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$500 Default Judgement in Female Michigan Prisoner’s Pro Se Excessive-Force Claim

A Michigan federal district court awarded a $493.80 default judgement on October 29, 2020, to a prisoner in a civil rights action alleging excessive use of force by guards at Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

The prisoner, Donna K. Scrivo, had alleged her Eighth Amendment guarantee of protection from cruel and unusual punishment was violated when she was subjected to an excessive use of force by a guard at the prison, Sgt. Kendrick-Hall.

The incident unfolded in 2018, when the guard asked the prisoner to handover a pouch of coffee. Scrivo alleged that as she was handing the coffee, Kendrick-Hall grabbed her right arm tightly and pulled her to the top of the stairs, where the guard then slammed Scrivo “up against [a] brick wall . . . resulting in multiple facial injuries and bruising.”

Afterward, Kendrick-Hall wrote a misconduct ticket against Scrivo for assault and battery, but Scrivo was found not guilty of the offense. The prisoner then filed suit pro se seeking $4 million in compensatory and punitive damages, along with almost a million dollars for future medical problems.

Kendrick-Hall executed a waiver of service, acknowledging she received the complaint, but she failed to respond to it. The district court then entered a default judgment for Scrivo, but it said she was not entitled to compensatory damages for any alleged physical injuries “because mere default on an excessive force claim ‘does not, as a matter of law, entitle the victim to an award of compensatory damages.’”

The Court also denied the prisoner’s request for damages for emotional distress and mental anguish because she “never offered medical evidence suggesting that any doctor had diagnosed her” with an injury sustained by the guard’s alleged use of force. However, Scrivo was entitled to recover the $350 filing fee she paid before being granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court concluded.

That order subsequently was vacated by the Court because the Prison Litigation Reform Act precluded a default judgment until the defendant responded to the complaint. Kendrick-Hall did not respond to the Court’s order to show cause as to why it should not re-enter the default judgment, and the Court then did so.

But the Court then also reexamined the issue of damages, deciding to award Scrivo $1 in nominal damages for the excessive force claim. It also found she was entitled to economic damages, awarding $42 in lost wages when she could not work and $100.80 for a six-month bar on prison employment she received over the incident. Along with the $350 filing fee, that brought the total judgment to $493.80. See: Scrivo v. Kendrick-Hall, 2020 U.S. Dist. Lexis 201325.

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Related legal case

Scrivo v. Kendrick-Hall