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No Due Process Right In Avoiding Temporary Lock-Up; Unsanitary Bedding Actionable

By Brandon Sample

On April 10, 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the dismissal of a suit challenging a prisoner’s placement in Temporary Lock-Up (TLU) and prison officials’ refusal to provide sanitary bedding.

Reggie Townsend, a Wisconsin state prisoner, was placed in TLU following a prison riot. Townsend was kept in TLU for 59 days while prison official investigated whether he destroyed evidence regarding the riot. On January 13, 2005, Townsend was transferred back to the general population of the New Lisbon Correctional Facility. Townsend did not receive a misconduct report, nor was his parole eligibility or sentence affected by his placement in TLU.

The accommodations afforded Townsend in the TLU were nothing to be desired. Each cell, designed to hold only one prisoner, was double bunked due to the placement of 150 prisoner’s in TLU following the riot. The cells in TLU contain only one bunk, one sink, and one toilet, and are “wet,” meaning the shower in the cell sprays onto the wall opposite the cell door and drains through the cell’s floor.

Townsend’s “bunk” while in TLU consisted of a thin mattress that Townsend was forced to place on the floor next to the shower causing the mattress to become “wet, moldy, and foul smelling.” Townsend complained to numerous prison guards and officials about his unsanitary cell conditions and requested a new mattress, all to no avail.

Townsend filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against the New Lisbon Security Director, Larry Fuchs, and Sergeant Jerry Allen alleging that he was denied procedural due process by Fuchs when he was placed in TLU without first being afforded a hearing. In addition, Townsend alleged that Allen deprived him of his Eighth Amendment rights by demonstrating deliberate indifference to his basic need for clean and sanitary bedding.

The district court granted summary judgment for Fuchs and Allen holding Townsend had no due process right in avoiding placement in TLU, and that Townsend proffered no evidence showing Allen was deliberately indifferent to the unsanitary conditions. Townsend appealed.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. Regarding Townsend’s due process challenge, the court of appeals concluded that Townsend had no liberty interest in avoiding placement in TLU.

Townsend had attempted to analogize the conditions in TLU to those in Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 205 (2005), which were found to create a liberty interest. The court, however, found Townsend’s comparison to the conditions in TLU to those of the Supermax in Wilkinson to be particularly inapt. In Wilkinson, the court explained, it was the combination of the prisoner’s indefinite confinement and lack of parole eligibility that created a liberty interest in avoiding placement in the Supermax, not the conditions of the Supermax themselves. Because confinement in TLU is neither indefinite nor accompanied by the denial of parole eligibility, the court reasoned, Townsend had no liberty interest in avoiding TLU.

The court agreed, however, that the district court erred in assessing Townsend’s Eighth Amendment claim. The “lack of sanitary conditions, including clean bedding, may qualify as a denial of the ‘minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities,’” the court noted. Townsend’s allegation that Allen refused to provide him with sanitary bedding and Allen’s denial of Townsend’s claim created a classic swearing match, something inappropriate for resolution on summary judgment.

Accordingly, the judgment of the district court was affirmed in part and reversed in part and the case remanded for further proceedings. See: Townsend v. Fuchs, 522 F.3d 765 (7th Cir. 2008)

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Related legal case

Townsend v. Fuchs