Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

No Liability for Jail Bunk Assignment Policy

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that prison officials cannot be liable for an unfortunate random act of violence. This action was filed by a pre-trial detainee at Indiana's LaPorte County jail, alleging jail policy resulted in his being attacked by another detainee and losing an eye. The jail's cell assignment policy allowed detainees to choose their own bunks. After housing with another detainee for two weeks, the plaintiff detainee was thrown out of his cell when his cellmate's fellow gang member came to jail. A fight ensued, but the two shook hands. Later, the gang member cellmate hit the plaintiff in the eye with a sock jack," a weapon made of soap bars wrapped in a sock. After he lost his eye, the plaintiff brought suit; the district court granted the defendants summary judgment.

The Seventh Circuit said it is enough that defendants are aware that their action may cause injury without being able to divine the most likely victim" to create liability. The only evidence the plaintiff presented to show the defendants were deliberately indifferent" to his safety was an expert's testimony that allowing detainees to choose their own bunks created a high probability of inmate-on-inmate assault." The Court held there was not enough evidence for a jury to conclude the guards had actual knowledge that the plaintiff may be harmed. Moreover, the opposite is shown because the plaintiff lived with the assaulting cellmate for two weeks without incident, did not advise guards he was thrown out of the cell or had fought with his cellmate, or that he feared his cellmate or another detainee. Once guards learned of the attack, they immediately removed the plaintiff from the cellblock and provided proper medical attention. The district court's order was affirmed. It does not appear that the plaintiff measured or presented any evidence on levels of violence at the jail, which may have supported a finding of liability. See: Washington v. LaPorte County Sheriff's Department, 306 F.3d 515 (7th Cir. 2002).

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Washington v. LaPorte County Sheriff's Department

306 F.3d 515

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

Fred WASHINGTON, Plaintiff-Appellant,


LAPORTE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, LaPorte County Jail, and Robert Blair,
individually and in his former capacity as Sheriff of LaPorte County,

No. 01-3812.

Argued May 28, 2002.
Decided Oct. 7, 2002.

Pre-trial detainee brought § 1983 due process claim against jail and its officers alleging that the injuries he suffered when he was attacked by another inmate were caused by jail's cell assignment policy. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Robert L. Miller, Jr., J., granted defendants' motion for summary judgment, and detainee appealed. The Court of Appeals, Williams, Circuit Judge, held that jail's cell assignment policy did not demonstrate deliberate indifference on the part of the officials to a substantial risk of serious harm to the detainee.


*516 Donald W. Pagos (argued), Sweeney, Dabagia, Donoghue, Thorne, Janes & Pagos, Michigan City, IN, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Jay Lauer, Shaw R. Friedman (argued), South Bend, IN, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before: BAUER, POSNER, and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

WILLIAMS, Circuit Judge.

While Fred Washington was detained in the LaPorte County Jail, he was attacked by another inmate and lost an eye. Washington filed suit against the jail and its officers, alleging that his injury was caused by the prison's cell assignment policy in violation of his constitutional right to due process. He now appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Since Washington has not provided any evidence as to the prison officials' state of mind regarding the jail's conditions, we affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

Fred Washington was charged with driving with a suspended license and detained in the LaPorte County Jail pending trial, as he could not post bond. He was assigned to a cell block originally designed to house ten inmates but which actually housed seventeen. Prison officials allowed inmates to choose their own cell assignments; Washington shared a cell with another inmate, Carl Hood.

*517 After bunking with Hood for approximately two weeks without incident, a new inmate arrived in the cell block who belonged to the same gang as Hood. Washington was "neutral," i.e., not affiliated with any gang. Washington returned to his bunk that evening to find Hood throwing Washington's possessions out of their shared cell and into the common area. This led to a physical confrontation which ended when other inmates intervened. A different inmate offered Washington a new bunk, Hood's gang associate took Washington's old bunk, and Washington and Hood shook hands, which Washington understood to signal the end of the conflict. Neither Washington nor the other inmates notified guards in the area of the altercation.

Later that evening, while Washington was watching television in the common area, Hood approached from behind and hit Washington in the eye with a "sock jack," a weapon made of soap bars wrapped in a sock. Other inmates again intervened, stopping any further fighting. Washington did not notify the guards of the incident, but when another inmate saw the seriousness of the injury, he called the guards and Washington received immediate medical attention. Upon arrival at a local hospital, doctors determined that the damage to the eye was irreparable and removed it.

Washington filed suit against the LaPorte County Sheriff, the LaPorte County Jail, and several prison officers for violation of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the lack of specific bunk assignments caused his injury and demonstrated "deliberate indifference" on the part of prison officials to a substantial risk of serious harm. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

We review de novo the district court's decision to grant summary judgment. Traylor v. Brown, 295 F.3d 783, 787 (7th Cir.2002). A court may grant summary judgment only if there exists no genuine issue of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

Since Washington was a pre-trial detainee, we examine his § 1983 claim under the Due Process Clause rather than the Eighth Amendment. See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 537 n. 16, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979), Zentmyer v. Kendall Cty., Ill., 220 F.3d 805, 810 (7th Cir.2000). The protections for pre-trial detainees are "at least as great as the Eighth Amendment protections available to a convicted prisoner," City of Revere v. Mass. Gen. Hosp., 463 U.S. 239, 244, 103 S.Ct. 2979, 77 L.Ed.2d 605 (1983), and we frequently consider the standards to be analogous. See Jackson v. Illinois Medi-Car, Inc., 300 F.3d 760, 764 (7th Cir.2002). Since the parties base their arguments on Eighth Amendment precedent, we examine them under that standard. Estate of Cole v. Fromm, 94 F.3d 254, 259 n. 1 (7th Cir.1996).