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$295,000 Award to Wisconsin Prisoner in Moldy Mattress Case Reduced by Court

On September 17, 2008, a Wisconsin federal jury awarded a prisoner $295,000 for violation of his constitutional rights. Specifically, the jury found that state prisoner Reggie Townsend was “denied the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities.”

After a riot at the New Lisbon Correctional Center in late 2004, Townsend was placed in a 12’ x 6’ segregation cell for 60 days. He was forced to sleep on a thin mattress in a cell adjacent to the shower. His mattress quickly became “wet, moldy, and foul smelling,” but guards ignored his complaints.

Townsend sued prison guard Jerry Allen for failing to replace the unsanitary bedding. At trial, the jury determined that Allen was aware of the mattress’ condition and made a conscious decision to disregard it. While the jurors found Townsend had not suffered physical injury, they held Allen liable for demonstrating a willful or reckless disregard for Townsend’s constitutional rights.

The jury awarded Townsend $295,000 in punitive damages against Allen, though the State of Wisconsin is responsible for paying the award. Fortunately for state officials, they may not be paying the entire amount.

On February 10, 2009, the U.S. District Court denied Allen’s post-trial motion to set aside the verdict, but granted his Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 59 motion for remittitur of the damage award. The Court found that the award was “excessive in light of the evidence,” and ordered Townsend to either accept a reduced award of $29,500 or retry the damages part of his lawsuit. Townsend chose the reduced damage award. See: Townsend v. Allen, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Wisc.), Case No. 05-cv-00204-BBC.

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Related legal case

Townsend v. Allen