Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Fourth Circuit: South Carolina Prisoner’s Bivens Claim Must Detail Unconstitutional Acts of Each Defendant

by Benjamin Tschirhart 

The Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS) recognized a limited cause of action for money damages against agents of the federal government in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bur. of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). But on March 3, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said a federal prisoner in South Carolina failed to state a cognizable claim under that ruling because he had not connected each individual government defendant to actions for which he requested relief.

No one denies that Chad Langford developed a serious medical condition while held at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Estill. When he complained of abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting on March 20, 2021, he was sent to a local hospital for examination. Test results there were deemed “unremarkable,” and Langford was sent back. For the next week, his condition deteriorated. Eventually he was in severe pain and could hardly walk. On March 28, 2021, medical staff returned him to Hampton Regional Medical Center, where he underwent surgery for an abdominal infection caused by bowel obstruction.

With aid of attorney Louis H. Lang with Callison, Tighe & Robinson, LLC in Columbia, Langford filed an Eighth Amendment claim, alleging he sustained permanent injury as a result of the delayed surgery, which he in turn blamed on deliberate indifference to his medical needs by FCI-Estill staff. The suit named nine defendants including then-Warden Hector Joiner, and sought money damages for their malfeasance, as laid out in Bivens.

Defendants moved to dismiss under Fed. Rule of Civ. Proc. 12 (b)(6), arguing that Langford’s complaint contained “generalized, conclusory and collective allegations” and failed to “plausibly allege deliberate indifference on the part of each defendant.” The federal court for the District of South Carolina granted the motion, and Langford appealed, bringing the case before Judges Wynn, Thacker and Richardson at the Fourth Circuit Court in 2023.

They noted that while Langford’s serious medical need was not at issue, the case turned on the subjective prong of the test for deliberate indifference. Langford argued that assignment of fault to Defendants in general was a “shorthand” used for convenience, but the Court insisted that SCOTUS “has made clear that to state a plausible Bivens claim, a plaintiff must plead that each court-official defendant, through the official’s own individual actions, has violated the Constitution,” citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). Accordingly, Langford’s appeal was dismissed. See: Langford v. Joyner, 62 F.4th 122 (4th Cir. 2023).

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Langford v. Joyner