989 F.2d 1375 (4th Cir. 1993), 92-6147, Strickler v. Waters

Docket Nº:92-6147.
Citation:989 F.2d 1375
Party Name:Robert Dale STRICKLER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Gary WATERS, Sheriff; Commonwealth of Virginia; City of Portsmouth; Department of Corrections, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:March 26, 1993
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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989 F.2d 1375 (4th Cir. 1993)

Robert Dale STRICKLER, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Gary WATERS, Sheriff; Commonwealth of Virginia; City of

Portsmouth; Department of Corrections,


No. 92-6147.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

March 26, 1993

Argued Feb. 5, 1993.

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D. Mark Grimm, Student Counsel, Appellate Litigation Program, Georgetown University Law Center, argued (Steven H. Goldblatt, Eric George, Student Counsel, Appellate Litigation Program, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington DC, on brief), for plaintiff-appellant.

Conrad M. Shumadine, Willcox & Savage, P.C., Norfolk, VA, Stuart E. Katz, City Atty., City Attorney's Office, Portsmouth, VA, Mark R. Davis, Office of Atty. Gen., Richmond, VA, argued (John S. Wilson, Mark D. Stiles, Willcox & Savage, P.C., Norfolk, VA, Nancy B. Cherry, Asst. City Atty., City Attorney's Office, Portsmouth, VA, on brief), for defendants-appellees.

Before WILKINSON, LUTTIG, and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.


LUTTIG, Circuit Judge:

Robert Dale Strickler, a Virginia prisoner, brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging primarily that the conditions of his confinement at the Portsmouth City Jail violated his Eighth Amendment right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment and that he was denied adequate access to the courts during his confinement there. The district court granted the motions to dismiss of defendants Commonwealth of Virginia and City of Portsmouth and granted defendant Sheriff Water's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.


On June 15, 1990, the Circuit Court for the City of Portsmouth sentenced Strickler to a prison term of four years and four months. Strickler was committed on that day to the Portsmouth City Jail pending an unrelated trial in the Virginia Beach Circuit Court, because the Virginia Department of Corrections refuses to accept prisoners with outstanding charges in local jurisdictions. On December 4, 1990, fewer than thirty days after the conclusion of the Virginia Beach Circuit Court trial, Strickler was transferred to a state correctional facility.

Strickler brought a number of claims alleging violations of his constitutional rights during his approximately six-month confinement at the Portsmouth City Jail. Chief among these is a claim that the conditions of his confinement there violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. According to Strickler, during most of his stay at Portsmouth, he was housed in a seven-cell block with a day room measuring six and one-half by thirty-eight feet. Because of overcrowding at the facility, some inmates were required either to double-bunk or to sleep on mattresses on the floor of the day room. Prisoners were expected also to exercise in the day room, despite the fact that

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the mattresses were rolled up and put aside only during meals and the daily cleanings. Further, climatological conditions inside the jail were occasionally uncomfortable, as fans and heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment were inefficient and very little if any air penetrated jail windows, the screens of which were covered with dirt, dust, and rust, and some of which were partially blocked by concrete barriers to prevent prisoner escapes.

Strickler also claims that he was denied access to the courts as a result of the jail's inadequate library and his restricted access to that library, which includes the Virginia Code, the United States Code, and a set of Corpus Juris Secundum. Although he could request that legal materials be brought to his cell from the Portsmouth Circuit Court library, Strickler's direct access to the jail's law library was at best intermittent--one hour per week and sometimes as infrequently as one hour every five weeks. Strickler received no assistance from persons trained in the law in either an earlier habeas corpus proceeding, or in this civil action until on appeal, although he was represented by counsel in his ongoing criminal proceedings.

We discuss the Eighth Amendment and inadequate access claims in turn and then consider three ancillary claims advanced by Strickler. 1


In order to make out a prima facie case that prison conditions violate the Eighth Amendment, a plaintiff must show both "(1) a serious deprivation of a basic human need; and (2) deliberate indifference to prison conditions on the part of prison officials." Williams v. Griffin, 952 F.2d 820, 824 (4th Cir.1991) (citation omitted). The Supreme Court has explained that the first showing requires the court to determine whether the deprivation of the basic human need was objectively "sufficiently serious," and the second requires it to determine whether subjectively "the officials act[ed] with a sufficiently culpable state of mind." Wilson v. Seiter, --- U.S. ----, ----, 111 S.Ct. 2321, 2324, 115 L.Ed.2d 271 (1991); see also Hudson v. McMillian, --- U.S. ----, -----, 112 S.Ct. 995, 999, 117 L.Ed.2d 156 (1992). Because we conclude that Strickler has not established the serious deprivation of a basic human need required to survive summary judgment on his claim of an Eighth Amendment violation, we need not consider whether Sheriff Waters acted with an intent sufficient to satisfy the Amendment's state-of-mind requirement.

