Cruel and unusual punishment

Young v. Martin, No. 13-4057, 2015 WL 5202968 (3d Cir. Sept. 8, 2015)

Claim by prisoner with history of mental illness and behavioral disorder that being restrained naked in a chair for 14 hours violated the 8 th amendment survives summary judgment

Background: State prisoner Young brought a § 1983 action alleging violations of the 8 th Amendment. Young had a long history of serious mental illness and extensive disciplinary problems in different Pennsylvania prisons, and had been in solitary confinement for several years, during which time his symptoms of mental illness had intensified. The incident resulting in his being placed naked in four-point mechanical restraint in a restraint chair occurred when a guard inadvertently left Young’s cell door open. Young went out to an internal ledge above the prison’s law library, where he voiced his objections to the conditions of his confinement. Young never acted aggressively, never threatened others, and when taken into physical custody by guards he initially cooperated, and then engaged in passive resistance, forcing guards to carry him but offering no active resistance to being stripped naked, subjected to a body cavity search and secured to the restraint chair. Prison policies provide for use of the restraint chair when an inmate acts or threatens to act in a manner that places the inmate or others at risk of harm, and provides for a maximum time period of 8 hours (with extension requiring a written request and approval that was never obtained here).

The district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment, finding that the guards “acted professionally and within constitutional parameters” in “subduing” Young and placing him in the restraint chair. The district court also denied Young’s request for a stay of the proceedings to allow for the release of the U.S. Department of Justice’s report on its investigation of the Pennsylvania prison system’s treatment of inmates with serious mental illness.

Holdings: A 3-judge panel of the Court of Appeals found that the conduct of the guards alleged by Young fell under the “use of excessive force” test to determine whether Young had been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8 th Amendment. Reviewing the record under the criteria identified in Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730 (2002)11 , and “drawing all inferences in favor of Young as the nonmoving party,” the Court ruled that “we cannot say that ‘there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.’”12 The Court thereupon remanded the case back to the district court. The panel directed that the district court on remand consider whether the DOJ report was admissible, and whether such admission would be “unduly prejudicial” to the defendants.

Notable Points:

Eighth amendment analysis of use of mechanical restraints—“excessive force” vs. “conditions of confinement”: The panel rejected the defendants’ claim that their treatment of Young should be analyzed under the “conditions of confinement” framework. The panel noted that the U.S. Supreme Court in Hope ruled that the use of mechanical restraints in a prison setting could constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Applying the Hope criteria, the panel found the following: (1) Young was already subdued, and further was not violent, combative or self-destructive at any point during the incident leading up to his being placed in the restraint chair, (2) the events involved in the incident leading to Young’s placement in the restraint chair did not amount to an “emergency situation,” and (3) there was an issue of fact as to whether the guards’ use of the restraint chair subjected Young to “substantial risk of physical harm” and “unnecessary pain.”

Qualified immunity of the guards: The panel noted that the defendants made a onesentence claim in their appeal that they were entitled to summary judgment on the grounds of qualified immunity—that the state of the law at that time did not give them fair warning that their treatment of Young was unconstitutional. Noting that this claim was not addressed by the district court or briefed on appeal, the panel remanded the issue to the district court for consideration.

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 3