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Wisconsin Prisoner Sues After Injury; Seventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal

by Scott Grammer

On March 6, 2019, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a federal lawsuit filed by Wisconsin prisoner Ezra R.E. French. According to the ruling, French was working on a yard crew at the Green Bay Correctional Institution when a guard ordered him and another prisoner to climb inside a recycling dumpster and compress the cardboard in it. A third prisoner reminded the guard that the prison’s own rules forbade prisoners from entering the dumpsters and that a sign on the dumpster warned against it, but the guard insisted. French was hurt when he fell upon exiting the dumpster.

French lost in the district court and argued on appeal that he had received inadequate medical treatment, but the appellate court found his argument “does not state an Eighth Amendment claim for inadequate medical care.” French also contended that the guard violated the Eighth Amendment by ordering him into the dumpster, but the Court of Appeals wrote that “... he is incorrect. Such a claim would require a substantial risk of harm that is ‘so great’ that it is ‘almost certain to materialize.’”

French further claimed that the prison’s complaint examiner and warden violated the Eighth Amendment by refusing to resolve his grievance in his favor. The Seventh Circuit held that “because the examiner did not create the peril facing French in the dumpster or do anything that increased the peril, or make it harder for French to get medical treatment, he did not violate the Eighth Amendment. It follows, then, that the warden also did not violate the Eighth Amendment by signing off on the grievance denial.” See: French v. Eckstein, 754 Fed. Appx. 478 (7th Cir. 2019).

While French may have had a viable negligence claim against the guard who ordered him into the dumpster, the facts he alleged did not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. 

Related legal case

French v. Eckstein