284 F.3d 411 (2nd Cir. 2002), 00-0253, Thompson v Carter

Docket Nº:Docket No. 00-0253
Citation:284 F.3d 411
Party Name:LOUIS THOMPSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT, v. J. CARTER, CORRECTIONAL OFFICER, CLINTON CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE, R.N. TAFT, R.N., PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT, R.N. OWENS, PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT, CLINTON CORR. FAC., K. LEE, DR., PHYSICIAN, CLINTON CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, CONSOLIDATED DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.
Case Date:March 19, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 411

284 F.3d 411 (2nd Cir. 2002)

LOUIS THOMPSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

J. CARTER, CORRECTIONAL OFFICER, CLINTON CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE,

R.N. TAFT, R.N., PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT, R.N. OWENS, PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT, CLINTON CORR. FAC., K. LEE, DR., PHYSICIAN, CLINTON CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, CONSOLIDATED DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.

Docket No. 00-0253

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

March 19, 2002

Argued: November 1, 2001

Louis Thompson appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (McAvoy, J.) that granted defendants' motion to dismiss his civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e).

Affirmed in part, vacated and remanded in part.

Page 412

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 413

Catherine M. Sharkey, Mayer, Brown & Platt, New York, Ny, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Frank Brady, Assistant Solicitor General (Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General of the State of New York and Nancy A. Spiegel, Assistant Solicitor General, on the brief) Albany, Ny, for Defendants-Appellees.

Robert D. McCallum, Jr., Assistant Attorney General, Washington, Dc, Joseph A. Pavone, United States Attorney, Northern District of New York, Syracuse, Ny, Page 414

John C. Hoyle and Jeffrica Jenkins Lee, Attorneys, Appellate Staff Civil Division, Department of Justice, Washington, Dc, on the brief for Intervenor United States of America.

Before: Walker, Chief Judge, Pooler and Katzmann, Circuit Judges.

Pooler, Circuit Judge.

Louis Thompson, a former inmate at the Clinton Correctional Facility ("Clinton"), appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Thomas J. McAvoy, Judge) that dismissed his three consolidated civil rights complaints pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) because Thompson did not allege that he had suffered a physical injury. Section 1997e(e) provides: "No Federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail, prison, or other correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury." Because Thompson's various complaints requested injunctive and/or declaratory relief and the pleadings before the court did not reveal the nature of any damages Thompson sought, the district court erred.

BACKGROUND

On December 3, 1997, Thompson filed three civil rights complaints in the Office of the Clerk for the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York. In each complaint, he made civil rights claims against one or more Clinton employees. In the first, Thompson alleged that J. Carter, a corrections officer at Clinton, confiscated Dilantin and Ibuprofen from Thompson's cell without giving him a contraband slip. As relief, Thompson demanded the return of these medications. In the second complaint, Thompson alleged that R.N. Owens stopped another nurse from prescribing Dilantin and Ibuprofen for Thompson, thus subjecting him to deliberate indifference. He asked the court to "[r]esolve this conflict of important interest so that I receive the medication." The third complaint also concerned Thompson's medications, but it is unclear what misconduct Thompson claimed. He again asked the court to "[r]esolve these violations."

In February 1998, the district court consolidated Thompson's three lawsuits. Two months later, the New York Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS") transferred Thompson to its Great Meadow Correctional Facility ("Great Meadow").1 In June 1998, Thompson submitted an affidavit to the court in which he claimed that he suffered from Jacksonian Epilepsy and that Great Meadow personnel continued to deny him his medications. Thompson subsequently submitted two additional documents in which he requested damages of $50,000. The Clerk returned the first of these documents because it had not been served but filed the second on December 29, 1998.

On July 12, 1999, defendants moved to dismiss Thompson's complaint because it did not state a claim on which relief could be granted. Magistrate Judge Ralph W. Smith recommended that the district court grant the motion to dismiss because Thompson had not responded to the motion. Rather than objecting to the report-recommendation, Thompson attempted to appeal to this court. Nevertheless, after noting Thompson's failure to object, Judge McAvoy reviewed the report-recommendation de novo and dismissed Thompson's Page 415

complaint because he failed to allege that he was physically injured.

Following Thompson's timely notice of appeal, we appointed counsel for him and directed counsel to brief the following issues: (1) whether the portion of Thompson's complaint seeking injunctive relief could be dismissed pursuant to Section 1997e(e); (2) whether the portion of his complaint seeking damages for the confiscation of his medicine was subject to Section 1997e(e); and (3) whether, assuming Section 1997e(e) applied, the district court should have allowed Thompson to amend his complaint to allege physical injury.

On appeal, Thompson argues that (1) Section 1997e(e) does not apply to his Eighth Amendment claim for deliberate indifference or to his claim for improper confiscation of his medications because neither is a claim for mental or emotional damages; (2) even if Section 1997e(e) applies, it does not bar either injunctive relief or damages for violation of a fundamental constitutional right; (3) if Section 1997e(e) is interpreted to bar damages for violation of a constitutional right, it is unconstitutional; and (4) at a minimum the district court should have allowed Thompson to amend his complaint to allege physical damages before dismissing the complaint. Defendants concede that Section 1997e(e) does not bar injunctive relief and "applies only where a plaintiff has requested compensatory damages for mental or emotional injury." However, they argue that because Thompson requested only injunctive relief against defendants employed at Clinton, his appeal is now moot.

After the Clerk of the Court certified to the Attorney General of the United States that Thompson disputed the constitutionality of Section 1997e(e), the United States moved to intervene. We granted the government's request, and it defends the statute as constitutional. The United States also contends that (1) Section 1997e(e) does not apply to requests for injunctive relief; (2) Section 1997e(e) applies even where the plaintiff alleges a violation of a constitutional right; and (3) if Thompson claims only an emotional or mental injury, Section 1997e(e) bars compensatory, nominal, and punitive damages.

DISCUSSION

I. Mootness

Defendants argue that this appeal is moot because Thompson requested only injunctive relief and he no longer is confined at Clinton where the defendants are employed. A prisoner's transfer to a different correctional facility generally moots his request for injunctive relief against employees of the transferor facility. Prins v. Coughlin, 76 F.3d 504, 506 (2d Cir. 1996) (per curiam). This result flows logically from the more generalized proposition that "an actual controversy must be extant at all stages of the case, not just at the time the complaint is filed." Beyah v Coughlin, 789 F.2d 986, 988 (2d Cir. 1986). In this case, a live controversy continues between Thompson and Carter: Thompson's request for an order directing Carter to return Thompson's medications. Therefore, this scenario differs from the more usual one in which the inmate plaintiff seeks prospective relief -- for example, an order directing that harassment cease -- against employees at one facility that would be useless after his transfer to a second facility. Thompson's appeal is not moot to the extent it seeks the return of medications seized from him.2

Page 416

Although Thompson's claims for declaratory and injunctive relief against the remaining defendants are moot, Thompson also contends that the district court should have construed his complaint as a request for damages and that, at a minimum, the court should have allowed him to amend his complaint to claim damages more clearly. We examine these issues in Point IV.

II. Standard of Review

We review de novo the district court's Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal of Thompson's complaint. Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 701 (2d Cir. 1998). Thus, we accept all the material allegations of the complaint and will not affirm the dismissal "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). "This rule applies with particular force where the plaintiff alleges civil rights violations or where the complaint is submitted pro se." Chance, 143 F.3d at 701. Finally, when addressing a pro se complaint, a district "court should not dismiss without granting leave to amend at least once when a liberal...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP