Woodhous v. Commonwealth of Virginia

Decision Date27 July 1973
Docket NumberNo. 72-1576.,72-1576.
Citation487 F.2d 889
PartiesGene WOODHOUS, Appellant, v. COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA et al., Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

Robert Plotkin, Washington, D. C. (court-appointed counsel), for appellant.

William A. Carter, III, Asst. Atty. Gen. of Va. (Andrew P. Miller, Atty. Gen. of Va., on brief), for appellees.

Before HAYNSWORTH, Chief Judge, and BUTZNER and RUSSELL, Circuit Judges.

PER CURIAM:

In Woodhous v. Virginia, Mem.Dec. No. 15,075 (4th Cir., July 7, 1971), we vacated an order dismissing Woodhous' complaint and remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Woodhous, a prisoner, was being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment because the state was not adequately protecting him from violence and sexual assaults by other prisoners. The district court appointed counsel for Woodhous, and, after hearing testimony from Woodhous and two prison officials, found no violation of his constitutional rights. We reverse because we believe the district court unduly restricted the protection afforded a prisoner by the eighth amendment.

Briefly, the district court found that Woodhous had not been attacked and that he did not fear attack. The court concluded, therefore, that Woodhous had not proved his cause of action. Because the case was not a class action, the court ruled that Woodhous could not complain on behalf of young inmates who had been sexually assaulted. Finally, observing that guards were shorthanded through lack of funds, the court concluded that the prison officials were doing what they could with the money at their disposal. Consequently, it dismissed the complaint.

While occasional, isolated attacks by one prisoner on another may not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, Penn v. Oliver, 351 F.Supp. 1292 (E.D.Va.1972), confinement in a prison where violence and terror reign is actionable. A prisoner had a right, secured by the eighth and fourteenth amendments, to be reasonably protected from constant threat of violence and sexual assault by his fellow inmates, and he need not wait until he is actually assaulted to obtain relief. Holt v. Sarver, 442 F.2d 304, 308 (8th Cir. 1971). In addition to being a potential victim, Woodhous was subjected to the danger of reprisal when he went to the aid of a younger prisoner who was being sexually assaulted.

Woodhous also complains that he was denied the right to summon six other prisoners who could have enlarged on...

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