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Third Circuit Allows Prisoner's Substitution of Deceased Guard’s Estate

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals held on October 16, 2012 that a district court had improperly denied a prisoner’s motion to substitute a deceased guard’s estate as a defendant.

Delaware prisoner Wardell Leroy Giles filed suit in federal court against prison sergeant Gary Campbell and other defendants, alleging excessive force and denial of medical care during a November 2001 transfer to the Sussex Correctional Institution. As a result of an altercation with guards, Campbell suffered a broken rib, punctured lung and other injuries, and was allegedly punched and kicked while restrained.

The district court granted summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds to several of the defendants, including Campbell, in June 2004. The court ruled in favor of the remaining defendants following a bench trial.

Giles appealed the district court’s qualified immunity ruling, and the Third Circuit reversed and remanded. See: Giles v. Kearney, 571 F.3d 318 (3d Cir. 2009).

On remand, counsel for the defendants filed a suggestion of death, informing the court that Campbell had died in July 2006 while the appeal was pending. Giles responded by moving to substitute the administrator of Campbell’s estate as a defendant pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25(a)(1). Neither the suggestion of death nor the motion to substitute was served on the estate.

The district court denied substitution, holding that the 2004 summary judgment ruling had extinguished Giles’ claims against Campbell prior to his death. The court ordered Giles to remove Campbell as a defendant and the case proceeded to trial against the remaining defendants. A jury ruled in their favor.

On appeal, the Third Circuit reviewed the denial of the substitution of Campbell’s estate for abuse of discretion. Applying Delaware law, the Court of Appeals held the district court had erroneously concluded that the grant of summary judgment to Campbell was a final judgment that extinguished Giles’ claims. Rather, following Swartz v. Meyers, 204 F.3d 417 (3d Cir. 2000), the appellate court found that the claims against Campbell remained pending when he died and were not barred under Delaware law.

The Third Circuit held that FRCP 25(a)(3) required service of both the suggestion of death and motion to substitute upon Campbell’s estate; since neither had been served, the district court lacked personal jurisdiction over the estate. Thus, the denial of Giles’ motion to substitute was vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings. See: Giles v. Campbell, 698 F.3d 153 (3d Cir. 2012).

Following remand, the district court granted Giles’ motion to appoint counsel and allowed him to substitute the representative of Campbell’s estate as a defendant in July 2013. This case remains pending.

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Related legal cases

Giles v. Campbell

Giles v. Kearney