375 F.3d 720 (8th Cir. 2004), 02-3446, Royal v. Kautzky

Docket Nº:02-3446.
Citation:375 F.3d 720
Party Name:Jeffery R. ROYAL, Plaintiff/Appellant, v. Walter KAUTZKY, Defendant, Lowell Brandt; Carole Clemens, Defendants/Appellees, Paul W. Loeffelholz; Rusty Rogerson; Chris Gesie, Head Nurse; Gabriele Ortiz, Doctor, IMCC; Larry Hardy, Head of Transportation, Defendants, Tom Reid, Head of Security, IMCC, Defendant/Appellee, King, Captain; Unknown/Unnamed De
Case Date:July 15, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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Page 720

375 F.3d 720 (8th Cir. 2004)

Jeffery R. ROYAL, Plaintiff/Appellant,

v.

Walter KAUTZKY, Defendant, Lowell Brandt; Carole Clemens, Defendants/Appellees, Paul W. Loeffelholz; Rusty Rogerson; Chris Gesie, Head Nurse; Gabriele Ortiz, Doctor, IMCC; Larry Hardy, Head of Transportation, Defendants,

Tom Reid, Head of Security, IMCC, Defendant/Appellee, King, Captain; Unknown/Unnamed Defendants, John Does, guards, IMCC, Defendants.

No. 02-3446.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 15, 2004

Submitted: Dec. 18, 2003.

Page 721

Philip B. Mears, argued, Iowa City, IA, for appellant.

Kristin W. Ensign, argued, Asst. Atty. Gen., Des Moines, IA, for appellee.

Before LOKEN, Chief Judge, HEANEY and RILEY, Circuit Judges.

RILEY, Circuit Judge.

Jeffery Royal (Royal) brought a section 1983 prisoner suit against several Iowa Medical Classification Center (IMCC) employees, including Tom Reid (Reid), IMCC's head of security. After a trial, Royal obtained a judgment against Reid for $1.00, and was awarded attorney fees in the amount of $1.50. The district court expressly found "Royal did not sustain a physical injury." Consequently, the district court 1 denied mental or emotional

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damages, awarding only nominal damages, and further denied an award of punitive damages. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

While an inmate at IMCC, an institution within the Iowa Department of Corrections, Royal made numerous complaints and grievances. Most of Royal's complaints followed unsuccessful requests for medical care to address a spinal cord injury. After Reid tired of Royal's behavior, Reid placed Royal in segregation for sixty days. Royal filed a section 1983 suit against the IMCC officials, including Reid, for retaliation against Royal's First Amendment rights and access to the courts. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which the district court denied. In denying the motion for summary judgment, the district court determined the record contained no allegations and no evidence showing Royal sustained physical injury. Thus, the district court determined the Prison Litigation and Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA) limited Royal's damages to nominal damages. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e).

Following an evidentiary hearing, the district court found Reid had unconstitutionally retaliated against Royal by placing him in segregation because Royal filed numerous grievances. Since Royal did not suffer physical injury, the district court assessed nominal damages of $1.00. The district court considered punitive damages, but decided against them after finding Reid did not act with evil motive or reckless indifference, but out of frustration and a desire to protect his staff from Royal's abuse. Because Reid had retired, the district court also found punitive damages would not deter future conduct. Applying the PLRA's limitation on attorney fees, the district court awarded attorney fees in the amount of $1.50 to Royal.

On appeal, Royal asserts three grounds for reversing the district court. First, Royal contends he is entitled to more than nominal damages, even though he suffered no physical injury. Second, Royal contends the district court abused its discretion by failing to award punitive damages. Third, Royal attacks the constitutionality of the PLRA's limitation on attorney fees.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

We "review claims of constitutional error and issues of statutory construction de novo." Foulk v. Charrier, 262 F.3d 687, 703 (8th Cir.2001). However, the district court's damages award, including the district court's decision to deny punitive damages, is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Trobaugh v. Hall, 176 F.3d 1087, 1088-89 (8th Cir.1999). We review the district court's factual findings for clear error. See Williams v. Brimeyer, 116 F.3d 351, 354 (8th Cir.1997).

