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Hawaii State Officials Granted Immunity In Prisoner Beating

Hawaii State pro se prisoner William Aholelei brought a § 1983 action against the Department of Public Safety and various other state officials (defendants) after being assaulted in 2003 by fellow prisoners. He appealed the defendants' summary judgment grant for sovereign immunity but the summary judgment was affirmed.

Aholelei's negligence suit sought monetary damages. The defendants claimed sovereign immunity entitlement and subsequently filed a third party complaint against Aholelei's assailants in case the sovereign immunity assertion failed. Aholelei failed to assert that sovereign immunity was waived upon the filing of the defendants' complaint. Summary judgment was granted because the Eleventh Amendment banned monetary damage claims against state entities in federal court. Aholelei appealed and brought the issue of sovereign immunity waiver.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in a case of first "impression, held that since the immunity was asserted prior to filing the third party complaint it was a "defensive move which was not incompatible with an intent to preserve sovereign immunity." It was further held that federal jurisdiction was invoked by Aholelei's action rather than the defendants'' complaint. See: Aholelei v. Department of Public Safety. 220 Fed. Appx. 670 (9th Cir. 2007).

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Related legal case

Aholelei v. Department of Public Safety