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Short-Term Injuries Sufficient to Recover Mental and Emotional Damages under PLRA

A Florida federal district court has held that a prisoner's failure to prove long-term physical injuries does not bar a request for damages for long-term mental and emotional injuries.

That ruling came in a civil rights action filed by Florida prisoner Jamal Che Glenn, who claimed prison officials unlawfully applied chemical agents to him. Specifically, he contended the excessive use of force was applied in retaliation for filing grievances and "initiating procedures seeking administrative review." Glenn claimed that his "sight had been affected in that his ability to focus and re-focus at long distances has severely been impaired, colors once vivid have dulled considerably," and a pre-existent skin condition known as vitiligo had been exacerbated by the application of said chemicals.

Before the Court was the defendants' motion for summary judgment, which Glenn failed to answer. The Court found that Glenn had failed to disclose any evidence, other than his own testimony, to support his long term physical and medical damages from the chemical exposure at Washington Correctional Institution on November 2, 2001. Moreover, the failure to file a responsive pleading controverting the defendants' facts was deemed an admission of those facts under Local Rule 56.1. Failure to file the responsive pleading itself was cause to grant the motion under Local Rule 7.1(C)(1).

While the Court found the defendants were entitled to summary judgment on the long term physical and medical damages claims, it found without merit their claim that 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) barred damages for long-term mental and emotional injuries because of the previous finding.

The Court held that § 1997e(e) only limits recovery for mental or emotional injuries in the absence of a "prior showing of physical injury." There is no distinction between physical injuries that are short-term and physical injuries that are long-term. "Assumedly then, any physical injury, even if short-term, is sufficient to permit plaintiff to recover damages for long term mental or emotional injury."

Here, defendants failed to address Glenn's claims of whether the respiratory difficulties, impaired eyesight and extensive nasal discharge experienced immediately after exposure to oleorosin capsicum qualified as "physical injuries".

The Court granted the defendants summary judgment on the long term physical and medical damages, but denied judgment on the claims for long term mental and emotional damages and Glenn's state law claims of assault, battery and negligence. See: Glenn v. Copeland, USDC N.D.Fla., Case No. 5:02cv158-RS/WCS (2006 WL 1662921) (unpublished).

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Related legal case

Glenn v. Copeland