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Eleventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal of BOP Failure to Protect Suit

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of a failure to protect suit filed by a federal prisoner who claimed that he was attacked by a guard for participating in a prison investigation.

“John Doe” sued Harley Lappin, then the Director of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), and Rick Stover, a Senior Designator, after Doe was allegedly attacked by an “Officer Wooten” at the U.S. Penitentiary (USP) in Atlanta, Georgia for participating in an investigation of a BOP guard.

Doe claimed that Lappin and Stover violated his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to protect him. He sought an order enjoining the defendants from “transporting Mr. Doe to or through any BOP facility in Atlanta,” and prohibiting the defendants “from incarcerating Mr. Doe in a high security BOP facility and requiring the transfer of Mr. Doe to an appropriate and safe housing placement such as a medium or low security BOP facility or a state correctional facility.”

The district court dismissed Doe’s official capacity claims against Lappin and Stover, holding that both were entitled to sovereign immunity. Doe appealed.

In a per curiam unpublished opinion, the Eleventh Circuit reversed. Disagreeing with the district court, the Court of Appeals held that “a plaintiff may be able to obtain injunctive relief against a federal officer acting in his official capacity when the officer acts beyond statutory or constitutional limitations,” citing Larson v. Domestic & Foreign Commerce Corp., 337 U.S. 682 (1949) and Saine v. Hosp. Auth., 502 F.2d 1033, 1036-37 (5th Cir. 1974). Further, the appellate court concluded that Doe’s alleged Eighth Amendment violations were “within the types of actions by prison officials that may, if proved, warrant injunctive relief.”

On remand, the Eleventh Circuit directed the district court to determine “whether the relief sought would work an intolerable burden on governmental functions, outweighing any consideration of private harm.” The Court of Appeals explained that “the burden to be considered is the burden that the record demonstrates would be imposed by the relief requested by this Plaintiff and the harm to be considered is that harm that the record demonstrates this Plaintiff would suffer absent the requested relief.”

The judgment of the district court was accordingly vacated, and the case remanded for further proceedings. See: Doe v. Wooten, 376 Fed.Appx. 883 (11th Cir. 2010).

Following remand, the district court determined that Doe had properly exhausted his administrative remedies and that the requested injunctive relief – including prohibiting the BOP from transferring him through USP Atlanta and assigning him to a lower-security facility – did not impose an intolerable burden on prison officials. See: Doe v. Wooten, 2010 WL 2821795 (N.D. Ga. 2010).

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Doe v. Wooten

Doe v. Wooten