877 F.Supp. 1296 (E.D.Ark. 1995), PB-C-93-731, Smith v. Norris

Docket Nº:PB-C-93-731.
Citation:877 F.Supp. 1296
Party Name:Ernest SMITH and Jimmy Rudd, Plaintiffs, v. Larry NORRIS, Former Acting Director and Current Director of the Arkansas Department of Correction; Willis H. Sargent, Former Warden of the Cummins Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction; Major A.J. Hall, Chief of Security; Lieutenant R.R. Wood, Shift Supervisor; J. Cleveland, Guard; John Hood, Off
Case Date:February 23, 1995
Court:United States District Courts, 8th Circuit, Eastern District of Arkansas
 
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Page 1296

877 F.Supp. 1296 (E.D.Ark. 1995)

Ernest SMITH and Jimmy Rudd, Plaintiffs,

v.

Larry NORRIS, Former Acting Director and Current Director of the Arkansas Department of Correction; Willis H. Sargent, Former Warden of the Cummins Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction; Major A.J. Hall, Chief of Security; Lieutenant R.R. Wood, Shift Supervisor; J. Cleveland, Guard; John Hood, Officer; James Banks, Classification and Assignment Officer; and Dale Reed, Warden, Cummins Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction, Defendants.

No. PB-C-93-731.

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Pine Bluff Division.

Feb. 23, 1995

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Paul J. James, Sherman, James & Yeatman, Hugh E. Crisp, Little Rock, AR, for plaintiffs.

Kyle Ray Wilson, Atty. General's Office, Little Rock, AR, for defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

EISELE, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

The evidentiary hearing which was conducted from February 13, 1995, until February 17, 1995, was first considered because of some unresolved factual issues which arose in connection with the parties' various motions for summary judgment. However, in light of the scheduled trial of Mr. Rudd's cause of action for declaratory and injunctive relief and the defendants' claims of qualified immunity, the Court decided to hear and resolve all of the pending non-jury issues at one time. The results discussed in detail below, are as follows:

1. The Court holds for Mr. Rudd upon his claim for declaratory and injunctive relief.

2. The Court denies the defendants' claims of qualified immunity.

3. The Court grants Mr. Smith's motion for partial summary judgment on the liability issues in connection with his claims for damages for personal injuries, leaving only the damages issues to be tried to a jury at a later date.

MR. RUDD'S CLAIM FOR EQUITABLE RELIEF

The Court will first deal with Mr. Rudd's complaint seeking declaratory injunctive relief.

There is, of course, no doubt that "the conditions under which [prisoners are] confined are subject to scrutiny under the [Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the] Eighth Amendment." 1 Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, ----, 113 S.Ct. 2475, 2408, 125 L.Ed.2d 22 (1993). Thus, it is axiomatic that if the State of Arkansas wishes to incarcerate persons convicted of violating its criminal laws, it must do so under conditions that meet basic constitutional

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standards. In its recent opinion in Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, ---- - ----, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 1976-77, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994), the Supreme Court removed any doubt (if indeed there ever was any) from the proposition that, under the Constitution, " '[p]rison officials have a duty ... to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.' " (citation omitted); see also Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 303, 111 S.Ct. 2321, 2326-27, 115 L.Ed.2d 271 (1991) (describing "the protection an inmate is afforded against other inmates" as a "condition of confinement" subject to the Eighth Amendment). The Court's statement in Farmer was not, however, a new development in the law, but rather an exposition of the state of the law that had been uniformly recognized by the lower courts, including the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. See, e.g., Falls v. Nesbitt, 966 F.2d 375, 377 (8th Cir.1992); Martin v. White, 742 F.2d 469, 474 (8th Cir.1984). While the State is not required to insure that its prisoners face absolutely no danger from assaults by other inmates, it must "take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of [its] inmates." Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27, 104 S.Ct. 3194, 3200, 82 L.Ed.2d 393 (1984).

