Walker v. Schult

Decision Date16 August 2022
Docket NumberDocket No. 20-2415,August Term, 2020
Parties Ellis WALKER, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Deborah G. SCHULT, Warden, FCI Ray Brook, Jackii Sepanek, Counselor, FCI Ray Brook, Defendants-Appellants, Russell Perdue, Warden, FCI Ray Brook, David Salamy, Unit Manager, FCI Ray Brook, David Porter, Associate Warden, FCI Ray Brook, Anne Mary CARTER, Associate Warden, FCI Ray Brook, Steven Wagner, Associate Warden, FCI Ray Brook, J.L. Norwood, Regional Director, Harley Lappin, Director, Bureau of Prisons, Defendants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit

MEGAN BEHRMAN, New York, New York (Blake Denton, William O. Reckler, Latham & Watkins, New York, New York, on the brief), for Plaintiff-Appellee.

LOWELL V. STURGILL JR., Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC (Jeffrey Bossert Clark, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Brian M. Boynton, Acting Assistant Attorney General, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC; Antoinette T. Bacon, Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York, Albany, New York; Barbara L. Herwig, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC, on the brief), for Defendants-Appellants.

Samuel Weiss, Washington, DC (for Amicus Curiae Rights Behind Bars), David M. Shapiro, Chicago, Illinois (for Amicus Curiae Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center), filed a brief in support of Plaintiff-Appellee.

Before: KEARSE, LYNCH, and CHIN, Circuit Judges.

KEARSE, Circuit Judge:

Defendants Deborah G. Schult and Jackii Sepanek ("Defendants"), federal prison officials, appeal from a judgment entered in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York following a jury trial before Daniel J. Stewart, Magistrate Judge , awarding former prisoner Ellis Walker $20,000 for mental and emotional injury in this action requesting, inter alia , damages pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics , 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971), for his imprisonment in overcrowded conditions that posed a substantial risk of serious damage to his health or safety, to which Defendants were deliberately indifferent, in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. On appeal, Defendants contend that the district court erred in denying their motions for judgment as a matter of law on the ground (a) that a Bivens damages remedy is not available for such claims, or (b) that even if such a remedy is available, Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. Without regard to the Bivens question, we conclude for the reasons discussed below that Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the grounds (a) that the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") precluded the award of damages to Walker for mental or emotional injury because the jury found he had not proven that he suffered any physical injury, see 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) ; (b) that if a constitutional violation by these Defendants was proven, their entitlement to qualified immunity foreclosed an award of nominal damages; and (c) that as Walker had been released from prison prior to judgment, his claims for injunctive relief were moot.


In November 2008, Walker, a federal prisoner, was sent to the Federal Correctional Institution Ray Brook in New York ("FCI Ray Brook" or "Ray Brook"), where he was placed in a cell (or "Cell 127") with five other inmates. In March 2011, he commenced the present action pro se seeking "relief and/or damages" for the conditions of his confinement at Ray Brook from the start of that confinement--having made numerous complaints to the warden and other prison staff, both in person and through the official prison grievance system, with no success. (Complaint at 1.) The conditions of which Walker complained included lack of sufficient space in the 190.62-square-foot Cell 127 to accommodate six prisoners, lack of ventilation, and lack of heat in winter; inadequate bed size for Walker (who was 6'4'' tall and weighed 255 pounds) and lack of a ladder for him to access the upper bunk to which he was assigned; and unsanitary cell conditions generated by his cellmates, and exacerbated by the denial of sufficient cleaning supplies.

Walker requested damages, an uncrowded cell, and a reduction of his prison term by five times the number of days of his housing in Cell 127. In April 2011, Walker was moved to a two-man cell, having been in Cell 127 for 880 days.

Walker's case was eventually tried in 2020. The jury did not find that Walker had suffered any physical injury. However, it found that his "imprisonment in Cell 127 ... posed a substantial risk of serious damage to his health or safety," to which Schult and Sepanek had been "deliberately indifferent," and it awarded him compensatory damages of $20,000. (Jury Verdict Form at 2, 4.) On this appeal, Defendants do not challenge the jury's factual findings or the sufficiency of the trial evidence to support them. Walker's detailed allegations--which were the subject of evidence at trial (see Part I.C. below)--have been described in prior opinions of the district court and this Court, see Walker v. Schult , No. 9:11-CV-0287, 2012 WL 1037441 (N.D.N.Y. Jan. 20, 2012) (Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Randolph F. Treece) (" Walker I "), adopted , 2012 WL 1037442 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 27, 2012), affirmed in part, vacated and remanded in part , 717 F.3d 119 (2d Cir. 2013) (" Walker II "), familiarity with which is assumed.

