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Fifth Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Prisoner's Lawsuit Over Guard's Failure to Protect Him From Another Prisoner's Attack

 by Matt Clarke

On August 24, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the Rule 12(b)(6), F.R.Civ.P. dismissal of a prisoner’s civil rights lawsuit alleging a prison guard failed to protect him from being stabbed by another prisoner.

Texas prisoner Christopher Bryan Torres was a janitor in administrative segregation when he and guard Jonathan Endsley were delivering meals to segregated prisoners. As usual, Endsley opened the food tray slots on an entire row of cells and Torres delivered the food trays. At times, a prisoner might ask a guard to pass through a newspaper, magazine, book or other small item. The guard would usually direct Torres to fulfill those requests.

During one meal delivery, Angel Sanchez asked Endsley to retrieve photos from the floor outside his cell. Endsley told Torres to do so. As he leaned over to pick up the photos, Sanchez reached through the food slot and stabbed Torres in the neck. Torres suffered medically confirmed permanent injuries, causing problems with breathing, eating, drinking and speech.

Torres filed a federal 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights lawsuit against Endsley and other prison officials, alleging they failed to protect him from Sanchez.

In granting defendant’s motion to dismiss, the court noted that even Torres had admitted that Sanchez gave no warning of the impending attack.

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit found that “Torres does not offer any facts suggesting that Endsley knew of and disregarded a substantial risk to his health and safety. … In fact, Torres remarked that Sanchez ‘appeared harmless and asked in the right tone’ …, In sum, Torres failed to allege Endsley was negligent, much less that he consciously disregarded any risk of serious harm …” This means there was no constitutional violation. Therefore, the trial court’s judgment was affirmed. See: Torres v. Livingston, 972 F.3d 660 (5th Cir. 2020).

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Related legal case

Torres v. Livingston, et al.