As both this case and the prior history of the Finney case 2 make clear, it is not easy to state with precision exactly what measures must be taken to insure that the State's inmates are provided with the level of personal security to which they are entitled under the Constitution. The Supreme Court has provided limited guidance in this area, stating only that prison conditions are to be evaluated under "evolving standards of decency," and that, while "in the end [a court's] own judgment will be brought to bear on the acceptability" of a prison's conditions, this judgment "should be informed by objective factors to the maximum extent possible." Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 349, 101 S.Ct. 2392, 2400, 69 L.Ed.2d 59 (1981). This is precisely what the Court attempted to do throughout the history of the Finney litigation, which, as the parties know, involved a comprehensive review of the Arkansas prison system. In its final decision in Finney, the Court required the Arkansas Department of Correction ("ADC") to, among other things, implement certain safeguards in the open barracks of the Cummins Unit which at that time, the Court believed would be adequate to insure that prisoners who were incarcerated therein would receive the protection from inmate-on-inmate assaults to which they are constitutionally entitled. Finney v. Mabry, supra, 546 F.Supp. at 639-40. Although the Court believes that there can be no serious debate on this issue, the Court stresses that the limitations on the operation of the open barracks imposed by Finney, which have been discussed at length by the parties and which will be further discussed infra, were intended to represent the absolute minimum measures which the ADC had to put in place in order to comply with the constraints imposed by the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 640. As the facts of this case have clearly demonstrated, however, the Court was incorrect in concluding that the limitations imposed by Finney would be adequate to satisfy the Constitution's mandate that inmates housed in the open barracks of the Cummins Unit receive reasonable protection from assaults by other inmates. Whether this error resulted from a mistake in the Court's prior judgment, a subsequent change in the daily living conditions in the Cummins Unit, or both, the Court has no doubt that, given the present conditions, the Constitution requires that additional measures be taken if the defendants wish to continue to house inmates in these open barracks.

So, even if the Court were to find that the defendants are presently in compliance with Finney--which it does not (see discussion infra )--the Court would nevertheless have to conclude that Mr. Rudd, as a resident of the open barracks in the Cummins Unit, 3 is entitled to declaratory and injunctive

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relief, as the Finney requirements are demonstratively inadequate to provide for his reasonable protection from assaults by other inmates as required by the Eighth Amendment.

The United States Supreme Court has recently addressed the issue presently faced by the Court, namely a prison inmate's claim for injunctive relief based upon a penal institution's unconstitutional conditions of confinement. After concluding that such relief may be awarded only if prison officials have, from a subjective point of view, demonstrated "deliberate indifference" to the inmate's constitutional rights, Farmer v. Brennan, supra, 511 U.S. at ---- - ----, 114 S.Ct. at 1979-82, the Court went on to further elaborate upon the showing that must be made to warrant injunctive relief:

'[O]ne does not have to await the consummation of threatened injury to obtain injunctive relief.... In a suit ... [that] seeks injunctive relief to prevent a substantial risk of serious injury from ripening into actual harm, 'the subjective factor, deliberate indifference, should be determined in light of the prison officials' current attitudes and conduct[ ]": their attitudes and conduct at the time the suit is brought and persisting thereafter. An inmate seeking an injunction on the ground that there is 'a contemporary violation of a nature likely to continue[ ]" ... must come forward with evidence from which it can be inferred that the defendants-officials were at the time the suit was filed, and are at the time of ... judgment, knowingly and unreasonably disregarding an objectively intolerable risk of harm, and that they will continue to do so; and finally, to establish eligibility for an injunction, the inmate must demonstrate the continuance of that disregard during the remainder of the litigation and [its likely continuation] into the future.

Id. at ----, 114 S.Ct. at 1983 (citations omitted). The Court concludes that Mr. Rudd has met this standard.

The record developed in this case clearly demonstrates that the defendants were fully on notice ( i.e., had actual knowledge) of the dangers faced by inmates in the open barracks, and yet they failed (and have continued to fail) to take many of the steps that are obviously required to alleviate those dangers. While defendants have, subsequent to this litigation, adopted a Hobby Craft Policy to remedy the dangers presented by the ADC's prior policy, 4 they have done nothing to alleviate the dangers posed by their past, and current, staff assignment policy with respect to the open barracks in the Cummins Unit. This amounts to deliberate indifference on their parts to the constitutional rights of Mr. Rudd and others housed in those open barracks. 5 See Farmer v. Brennan, supra, 511 U.S. at ---- - ---- & nn. 8-9, 114 S.Ct. at 1981-83 & nn. 8-9. Moreover, since the evidence established in this case indicates that the defendants have no plans to discontinue their current staffing practices in the Cummins Unit, the Court also concludes that Mr. Rudd is entitled to injunctive relief under the standards announced in Farmer v. Brennan. See discussion of the evidence below.

The Court, while believing itself compelled to make these findings, also believes it is necessary to put the defendants' actions and decisions in perspective. Immense progress has been...

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