7 F.3d 1370 (8th Cir. 1993), 92-3369, Choate v. Lockhart

Docket Nº:92-3369, 92-3526.
Citation:7 F.3d 1370
Party Name:Freddy Wayne CHOATE, Appellant, v. A.L. LOCKHART; R.H. Smith; Dale Keith; Bob McCool; Arkansas Department of Correction, Appellees. Freddy Wayne CHOATE, Appellee, v. A.L. LOCKHART; R.H. Smith; Dale Keith; Bob McCool, Appellants, Arkansas Department of Correction, Defendant.
Case Date:October 26, 1993
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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Page 1370

7 F.3d 1370 (8th Cir. 1993)

Freddy Wayne CHOATE, Appellant,

v.

A.L. LOCKHART; R.H. Smith; Dale Keith; Bob McCool;

Arkansas Department of Correction, Appellees.

Freddy Wayne CHOATE, Appellee,

v.

A.L. LOCKHART; R.H. Smith; Dale Keith; Bob McCool, Appellants,

Arkansas Department of Correction, Defendant.

Nos. 92-3369, 92-3526.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

October 26, 1993

Submitted Sept. 15, 1993.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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John W. Green, Stuttgart, AR, for appellant.

David Eberhard, Asst. U.S. Atty., Little Rock, AR, for appellee.

Before MAGILL, Circuit Judge, LAY, Senior Circuit Judge, and HANSEN, Circuit Judge.

MAGILL, Circuit Judge.

Freddy Wayne Choate (Choate), an inmate at the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC), brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that several ADC employees violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by making him work on a dangerous roofing job. The district court found the defendant prison officials liable and awarded Choate damages for pain and suffering. Choate appeals the district court's denial of punitive and other compensatory damages. The defendants cross-appeal the court's finding of liability under § 1983. Because the evidence fails to establish that the defendants acted with deliberate indifference, we reverse the district court's judgment awarding Choate damages for violations of his Eighth Amendment rights.

I. BACKGROUND

Choate entered the ADC in February 1982. The ADC assigned Choate to a construction crew sometime in 1983 or 1984 because of his background in carpentry. On learning of the assignment, Choate told a prison physician that doctors had implanted an artificial knee cap in his right knee in 1975. He stated that his knee problems should preclude him from working on the crew. Doctors then examined Choate and assigned him a medical classification excusing him from work requiring prolonged lifting, bending, and squatting. As a result, the ADC removed him from the construction

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crew and reassigned him to "light maintenance work."

In 1987, however, Choate was transferred back to a construction unit without notice. None of the defendants were members of the committee that made this assignment. Choate then repeatedly complained to his unit physician that he should be removed from the construction assignment because of his knee problems. He never communicated any of his complaints to the defendants. The unit physician, however, did not take Choate off the construction crew or change his medical classification.

In March 1987, Choate's crew was assigned to build a garage at defendant Lockhart's state-owned residence. Lockhart is director of the ADC. Defendants Smith, Keith and McCool were all supervisors on the garage project. On April 24, 1987, the supervisors assigned Choate and other inmates to work on the roof of the garage, which was about twelve feet above the ground. The work involved placing plywood down as roof decking. The work area was sloped at about a forty-five-degree angle. The crew used an electric saw on the roof to cut wood, which created sawdust that made the plywood surface slick. A broom was available, however, to sweep away accumulating sawdust. The crew did not erect scaffolding or place "toe boards" around the roof as safety precautions.

While on break on the roof on April 24, Choate asked another inmate to throw him a pack of cigarettes. After a second throw, Choate caught the pack and sat down on the plywood decking. He then began sliding and fell off the roof onto the concrete surface below, sustaining injuries to his feet and ankles.

Choate brought suit in March 1989 under § 1983 claiming that defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights by requiring him to work in unsafe conditions. In March 1991, a magistrate judge held a trial on the issue of the defendants' liability. At the end of the trial, the magistrate judge concluded that the defendants were not liable. In November 1991, however, the district court rejected this recommendation and found for Choate. The court held that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to Choate's welfare and thus liable under § 1983. The court then held a trial on damages and awarded Choate $2500 for past pain and suffering. Choate now appeals the court's failure to award him punitive damages and damages for future pain and suffering and diminution of earning capacity. The defendants cross-appeal the district court's finding of liability.

We review the district court's findings of fact 1 under the clearly erroneous standard. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a). The issue of the defendants' liability, however, involves "determining whether the established facts fall within the relevant legal definition." Falls v. Nesbitt, 966 F.2d 375, 377 (8th Cir.1992). Thus, as to whether the defendants violated the...

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