A. The Motion To Dismiss for Failure To State a Claim

Walker's pro se complaint named nine individuals as defendants, including Schult who was the warden at FCI Ray Brook during most of Walker's confinement there; Russell Perdue, who became Ray Brook's warden just weeks before Walker commenced this action; and Sepanek, who was "counselor" in Walker's area at Ray Brook and who was in charge of distributing cleaning supplies. The other defendants were Ray Brook's former unit manager David Salamy, three Ray Brook associate wardens, and two United States Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") officials who were not stationed at Ray Brook. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, contending principally that Walker had not exhausted his administrative remedies and that his complaint failed to state an Eighth Amendment claim.

The motion to dismiss was referred, for report and recommendation, to Magistrate Judge Randolph F. Treece who stated that the defendants' exhaustion challenge could not be resolved on the face of the complaint, but recommended that the complaint be dismissed for failure to state a claim. Judge Treece noted that in order to state a valid claim under the Eighth Amendment based on the conditions of his confinement, a plaintiff must set out facts plausibly indicating, inter alia , that "the conditions were so serious that they constituted a denial of the ‘minimal civilized measure of life's necessities,’ " Walker I , 2012 WL 1037441, at *5 (quoting Wilson v. Seiter , 501 U.S. 294, 297-99, 111 S.Ct. 2321, 115 L.Ed.2d 271 (1991) ). The magistrate judge considered each aspect of the conditions of which Walker complained and found that none, singly or in combination, reached the level of an Eighth Amendment violation. See Walker I , 2012 WL 1037441, at *5-*8. The recommendation to grant defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim was summarily accepted by the district court, and the complaint was dismissed.

Walker filed an appeal pro se ; counsel subsequently appeared for him (and thereafter continued to represent him in the district court). In Walker II , this Court vacated the dismissal of the complaint, except as to the two BOP officials who were not alleged to have had personal involvement in the claimed constitutional violation, and whose dismissal was not challenged on appeal. See 717 F.3d at 123 n.4, 130. We partly summarized Walker's plausible factual allegations as to the conditions knowingly allowed by the other seven defendants as follows:

[F]or approximately twenty-eight months, he was confined in a cell with five other men, with inadequate space and ventilation, stifling heat in the summer and freezing cold in the winter, unsanitary conditions, including urine and feces splattered on the floor, insufficient cleaning supplies, a mattress too narrow for him to lie on flat, and noisy, crowded conditions that made sleep difficult and placed him at constant risk of violence and serious harm from cellmates.

Id . at 126. We noted that it was well settled that a prisoner's Eighth Amendment right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment could be violated by, inter alia , prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures without adequate ventilation; conditions that prevent sleep, which is critical to human existence; unsanitary conditions in a prison cell; and conditions that place a prisoner at a substantial risk of serious harm from other inmates--as well as by overcrowding if combined with other adverse conditions. See id . at 126-29. As Walker plausibly alleged those conditions, as well as deliberate indifference by the seven defendants on site at FCI Ray Brook, we held that he "ha[d] plausibly alleged cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment." Id . at 126. We noted that "further facts [we]re required" for a determination of the defendants' claim of entitlement to qualified immunity. Id . at 130.

B. Pretrial Proceedings on Remand

On remand, the defendants made several motions for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. First, they contended that Walker had not exhausted his administrative remedies as to some of his complaints. The district court denied this motion, ruling that Walker asserted a single multi-faceted claim about prison conditions and that he had not asserted new, unexhausted claims. See Decision and Order dated December 11, 2014. A year later, the defendants sought summary judgment on...

To continue reading

Request your trial
5 cases
  • Oversight v. U.S. Dep't of Justice
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • August 16, 2022
  • Birch v. Town of New Milford
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
    • July 21, 2023
    ... ... the answer is “to notify a party of the existence of ... certain issues”); Walker v. Schult , 463 ... F.Supp.3d 323, 341 (N.D.N.Y. 2020) (“Providing notice ... of an affirmative defense provides a plaintiff with ... ...
  • Brandon v. Kinter
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of New York
    • March 6, 2023
    ... ... imprisonment, without a showing of physical injury, from ... receiving an award of compensatory damages.” Walker ... v. Schult , 45 F.4th 598, 612 (2d Cir ... 2022). [ 27 ] Here, Plaintiff alleges physical injury ... due to a fifty-pound ... ...
  • Veronica-May v. Quiros
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
    • September 15, 2023
    ... ... (Ex. 7, ECF ... No. 133-9 at 32-33.) DOC officials placed Ms. Clark in an ... infirmary at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution ... to recover. (Defs.' 56(a)2 ¶ 24.) ...          Ms ... Clark was transferred to Garner ... Schult , 45 F.4th 598, 612 ... (2d Cir. 2022). Meaning, even if Ms. Clark is unable to show ... “physical injuries,” such failing does not ... ...
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT