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$885,437.24 Award for CMS Massachusetts Jail Nurse Barred for Reporting Prisoner Abuse

$885,437.24 Award for CMS Massachusetts Jail Nurse Barred for Reporting Prisoner Abuse

A Massachusetts federal court awarded $885,437.24 in compensatory damages, punitive damages, costs, attorney fees and electronic litigation support fees to a Correctional Medical Services (CMS) nurse who was barred from the Suffolk County jail because she reported allegations of prisoner abuse to the FBI.

Shelia J. Porter was a nurse working for CMS at the Suffolk County House of Corrections, which had contracted prisoner medical care to CMS. After she informed the FBI about allegations of prisoner abuse, she was barred from the jail by Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral.

Porter filed a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of her First Amendment rights. Following a seven-day trial, a jury rendered a verdict in Porter’s favor and awarded her $360,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages.
The defendants filed a motion for new trial and remittitur. The court held that the verdict and awards were amply supported by the evidence, including multiple witnesses who testified that Cabral had told them Porter was being barred because she went to the FBI without first seeking permission.

The witnesses included a former Assistant United States Attorney, the Chief of Staff for the Sheriff’s Department, and the Chief of the Sheriff’s Investigation Division. The court found Cabral’s explanation (that she had barred Porter from the jail due to untimely filing of paperwork) to be pretextual, and specifically held that Porter was highly qualified and capable. The district court ruled that the compensatory award was reasonable for Porter’s loss of income for the rest of her projected career at the jail, and that the punitive damages were not excessive.

U.S. District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock awarded $253,264.50 of the $287,000,00 in requested attorney fees, $16,972.74 of the requested $24,304.94 in costs and $5,200.00 of the requested $6,500.00 in electronic litigation support expenses. The total award, including damages, was $885,437.24. Porter was ably represented by Boston attorneys Joseph F. Savage, Jr., Goodwin Procter, David S. Schumacher and Gadsby Hannah. See: Porter v. Cabral, U.S.D.C. (D. Mass.), Case No. 1:04-cv-11935-DPW (2007 WL 602605).

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