784 F.2d 299 (8th Cir. 1986), 83-2540, Thomas v. Booker

Docket Nº:83-2540, 83-2541 and 83-2573.
Citation:784 F.2d 299
Party Name:George THOMAS, Appellee, v. Thomas BOOKER, Alfonso Lark and Major C.O. Humphrey, Appellants. George THOMAS, Appellant, v. Thomas BOOKER, Alfonso Lark and Major C.O. Humphrey, Appellees. George THOMAS, Appellee, v. Thomas BOOKER, Alphonso Lark and William Frank Humphrey, Appellants.
Case Date:February 14, 1986
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Page 299

784 F.2d 299 (8th Cir. 1986)

George THOMAS, Appellee,


Thomas BOOKER, Alfonso Lark and Major C.O. Humphrey, Appellants.

George THOMAS, Appellant,


Thomas BOOKER, Alfonso Lark and Major C.O. Humphrey, Appellees.

George THOMAS, Appellee,


Thomas BOOKER, Alphonso Lark and William Frank Humphrey, Appellants.

Nos. 83-2540, 83-2541 and 83-2573.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

February 14, 1986

Submitted Aug. 20, 1985.

Page 300

Robert H. Dierker, St. Louis, Mo., for appellants.

Page 301

Gerald L. Birnbaum, O'Fallon, Mo., for appellee.

Before LAY, Chief Judge, HEANEY, ROSS, McMILLIAN, ARNOLD, JOHN R. GIBSON, FAGG, and BOWMAN, Circuit Judges, En Banc.

ROSS, Circuit Judge.

George Thomas filed this 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 action alleging that three employees of the St. Louis City Jail, Thomas Booker, William Humphrey, and Alphonso Lark, violated his constitutional rights by failing to protect him from violent attacks by other inmates. After a panel of this court considered the case, see Thomas v. Booker, 762 F.2d 654 (8th Cir.1985), this court, on its own motion, granted rehearing en banc. We now affirm the judgment awarding Thomas $3,000 actual damages and $10,000 punitive damages against Booker and $1,000 actual damages against Humphrey. We also reinstate a jury verdict of $10,000 punitive damages against Humphrey which had been set aside by the trial court. Finally, we reverse a judgment awarding $1,000 actual damages against Lark.


Thomas was placed in the St. Louis City Jail as a pretrial detainee in May of 1980. On September 17, 1980, another prisoner, Gregory Swink, rushed into Thomas' cell and struck him in the right eye. After treatment, he was returned to the jail and placed in the same cell which he had occupied earlier. The cell was located on the fifth floor of the facility in what is termed "tier 5-1". Tier 5-1 houses the "general population" in general and prisoners classified as "aggressive" in particular.

On the morning of September 22, 1980, Thomas became involved in a fight with another prisoner, Howard Gillian, in the tier 5-1 dayroom. No guards appeared until the fight was essentially over. By that time, Gillian had suffered a broken jaw, while Thomas suffered a broken hand and retinal detachment in his right eye. Surgery on the eye failed to prevent blindness.

Thomas then initiated this suit. His claim against Booker and Lark was based on his placement in tier 5-1. Booker was the chief of security at the jail and Lark was the supervisor of correctional officers. The evidence with respect to Booker and Lark was summarized by the panel court as follows:

With respect to Booker, the record includes testimony by Thomas (1) that in May 1980, he asked Booker not to remove him from administrative segregation (where he initially had been placed upon his transfer to the jail from the city workhouse) because he feared other inmates might attack him; (2) that in July 1980, following the discovery in Thomas's cell of a homemade knife, he told the investigating committee of which Booker was a member that he felt he needed the weapon for protection; (3) that while he was in disciplinary segregation as punishment for the homemade knife incident, he told Booker that he feared for his physical safety if he was returned to the general population [; in response, Booker referred to Thomas as a "smart, big-mouth nigger" and advised him that "I'm going to send you somewhere where I won't have no trouble out of you"; immediately thereafter Thomas was sent to tier 5-1]; (4) that the day after his return to the jail from the hospital where he had been treated for injuries suffered in the September 17, 1980 attack by Swink, he again expressed his fear of attack by other inmates and asked Booker to remove him from the general population. Thomas also testified that, following the September 17, 1980 attack by Swink but preceding his September 22, 1980 fight with Gillian, he specifically asked Booker to move him away from cellmate Parker. The record can be read to indicate that it was Parker who instigated the fight between Thomas and Gillian. Additionally, other inmates testified that they heard Thomas ask Booker to remove him from the general population. Parker testified that he told Booker if Booker didn't move Thomas, Thomas was going to be "chased" off the floor. Finally, there is

Page 302

every indication in the record that although classification of inmates for cell assignment purposes generally was handled by a social services office and not by Booker, Booker had complete authority to move a prisoner for security reasons.

