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Seventh Circuit Vacates Summary Judgment for Nutriloaf Diet

Recognizing that “anal fissures” are “no fun at all,” the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held on March 27, 2012 that Wisconsin jail officials were not entitled to summary judgment for imposing an exclusive diet of Nutriloaf on a prisoner.

Milwaukee County Jail (MCJ) policy mandates an exclusive diet of Nutriloaf for any state prisoner who is transferred to the MCJ from segregation, even if his behavior while at the jail is exemplary.

“Nutriloaf (also spelled ‘nutraloaf’) is a bad-tasting food given to prisoners as a form of punishment.” It “isn’t a proprietary food like Hostess Twinkies but, like ‘meatloaf’ or ‘beef stew’ [is] a term for a composite food the recipe of which can vary from institution to institution, or even from day to day within an institution; nutriloaf could meet requirements for calories and protein one day yet be poisonous the next if, for example, made from leftovers that had spoiled.”

Segregated Wisconsin state prisoner Terrance Prude was transferred to the MCJ several times for court hearings. Each time he was housed at the MCJ, he was fed nothing but Nutriloaf. His second stay lasted one week and his third stay was 10 days.

Prude weighed 168 pounds before his second and third transfers to the MCJ. However, “by the end of his third stay he was down to 154 pounds: he had lost 8.3 percent of his weight as a result of the two stays.”

“On his third stay, after two days on the Nutriloaf diet,” Prude “began vomiting his meals and experiencing stomach pains and constipation.... He stopped eating Nutriloaf and subsisted for the eight remaining days of his stay on bread and water.”

After one of Prude’s vomiting episodes, he was given antacids and a stool softener. A nurse told him his weight loss was “alarming.”

When Prude’s painful defecation and bloody stools continued after his return to prison, “he was diagnosed with an anal fissure” that had developed while he was held at the MCJ.

Prude filed suit in federal court, alleging that MCJ’s Nutriloaf-only diet violated the Eighth Amendment, but “the defendants decided to defy rather than to defend,” the Seventh Circuit wrote.

“The defendants’ response to [Prude’s] suit has been contumacious, and we are surprised that the district judge did not impose sanctions,” the Seventh Circuit declared.
“Defendants ignored the plaintiff’s discovery demands, ignored the judge’s order that they comply with those demands, and continued their defiance even after the judge threatened to impose sanctions. But the judge failed to carry through on his threat, so the threat proved empty.”

The defendants eventually moved for summary judgment but offered no evidence except “a preposterous affidavit from a sheriff’s officer who is also an assistant chief of a suburban Wisconsin fire department. The affidavit states only ... that ‘Nutraloaf has been determined to be a nutritious substance for regular meals.’ The defendants made no effort to qualify him as an expert witness. As a lay witness, he was not authorized to offer hearsay evidence (‘has been determined to be ... nutritious’).” Nevertheless, the district court granted summary judgment to the defendants.

Prude appealed and the Seventh Circuit reversed, recognizing that deliberately withholding nutritious food or serving “tainted or otherwise sickening food” violates the Eighth Amendment when it causes “substantial weight loss, vomiting, stomach pains ... an anal fissure ... or other severe hardship.”

Finding that Prude alleged a “veritable epidemic of vomiting” after eating Nutriloaf at the MCJ, the appellate court acknowledged that “adult vomiting ... is rare – healthy, sober adults do not vomit a meal just because it doesn’t taste good.” Other MCJ prisoners also vomited after eating Nutriloaf, suggesting that it was inedible.

The defendants presented “no evidence ... concerning the recipe for or ingredients of the Nutriloaf that was served” to Prude. “The recipe was among the items ... that plaintiff sought in discovery and that the defendants refused to produce.”

The Court of Appeals rejected the defendants’ affidavit, explaining that “even an affidavit from an expert stating after a detailed chemical analysis that ‘Nutriloaf meets all dietary requirements’ would be worthless unless the expert knew and stated that Nutriloaf invariably was made the same way in the institution.” Of course, “the assistant fire chief’s affidavit says no such thing – and he was not an expert,” the Seventh Circuit noted.
“Defendants have submitted no contrary evidence, once the inadmissible affidavit ... is ruled out.”

The Court of Appeals reversed and recommended “that the district court request a lawyer to assist [Prude] in litigating his claim.” Further, since the defendants “seem to think that the federal courts have no jurisdiction over a county jail,” the Court declared that the district court “should also consider imposing sanctions on the defendants.”

“In addition to stonewalling the plaintiff and the district judge,” the Seventh Circuit wrote that “the defendants failed to file a brief [on appeal] ... and failed to respond to [an] order to show cause why they hadn’t.” Making it clear that the federal courts have jurisdiction, the appellate court ordered the “defendants to show cause within 14 days ... why they should not be sanctioned for contumacious conduct in this court. If they ignore this order to show cause like the last one, they will find themselves in deep trouble.” See: Prude v. Clarke, 675 F.3d 732 (7th Cir. 2012).

The defendants subsequently filed a mea culpa with the Court of Appeals in which they accepted “complete responsibility for the poor handling of this matter before the court.... We acknowledge the seriousness of this matter and all matters before this court. All courts deserve to have cases handled with a sense of urgency and respect. We recognize that this did not occur in this case.” Accordingly, the appellate court did not impose sanctions.

Following remand, counsel was appointed to represent Prude. On December 17, 2012, the district court ruled on Prude’s motion for partial summary judgment and the defendants’ cross-motion for summary judgment. The court found that “genuine issues of material fact preclude the grant of summary judgment as to the substance of the plaintiff’s claims.” Still, the district court held the individual defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity, and granted partial summary judgment to Prude on that issue while denying the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. See: Prude v. Clarke, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Wisc.), Case No. 2:10-cv-00167-JPS; 2012 WL 6569348.

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Related legal cases

Prude v. Clarke

Prude v. Clarke