B. Compensatory Damages

The PLRA states "[n]o 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." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e). With commendable candor, Royal acknowledges he did not suffer physical injury, and does not challenge the district court's conclusion Royal suffered no physical injury as a result of Reid's actions. However, Royal contends the PLRA does not limit his damages simply because he did not suffer physical injury. Royal argues (1) the PLRA's limitation on damages does not apply to First Amendment

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violations, and (2) his claim for being improperly segregated does not involve mental or emotional injury, so the PLRA should not limit his damages.

We are not the first court to confront whether section 1997e(e) applies to First Amendment violations. Other courts have not agreed on a uniform interpretation of section 1997e(e). The majority of courts hold section 1997e(e)'s limitation on damages applies to all federal prisoner lawsuits. See, e.g., Thompson v. Carter, 284 F.3d 411, 416 (2d Cir.2002) (concluding "[s]ection 1997e(e) applies to all federal civil actions including claims alleging constitutional violations"); Searles v. Van Bebber, 251 F.3d 869, 876 (10th Cir.2001) (holding section 1997e(e) applies to First Amendment violations); Allah v. Al-Hafeez, 226 F.3d 247, 250-51 (3d Cir.2000) (holding section 1997e(e) applies to First Amendment violations); Todd v. Graves, 217 F.Supp.2d 958, 961 (S.D.Iowa 2002) (holding section 1997e(e) applies to Fourteenth Amendment suits). Some courts have charted a different course, excluding First and Fourteenth Amendment claims from section 1997e(e)'s reach. See, e.g., Canell v. Lightner, 143 F.3d 1210, 1213 (9th Cir.1998) (holding section 1997e(e) does not apply to First Amendment claims); Mason v. Schriro, 45 F.Supp.2d 709, 719 (W.D.Mo.1999) (holding section 1997e(e) does not apply to Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claims).

We join the majority, concluding Congress did not intend section 1997e(e) to limit recovery only to a select group of federal actions brought by prisoners. Instead, we read section 1997e(e) as limiting recovery for mental or emotional injury in all federal actions brought by prisoners. In reaching this conclusion, we cannot escape the unmistakably clear language Congress used: "No Federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner ... for mental or emotional injury ... without a prior showing of physical injury." To read this statute to exempt First Amendment claims would require us to interpret "[n]o Federal civil action" to mean "[n]o Federal civil action [except for First Amendment violations]." If Congress desires such a reading of section 1997e(e), Congress can certainly say so. We cannot.

Royal's second argument is his claim does not involve mental or emotional injury, so the PLRA should not limit his recovery rights. Royal apparently contends other types of recovery are available to him. To the extent Royal argues nominal damages, punitive damages, and injunctive and declaratory relief are available to him, we agree. Congress did not intend section 1997e(e) to bar recovery for all forms of relief. See, e.g., Memphis Cmty. Sch. Dist. v. Stachura, 477 U.S. 299, 308, 106 S.Ct. 2537, 91 L.Ed.2d 249 (1986) (holding nominal damages should be granted for section 1983 claims when actual injury cannot be shown); Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 56, 103 S.Ct. 1625, 75 L.Ed.2d 632 (1983) (holding punitive damages are authorized for violations of constitutional rights); Hughes v. Lott, 350 F.3d 1157, 1162 (11th Cir.2003) (holding section 1997e(e) does not preclude nominal damages); Thompson, 284 F.3d at 418 (holding section 1997e(e) does not preclude injunctive relief or nominal damages); Searles, 251 F.3d at 878-79 (holding section 1997e(e) does not preclude nominal damages); Davis v. Dist. of Columbia, 158 F.3d 1342, 1346 (D.C.Cir.1998) (stating section 1997e(e) does not preclude injunctive relief); Zehner v. Trigg, 133 F.3d 459, 462 (7th Cir.1997) (same). Therefore, Royal was free to seek nominal damages, punitive damages, injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment. Congress is well within its authority to balance the interests and reasonably limit a prisoner's relief.

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The district court awarded $1.00 in nominal damages to Royal, and considered awarding punitive damages. Faithfully following the PLRA, the district court appropriately awarded Royal $1.00 in nominal damages for Royal's First Amendment violation. Royal may not recover some indescribable and indefinite damage allegedly arising from a violation of his constitutional rights. See, e.g., Stachura, 477 U.S. at 308 n. 11, 106 S.Ct. 2537 (stating "nominal damages, and not damages based on some undefinable 'value' of infringed rights, are the appropriate means of 'vindicating' rights whose...

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