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Federal Jury Awards $30,501 to Indiana Prisoner in Retaliation Lawsuit

by David M. Reutter

In October 2022, the federal court for the Southern District of Indiana confirmed payment to a state prisoner of $30,501 in damages, which was awarded for retaliation he suffered when seeking protection from other prisoners.

The prisoner, Jason Seth Perry, was held at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. There, he filed a request for protective custody (PC) on December 1, 2017. His prison record showed he’d been assaulted for being a confidential informant — a “snitch” — but his request was denied.

On December 13, 2017, Perry filed an informal grievance with Deputy Warden Frank Littlejohn, claiming his life was in danger without PC. Littlejohn denied the grievance that same day and said he was recommending a transfer for Perry to another prison.

Perry then filed a formal grievance on December 17, 2017. It was denied by Warden Richard Brown the next day, when Perry’s transfer to the annex at New Castle Correctional Facility (NCCF) was approved. He appealed that decision, continuing after arriving at NCCF. Segregation there was “like maximum security status,” according to a complaint he later filed, with “24/7 lockdown some days and 23/7 the others,” and his window offered “no view of the outside world.” However, officials with the state Department of Corrections (DOC) insisted the move was necessary for Perry to attend a behavior program at the new prison — though he had already completed a behavior program four months earlier.

Perry filed suit in the Court pro se,alleging that his move to NCCF housed him near some of the same prisoners from whom he requested protection. Further, since he asked for nothing more than PC, he claimed there was no justification to transfer him except retaliation for filing his grievance.

On October 7, 2020, the Court granted summary judgment to several defendants, but not Littlejohn and Brown. As to the Deputy Warden, the Court said that “suspicious timing” is sufficient “to raise an inference of a retaliatory motive” when there is also “a chronology of events that suggests retaliation,” citing Mays v. Springborn, 575 F.3d 643 (7th Cir. 2009). As to Warden Brown, the Court noted he denied Perry’s formal grievance, giving “knowledge and consent” of the alleged constitutional violation, as required under Gentry v. Duckworth, 65 F.3d 555 (7th Cir. 1995), to sustain the claims against him. See: Perry v. Littlejohn, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 186532 (S.D. Ind.).

On January 5, 2021, the Court recruited attorney Laurie Martin to provide counsel for Perry. In turn, she got the Court to recruit attorney Molly E. Harkins as additional counsel on February 19, 2021. In response to their requests, Defendants produced additional documents on March 3, 2021 — “more than a year after the close of discovery,” the Court later recalled — before Perry had his recruited counsel dismissed and proceeded once again pro se.

After a two-day trial concluded on December 8, 2021, a jury found for Perry on his retaliation claim against Littlejohn, but not Brown. The Court then entered judgment for $1 in nominal damages and $30,500 in punitive damages.

In February 2022, the Court held a hearing on sanctions for Defendants’ year-long delay in producing discovery materials, taking findings under advisement in June 2022. At that time, the Court also granted Perry’s request for post-judgment interest on his jury award. That apparently goosed payment of the judgment against Littlejohn. Though it was unclear if DOC indemnified him, the Court accepted proof of payment of the judgment, with interest, on October 5, 2022. See: Perry v. Littlejohn, USDC (S.D. Ind.), Case No. 1:18-cv-02437. 

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