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Georgia Prisoner’s Challenge to “Deplorable” Conditions Survives Motion to Dismiss

On October 3, 2023, the federal court for the Middle District of Georgia denied a motion to dismiss filed by defendant state prison officials in a prisoner’s challenge to isolation in conditions he called “deplorable.”

While incarcerated at Georgia State Prison (GSP) from November 1, 2018, to January 7, 2021, Khalid Mouton was held in the Tier II program, a benign-sounding name for segregation that lasted 23 to 24 hours a day, with “restricted access to property, visitation, phone calls, religious services and the prison’s programs,” according to the complaint he filed. Out-of-cell recreation time, in outdoor steel cages, was often denied for “weeks or months,” he added. The extremely unsanitary conditions included broken plumbing, toilets that only guards could flush from outside cells, plus insects, vermin and mold in showers. Prisoners were not given cleaning supplies, either.

Due to these “deplorable” conditions, the complaint stated, Mouton’s mental health reached a “crisis point”: he experienced hallucinations, paranoia, panic attacks and began cutting his wrists. As a result, he was repeatedly sent to the Acute Care Unit (ACU), where conditions were, almost unbelievably, even worse: He could wear only a suicide prevention smock or paper gown; the bunks were covered in feces and blood; and he had no mattress, sheets or blankets. Prisoners in ACU were also denied hygiene items such as soap and toothpaste.

Then, in January 2021, Mouton had a stroke. Other prisoners told staff members that he was unresponsive and not retrieving his food trays, but it took several days before a guard noticed that he was unconscious. Mouton was airlifted to a hospital, where CT scans confirmed the stroke. A meaningful recovery might have been possible with treatment in the first 24 hours, but the delay left Mouton with permanent injuries; he can no longer walk—his right side is paralyzed—and must use a wheelchair; he cannot read or speak coherently and has memory loss; plus he faces increased risk of a reduced lifespan.

In his complaint, Mouton argued that problems at the prison which contributed to his injuries were compounded by understaffing; with a guard vacancy rate around 60%, required cell checks were not performed. Moreover, 14 prisoners had committed suicide between 2014 and 2018. Five more died in the Tier II program by suicide or homicide from 2020 to 2021. Other Tier II prisoners had suffered serious medical problems and experienced treatment delays. The defendants named in Mouton’s lawsuit were allegedly aware of these issues based on staffing and incident reports, internal audits, letters from Mouton’s attorney and “the alarming number of medical emergencies, suicides, homicides, and other preventable deaths.”

Defendants moved to dismiss but were denied after the Court found that Mouton had “successfully alleged an Eighth Amendment violation” and that “GSP defendants’ conduct violated clearly established law.” Defendants argued that Mouton failed to establish the subjective component of his deliberate indifference claim because he referred to them collectively rather than setting forth “specific allegations about each individual defendant.” But the Court rejected that argument, noting that while the complaint used collective language, it specified that “each defendant knew Mouton was experiencing a medical emergency, that each refused to check on him ... ,” etc.

Notably, the Court found that Mouton’s allegations met the “more than gross negligence” standard for deliberate indifference claims established in Wade v. McDade, 67 F.4th 1363 (11th Cir. 2023), pointing to his claim that Defendants “ignor[ed] his unresponsiveness and other prisoners’ pleas for help” when he had his stroke. Further, a “finding of deliberate indifference necessarily precludes a finding of qualified immunity” (QI) for Defendants on Mouton’s medical needs claim, the Court continued. Likewise it found that QI was not appropriate for them on his conditions of confinement claim, either, since he had “sufficiently alleged that the conditions in Tier II and the ACU posed ‘an objectively substantial risk of serious harm.’”

In short, the extremely oppressive, vermin-infested and unsanitary conditions to which Mouton was allegedly subjected during his two-year stint in solitary confinement, if proven true, rose to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation. Citing the various audits, reports and other documentation regarding deficiencies in Tier II—including understaffing and numerous prisoner deaths—the Court found that Mouton had adequately alleged supervisory liability against prison administrators, who had “abundant notice” of those problems. Accordingly, the motion to dismiss was denied. See: Martin v. Holt, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 178351 (M.D. Ga.).

Mouton, who has since been released from prison, filed suit through Beverly B. Martin as his next friend due to his “mental and physical incapacitation.” He is represented by attorneys Alison Ganem and Atteeyah Hollie with the Southern Center for Human Rights, along with Samantha Funt and Zack Greenamyre of Mitchell & Shapiro LLP, all in Atlanta. The case remains pending, and PLN will update developments as they are available. See: Martin v. Holt, USDC (M.D. Ga.), Case No. 5:23-cv-0004.

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Related legal cases

Martin v. Holt

Martin v. Holt