While recognizing that "[n]o static 'test' can exist by which courts determine whether conditions of confinement are cruel and unusual," the Supreme Court has warned that " 'Eighth Amendment judgments should neither be nor appear to be merely the subjective views' of judges." Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S.337, 346, 101 S.Ct. 2392, 2399, 69 L.Ed.2d 59 (1981) (quoting Rummel v. Estelle, 445 U.S. 263, 275, 100 S.Ct. 1133, 1140, 63 L.Ed.2d 382 (1980)). Instead, "such judgment[s] should be informed by objective factors to the maximum extent." Id. (internal quotations omitted) (brackets in original). In an effort to infuse objectivity into the determination of whether a "serious deprivation" of a basic human need has occurred 2 and, at

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the same time, to ensure faithfulness to the Eighth Amendment's ban only of "cruel and unusual" punishments, we held in Lopez v. Robinson that, for prison conditions to rise to the level of unconstitutional punishment, " 'there must be evidence of a serious medical and emotional deterioration attributable to' the challenged condition." 3 914 F.2d 486, 490 (4th Cir.1990) (emphasis added) (quoting Shrader v. White, 761 F.2d 975, 979 (4th Cir.1985)). 4

We reaffirm today the essential holding in Lopez 5 and our earlier holding

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in Shrader that in order to withstand summary judgment on an Eighth Amendment challenge to prison conditions a plaintiff must produce evidence of a serious or significant physical or emotional injury resulting from the challenged conditions. The Eighth Amendment does not prohibit cruel and unusual prison conditions; it prohibits cruel and unusual punishments. If a prisoner has not suffered serious or significant physical or mental injury as a result of the challenged condition, he simply has not been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment within the meaning of the Amendment. See supra note 3. 6

In his efforts to establish a constitutional violation, Strickler alleges deprivations caused by double bunking, limited exercise opportunities, 7 and inadequate ventilation. 8 Though such conditions could rise to the level of constitutional violations were they to produce serious deprivations of identifiable human needs, Strickler has come forward with no evidence that he has sustained any serious or significant physical or emotional injury as a result of these conditions. 9

This is not the kind of extraordinary case of a palpable deprivation of the minimal

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requirements of civilized existence in which an inference of serious injury might be reasonable. Indeed, it is difficult to believe that Strickler has been injured at all as a result of any of the conditions that he challenges. We have previously held, for example, that there was no unconstitutional deprivation of the need for exercise where there was access to a day room eighteen hours each day, Clay v. Miller, 626 F.2d 345, 347 (4th Cir.1980), or where exercise was allowed only for two one-hour periods per week, Sweet v. South Carolina Dep't of Corrections, 529 F.2d 854, 866 (4th Cir.1975). The conditions described by Strickler are not qualitatively different from those in Clay and Sweet, especially given that it is undisputed that the inmates, had they so chosen, could have left the mattresses stacked in the day room throughout the waking hours and had ample room and opportunity for exercise.

Similarly, accepting Strickler's allegation that the cell temperatures at Portsmouth were at times less than ideal, the inmates received blankets when the jail became uncomfortably cold, and the jail was equipped with fans when the temperatures were hot. (We note that such actions belie the type of "unnecessary and wanton" infliction of pain proscribed by Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347, 101 S.Ct. at 2399; see also Wilson, --- U.S. at ----, 111 S.Ct. at 2327 ("[A] low cell temperature at night combined with a failure to issue blankets" may establish an Eighth Amendment violation. (emphasis added))). At all times, furthermore, there was some degree of ventilation and fresh air. See Appellant's Br. at 18-19.

Finally, it is well established that "double or triple celling of inmates is not per se unconstitutional." Griffin, 952 F.2d at 824; see also Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 348, 101 S.Ct. at 2400 ("[T]here is no evidence that double celling under these circumstances either inflicts...

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