. At mediation a judge set Lamb's damages at $15,000. (It's unknown how much the other prisoners received.)The GDOC also stipulated to essentially follow the Guthrie staffing orders, resulting in an increased presence of guards in the dormitories.

Lamb was represented by attorney McNeil Stokes of Atlanta, Georgia. Robert W. Cullen, who represented Roberts and also participated in the Guthrie case, appeared as co-counsel with Stokes on Lamb's motion to join the Roberts class action. See the full opinion on PLN's website at See: Lamb v. Smith, USDC SD GA, Case No. 602-CV-094.

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Related legal case

Lamb v. Smith