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Fourth Circuit Reverses §1915A Dismissal of Failure to Protect Suit

Fourth Circuit Reverses §1915A Dismissal of Failure to Protect Suit

By Mark Wilson

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a lower court erred in dismissing a North Carolina prisoner’s failure to protect suit for failing to state a claim.

North Carolina prison officials knew that prisoner Samuel Brown had a problem with a prisoner in an adjacent housing unit. On May 9, 2008, however, guard Winkler ordered Brown to enter that prisoner’s unit to get cleaning supplies. The unit was run by guard Simms. While in the unit the other prisoner brutally beat Brown, severely injuring him. Guard Teague witnessed the assault but did not intervene. Brown had to have a steel plate inserted into his jaw and he will require “ongoing” medical care for his “permanent” injuries.

Brown brought federal suit against the North Carolina Department of Corrections (NCDOC) and the three guards who he alleged were deliberately indifferent to the serious harm he suffered at the hands of the other prisoner. On initial screening pursuant to 28 USC §1915A, the district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim.

Brown appealed the dismissal of the claims against the individual defendants. The Fourth Circuit reversed, finding that “it is uncontested that Brown suffered significant physical injuries as a result of the other inmate’s attack” and that the State, “representing each of the Defendants, concedes error with respect to the claims against Winkler and Teague.” The court agreed that Brown’s allegations against them “sufficiently state a claim upon which relief may be granted.”

The court rejected the State’s argument that “no reasonable person could infer from the complaint that … Simms knew of the assault in time to intervene, yet deliberately and indifferently failed to do so.” The court disagreed “with that reading of the record” and found that a “reasonable person could infer … that … Simms was aware of the attack, and that his failure to intervene represented deliberate indifference to a serious risk of harm.” Therefore, the court concluded that “the district court should not have dismissed Brown’s claim against … Simms.” See: Brown v. North Carolina Department of Corrections, No. 08-8501 (4th Cir. 1/11/10).

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Related legal case

Brown v. North Carolina Department of Corrections