926 F.2d 532 (6th Cir. 1991), 89-5284, Gibson v. Matthews

Docket Nº:89-5284.
Citation:926 F.2d 532
Party Name:Leisa GIBSON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Robert MATTHEWS, Warden, Federal Correctional Institution, Individually and in his Official Capacity; William Ellis, M.D., Individually and in his Official Capacity; Edgar Sim, Individually and in his Official Capacity; Tim Picard, Individually and in his Official Capacity; Stanley E. Morris, Director, U.S. Mar
Case Date:February 22, 1991
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Page 532

926 F.2d 532 (6th Cir. 1991)

Leisa GIBSON, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Robert MATTHEWS, Warden, Federal Correctional Institution,

Individually and in his Official Capacity; William Ellis,

M.D., Individually and in his Official Capacity; Edgar Sim,

Individually and in his Official Capacity; Tim Picard,

Individually and in his Official Capacity; Stanley E.

Morris, Director, U.S. Marshals Service, in his Official

Capacity; Ten Unknown Named Agents, U.S. Marshals Service,

Individually and in their Official Capacities, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 89-5284.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

February 22, 1991

Argued Dec. 8, 1989.

Page 533

David A. Friedman, Sara L. Pratt (argued), American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, Louisville, Ky., for Leisa Gibson.

Louis DeFalaise, U.S. Atty., Marianna J. Read, Asst. U.S. Atty., Lexington, Ky., John Cordes, Lowell V. Sturgill, Jr. (argued), Dept. of Justice, Appellate Staff, Civil Div., Marianne Finnerty, Trial Atty., U.S. Dept. of Justice, Jay S. Bybee, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Civil Div., Barbara L. Herwig, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Appellate Staff, Civil Div., Washington, D.C., for defendants-appellees.

Before MILBURN and BOGGS, Circuit Judges, and ENGEL, Senior Circuit Judge.

BOGGS, Circuit Judge.

Leisa Gibson, a formerly pregnant bank robber serving time in federal prison, has sued numerous federal officials, stating that she wanted to have an abortion and was not enabled to do so as a result of the actions of different federal officials. She contends that these actions violated her rights under the fifth, eighth and ninth amendments to the Constitution, and thus constituted a violation of 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. The district court construed her allegations in the manner most favorable to her, but nevertheless granted defendants summary judgment. 715 F.Supp. 181 (1989). We AFFIRM the district court's grant of summary judgment for the defendants because we agree with the district court that Gibson's complaint does not state a constitutional violation, and we also hold that the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.


Gibson was convicted of robbery in federal district court on January 28, 1986. The undisputed part of Gibson's story begins while she was in the Harris County, Texas, Jail, awaiting sentencing. She wrote letters on April 16, 1986 to the federal public defender and on April 24, 1986 to the district judge who would sentence her. In each letter she specifically indicated a desire to terminate her then existing pregnancy. In the letter to the public defender, she indicated that she was then "13-14 weeks" pregnant, which would indicate a conception date in mid-January and a probable delivery date in mid-October of that year.

Thereafter, according to Gibson, she made repeated requests of virtually everyone that she came in contact with for assistance in carrying out the abortion, but was thwarted at every turn. For the purposes

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of this appeal from a grant of summary judgment, we will consider the issues strictly assuming that her version of these events is correct. 1

According to Gibson, she had various dealings with United States Marshals while still in custody in Texas before and after sentencing. She asked them on each occasion to help her procure an abortion. She also asked various jail nurses and a female jail officer for help, all of whom referred her to the Marshals.

She was sentenced on May 16, and the federal judge requested information on when she would be moved to a federal prison and asked that the abortion be carried out as soon as possible.

On June 10, after a several day trip through various federal prison facilities in Oklahoma and Georgia, Gibson arrived at Alderson Prison in West Virginia, and dealt with several medical personnel there. She was told that no abortions were performed there, and that she would have to go to the prison in Lexington, Kentucky for an abortion.

On June 17, she arrived at the Federal Correctional Institution in Lexington, and was examined the same day by two physician's assistants, who told her that her pregnancy was too far along for an abortion. An appointment with a doctor was apparently scheduled for June 20, but she did not keep the appointment because she was not informed of it.

On June 28, according to Gibson (the medical records indicate June 26), she met with Dr. Ellis, who informed her that it was too late to have an abortion at that time. Gibson's affidavit also alleges that she told a prison chaplain, counselors and a psychiatrist of her desire for an abortion. She can provide a specific name for only one of these persons, Beatrice Martin, who is not named as a defendant.

Gibson has now sued the following individuals based on the following theories:

  1. Dr. Ellis, for not having helped her have the abortion;

  2. Edgar Sim and Tim Picard, two physician's assistants, who met with the plaintiff on June 17 and did not assist her in having the abortion;

  3. Robert Matthews, the warden of the Lexington Federal Correctional Institution, for failure to train and supervise those at FCI Lexington;

  4. Stanley Morris, the Director of the United States Marshals Service, only in his official capacity;

  5. Ten unnamed and otherwise unspecified marshals, presumably those who had some contact with her during her transportation through the federal prison system.

The district court dismissed the case as to all defendants. It appears that an appeal was not prosecuted with regard to Morris, and the "unnamed marshals" have never been specified or even described, nor has any evidence been shown that they are amenable to service in the district in which Gibson filed her suit. 2

The suit against Morris was dismissed because he was sued only in his official capacity, and such a suit was equivalent to a suit against the United States and thus barred by sovereign immunity. The other officials were sued both in their individual and official capacity, and the official capacity suits were similarly dismissed. Thus, the only defendants before us are the warden (Matthews), the doctor (Ellis) and the assistants (Sim and Picard), in their individual capacities.

Although it may appear from the facts that Gibson was a victim of the bureaucracy as

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a whole and that no person took care to see that her situation was dealt with, rather than "passing the buck," this theory cannot suffice to affix personal liability on any of the defendants. If any one of them is to be held liable, it must be based on the actions of that defendant in the situation that the defendant faced, and not based on any problems caused by the errors of others, either defendants or non-defendants.

Thus, we must focus on the action of each defendant in turn. Continuing to take the facts as stated by Gibson and in the light most favorable to her, the following are the actions taken by each defendant.

Sim and Picard met with her the same day she arrived at Lexington, having had no responsibility for her failure to arrive any sooner, and told her that they believed that it was too late for an abortion. Based on the time table established by Gibson herself in the letter to the public defender, she was now 22 to 23 weeks pregnant. They did schedule an appointment with Dr. Ellis within three days, and she actually met with Ellis nine days later, on June 26. Dr. Ellis saw her, and informed her that he could not arrange an abortion, because it was "too late."

Warden Matthews had no involvement in the above events, and met with Gibson only one time, after she had given birth. There is no indication that Matthews was in fact aware of Gibson's condition or even her presence during the events in June, nor that he had any communication of any type with Ellis, Sim, or Picard concerning pregnancy or abortions.


We uphold the district court's judgment in part because we believe that the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity under the doctrine established in Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982). The Supreme Court in Harlow held that an official action does not give rise to a cause of action unless any reasonable government official would know or reasonably should have known that the action would violate a clearly established constitutional right. Harlow, 457 U.S. at 818, 102 S.Ct. at 2738;...

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