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Eleventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Pretrial Detainee's Lawsuit for Unsanitary Conditions, Due Process Violations

On August 29, 2016, a three-judge panel of the Eleventh CircA.t U.S. Court of Appeals upheld an order of a federal district court in Alabama which dismissed the lawsuit of a pretrial detainee who had sued after being forced to endure unsanitary conditions, and for due process violations at a jail disciplinary proceeding.

According to court records, Brent Jacoby was a pre-trial detainee in the Baldwin County Corrections Center ("the jail") in Bay Minette, Alabama, when, on August 12, 2012, his urine tested positive for cocaine and he was placed into administrative segregation (ad seg) pending a hearing. Jacoby was then forced to sleep on a mattress on the floor next to the toilet for three days, as the third man in a two-man cell, according to the complaint he later filed. Jacoby also alleged that his ensuing disciplinary hearing was constitutionally inadequate because he was prevented from calling a witness in his defense, and member of the hearing board was involved in the underlying investigation.

After Jacoby was found guilty of cocaine use and his internal appeals were denied, he filed suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama against the county, the sheriff, and several jail personnel alleging his rights were violated as a result of the disciplinary proceeding and the conditions of ad seg. Jacoby said he was exposed to human waste when "his cellmates urinated and defecated over him," and when he tried to sleep other prisoners in the unit "threw feces and urine at him." Jacoby alleged that as a result of the conditions and the limited amount of hygiene products available to him in ad seg, he developed a foot rash.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, ruling that his conditions of confinement did not violate his constitutional rights, and that his due process rights were not violated at his hearing. Jacoby appealed and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

The appellate court found that with respect to his disciplinary hearing claims, Jacoby's proffered witness could not have provided helpful testimony. Jacoby had claimed that a sheriff's deputy told him to use Seroquel to find out and report who was dealing that drug. But since Jacoby was infracted for using cocaine, that testimony would not have been relevant and was thus properly excluded.

The court also found that the extent of the hearing board member's involvement with Jacoby prior to his hearing was escorting him to ad seg. The member had "no decision-making role" in Jacoby's arrest, and his presence on the board was not a constitutional violation, the court ruled.

Finally, the Eleventh Circuit found that the conditions of Jacoby's temporary stay in ad seg simply were not egregious enough to merit constitutional scrutiny. Noting that Jacoby failed to submit an affidavit from himself or any other prisoner attesting to the conditions he complained of, "Mr. Jacoby's allegations (only) establish that he was forced to sleep on a mattress on the floor near the toilet." Such "circumstances are not enough," the court wrote, "to establish that the conditions of confinement were unconstitutional."

The judgment of the district court was affirmed on all counts and the case dismissed. See: Jacoby v. Baldwin County, et al., No. 1:12-cv00640-CG-N, (11th Cir. 8/29/2016).

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Related legal case

Jacoby v. Baldwin County, et al.