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Prisoners Retain Some Right to Bodily Privacy

The court of appeals for the Sixth circuit held that a Michigan prisoner had stated a claim for violation of his religious right to "modesty" in challenging a prison practice of giving women guards full access to a men's prison where they could view the plaintiff naked while showering, dressing, using the toilet, etc. The court suggests that measures such as "modesty screens" may accommodate prisoners' limited right to bodily privacy with the women guards' employment rights. Court analyzed prisoner's claims under the 1st, 4th and 8th amendments. This is not a ruling on, the merits. Other circuits have held prisoners have no privacy right to avoid being viewed naked, on occasion by members of the opposite sex. See: Kent v. Johnson, 821 F.2d 1220 (6th Cir. 1987).

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Related legal case

Kent v. Johnson

Kent v. Johnson, 821 F.2d 1220 (6th Cir. 06/22/1987)


[2] No. 84-1578

[3] 1987, 821 F.2d 1220

[4] filed: June 22, 1987.



[7] Author: Jones

[8] Before: ENGEL, JONES and KRUPANSKY, Circuit Judges.

[9] JONES, Circuit Judge.

[10] On Reconsideration. Defendants-appellees have petitioned for an en banc rehearing of this case. Pursuant to this court's policy, the original panel has been given the initial opportunity to consider the petition and, if necessary, to amend or replace the decision of May 18, 1987. Because two recent decisions of the United States Supreme Court issued subsequent to the panel's decision impact the parties' relative burdens on remand, we hereby amend our prior opinion to incorporate specifically the standards set forth in O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 55 U.S.L.W. 4792 (U.S. June 9, 1987) and Turner v. Safley, 55 U.S.L.W. 4719, 4722-23 (U.S. June 1, 1987).

[11] As the Court reaffirmed in Turner : "[W]hen a prison regulation impinges on inmates' constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. In our view, such a standard is necessary if 'prison administrators . . ., and the the courts, [are] to make the difficult judgments concerning institutional operations.'" 55 U.S.L.W. at 4722 (quoting Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Union, 433 U.S. 119, 128 (1977)). The Turner decision also identified four factors relevant to the determination of whether the prison regulation is in fact reasonable: (1) whether there is a "valid rational connection" between the regulation and the legitimate governmental interest which it allegedly furthers; (2) whether there are alternative means by which the inmate may exercise the right impinged; (3) what impact the accommodation of the inmate's constitutional right will have on guards, other inmates, or the allocation of prison resources generally; and (4) the existence or absence of ready alternatives to the regulation in question. Id. at 4722-23.

[12] In further explaining the fourth factor, the Court in Turner stated:

[13] This is not a "least restrictive alternative" test: prison officials do not have to set up and then shoot down every conceivable alternative method of accommodating the claimant's constitutional complaint. But if an inmate claimant can point to an alternative that fully accommodates the prisoner's rights at de minimus cost to valid penological interests, a court may consider that as evidence that the regulation does not satisfy the reasonable relationship standard.

[14] Id. at 4723 (citation omitted). The Court in O'Lone reasserted this statement of deferential review: "Though the availability of accommodations is relevant to the reasonableness inquiry, . . . placing the burden on prison officials to disprove the availability of alternatives . . . fails to reflect the respect and deference that the United States Constitution allows for the judgment of prison administrators." 55 U.S.L.W. at 4794.

[15] To summarize, we again note that plaintiff Kent's complaint was dismissed by the trial court for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). We hold here only that the pleadings reviewed are sufficient to withstand such a motion, given the liberalities with which such complaints are measured under the rule. Even applying the rational relationship standard of Turner and O'Lone, under which a court need only inquire whether prison regulations allegedly impinging an inmate's constitutional rights are "reasonably related" to legitimate penological interest, we must construe plaintiff's complaint liberally and accept as true all factual allegations therein. In remanding, we do not foreclose the possibility of a disposition short of trial if the further development of the factual issues shows that such issues are suitable for summary judgment under Rule 56. We emphasize that the trial judge on remand should apply carefully the analysis outlined in Turner and O'Lone to determine the validity of Kent's constitutional claims, and accordingly have amended our previous opinion to the extent that it may have suggested that Kent's factual allegations required relief as a matter of law. It is apparent also that our reference to language in Grummett v. Rushen, 779 F.2d 491 (9th Cir. 1985), suggesting that prison authorities are bound to adopt the least intrusive means of accommodation, is inconsistent with the cited language from Turner. To the extent therefore that part II of our opinion of May 18, 1987 is contrary to the Turner and O'Lone standards discussed above, we now amend it to incorporate those standards.