* * *

* * *

With respect to Lark, Thomas's testimony establishes that he only spoke with Lark about his fear of attack by other inmates in the jail's general population on one occasion, and then only in a very generalized fashion. Lark told him that he should discuss his concerns with Booker, who was in charge of security. This conversation took place before Thomas ever was assigned to a general population cell; at the time, Thomas was in administrative segregation following his transfer to the jail from the city workhouse. There is nothing in the record to indicate that Lark knew of Thomas's subsequent complaints to Booker, of the September 17, 1980 attack by Swink, or of Parker's threats against Thomas.

Thomas v. Booker, supra, 762 F.2d at 658-59 (footnote omitted).

Thomas' claim against Humphrey was grounded on Humphrey's failure to detect and intervene in Thomas' fight with Gillian on September 22, 1980. Humphrey was a correctional officer at the jail. The panel summarized the evidence with respect to the claim against Humphrey as follows:

There is no dispute that Humphrey was on duty when the September 22, 1980 fight between Thomas and Gillian occurred and that the fight took place in an area of the jail to which Humphrey was assigned. It seems equally clear that guards were to make full rounds every fifteen to twenty minutes. However, little else about that fight or Humphrey's role regarding it is clear from the record. Thomas and other inmates estimated that the fight lasted anywhere from forty-five minutes to two hours and that during that time, no guard came by on rounds. Prison officials testified that it would be impossible for a fight to have gone undetected for such a long time. There was testimony by inmates that a great deal of noise was made during the fight. Prison officials testified that the amount of noise claimed by the inmates to have been generated by this fight surely would have attracted the attention of the guards. Thomas cites as proof of Humphrey's failure to make rounds a jail record which indicates that Humphrey left his assigned floor during his September 22, 1980 duty shift for approximately twenty-five minutes. But the jail record suggests that Humphrey did so in order to fulfill another duty function. Furthermore, Humphrey testified that even if he did leave the floor, his rounds would have been made by his supervisor.

Id. at 659-60.

By the consent of the parties, the jury trial in this case was held before a magistrate. See 28 U.S.C. Sec. 636(c). After the trial was concluded, the magistrate instructed the jury and submitted verdict forms to be used for each of the defendants. 1 After deliberating, the jury returned to the courtroom to announce its verdict. At this point, the magistrate was handed the verdict forms. The forms were blank except for the verdict form for defendant Booker. This form granted Thomas an award of $5,000 actual damages and $25,000 punitive damages. The magistrate then called the attorneys to the bench. After discussing the situation with the attorneys

Page 303

off the record, the following exchange took place:

THE COURT: I can only say this, Miss MacMillan, and I'll speak to you as the foreperson of the jury, it's incomplete.

THE FOREPERSON: You're right, we're just realizing that sitting here. I'm sorry.

THE COURT: You want to take it back and finish it for me?

THE FOREPERSON: Yes, I sure will.

Trial Transcript at 80-81. The jury retired again to deliberate upon its verdict.

When it returned, all three verdict forms were completed. The form for Booker had been modified so as to grant Thomas an award of $3,000 actual damages and $10,000 punitive damages. As completed, the forms for Humphrey and Lark gave Thomas an award of $1,000 actual damages and $10,000 punitive damages against Humphrey, and $1,000 actual damages and $5,000 punitive damages against Lark.

The defendants then filed a motion for a JNOV or a new trial. The magistrate partially granted the motion for JNOV by setting aside the punitive damage awards against Humphrey and Lark on the basis that the evidence did not support the awards. The defendants' motion was denied in all other respects.

The defendants then appealed, arguing that the motion should have been granted in its entirety. Thomas cross-appealed, arguing that the motion should have been denied in its entirety.


1. Substantive Liability

"[P]rison officials may be liable where they are 'deliberately indifferent to [a prisoner's] constitutional rights, either because they actually intended to deprive him of some right, or because they acted with reckless disregard of his right to be free from violent attacks by fellow inmates.' " Martin v. White, 742 F.2d 469, 474 (8th Cir.1984) (quoting Branchcomb v. Brewer, 669 F.2d 1297, 1298 (8th Cir.1982)). Similarly, "a jury may be permitted to assess punitive damages in an action under Sec. 1983 when the defendant's conduct is shown to be motivated by evil motive or intent, or when it involves reckless or callous indifference to the federally protected rights of others." Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 56, 103 S.Ct. 1625, 1640, 75 L.Ed.2d 632 (1983). On appeal, the defendants argue that the jury instructions given by the magistrate failed...

To continue reading