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Louisiana Sheriff Immune When Litter-Crew Prisoners Injured

On April 5, 2006, a Louisiana Court of Appeals held that a prisoner who was injured while working on a litter-abatement crew for the sheriff could not sue the sheriff unless he proved gross negligence or an intentional act by the deputy in charge of the work crew.

Irving Ceasar, Ronald Foster and Jerry Corey were prisoners at the Iberia Parish Jail who were performing voluntary litter-abatement crew duty when they were injured in a traffic accident. They were in the back of a pickup truck driven by Deputy Glynn Reaux when it was struck by another vehicle as the pickup was attempting to cross Louisiana Highway 90. Deposition testimony from the plaintiffs indicated that Reaux stopped, then crossed two lanes of traffic. As he hit the gas to cross the second pair of lanes, the truck’s engine sputtered, making it too slow to avoid the oncoming vehicle. Reaux unsuccessfully attempted to swerve to avoid the accident.

The prisoners filed suit against Reaux, the sheriff and the parish in state district court, alleging Reaux’s negligence had caused their injuries. The court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, citing their immunity under La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 15:708. The prisoners appealed.

The Court of Appeals held that § 15:708 provides immunity for the sheriff and his employees for injuries resulting from a prisoner’s participation in a litter abatement or collection program unless the injuries were caused by gross negligence or an intentional act of the sheriff or his employee. It did not matter that the plaintiffs were no longer prisoners when they filed suit, as they were prisoners when the injuries occurred and thus the injuries fell under § 15:708.

The prisoners did not properly raise the issue of whether § 15:708 was unconstitutional in the trial court, as they only raised that claim in a memorandum in opposition to the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Challenges to the constitutionality of a statute must be specifically pled and the grounds for the claim particularized. That did not occur, so the trial court was correct in refusing to rule on that issue on the grounds that the issue was not properly before the court. Section 15:708 also states that it “shall not negate the requirement to provide a prisoner with necessary medical treatment as statutorily required.” This did not mean that the sheriff was required to provide medical treatment to persons no longer incarcerated for injuries sustained while they were incarcerated.

The Court of Appeals held that, because plaintiffs failed to prove gross negligence or an intentional act on the part of Reaux, the defendants were entitled to immunity under § 15:708. Therefore the district court did not err in granting the defendants’ motion for summary judgment and the judgment of the trial court was affirmed. See: Ceasar v. Hebert, 926 So.2d 139 (La.App. 3rd Cir. 2006).

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Related legal case

Ceasar v. Hebert