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No FTCA Claim for Property Erroneously Mailed Home By BOP; Failure to Protect Claim Cognizable

No FTCA Claim for Property Erroneously Mailed Home by BOP; Failure to Protect Claim Cognizable

by Brandon Sample

The United States is immune from suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for loss of property that resulted from the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) mailing a prisoner’s property home instead of to the institution he was transferring to, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit decided on September 8, 2008. However, the appellate court reversed the dismissal of a separate claim under the FTCA for damages related to the BOP’s failure to protect a prisoner from a serious assault.

Roy Sylvester Parrott was stabbed 22 times in the face, head and arm by Kenneth Gregory, another prisoner, while incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana on July 11, 2001. Parrott was hospitalized for two weeks as a result of the attack.

Shortly after he was released from the hospital and returned to the prison, he was notified that he would be transferred to a Virginia state prison. Receiving and Discharge (R&D) staff allegedly told Parrott that the facility he was transferring to would not accept the bulk of his incoming property.

Consequently, the BOP, with Parrott’s alleged consent, sent all of Parrott’s property to his sister in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It turned out, however, that the R&D officer was wrong; Parrott could have received most of his property had it been sent to the other institution. Because Parrott was serving a life sentence and the new institution would not accept his property from his sister, his property was effectively lost.

Parrott sued the BOP under the FTCA for the loss of his property and the BOP’s failure to protect him from Gregory. Parrott argued that the BOP was negligent for the loss of his property because it misadvised him that he could not send his property to the new institution. Regarding his failure to protect claim, Parrott alleged that the BOP should have known that a problem existed between him and Gregory given their “separation” status at the time of the attack. The BOP denied that there was any such “separation” order. The district court granted summary judgment to the United States on both of Parrott’s claims.

Parrott appealed and the Seventh Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. Regarding Parrott’s loss of property claim, the Seventh Circuit held that the United States was immune from suit, citing Ali v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 128 S.Ct. 831 (2008). Ali held that the United
States was entitled to sovereign immunity for claims arising from the detention of property by any law enforcement officer. Parrott attempted to distinguish Ali, arguing that his property was never the subject of “detention” by the BOP, but the Court of Appeals was unpersuaded. “[C]onfiscation followed by sending property to a known recipient is a ‘detention,’” the appellate court held.

The Seventh Circuit reached a different result on Parrott’s failure to protect claim, finding that the district court had abused its discretion in denying his discovery requests for more detailed information regarding the “separation” order that was in effect at the time of the stabbing. Discovery of this information was critical, the Court of Appeals concluded, because if Parrott was supposed to have been separated from Gregory then the BOP violated its duty to keep him safe from assault.

The judgment of the district court was accordingly affirmed in part and reversed in part. See: Parrott v. United States, 536 F.3d 629 (7th Cir. 2008). Following remand, the case was dismissed after the court was notified that Parrott had died on November 12, 2008.

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Related legal case

Parrott v. United States of America