Thursday, December 20, 2012

One more try for the inmate litigant

We have not yet reached the point where pro se inmates are prohibited from filing lawsuits against their jailors. I'm sure if such a measure came up for a popular vote, no inmate would be allowed to bring lawsuits, at least if they cannot find a lawyer willing to take on the risks of the litigation. That day is not upon us, probably because the anti-litigation forces have not thought about such a ballot proposal. In the meantime, we are reluctant to pull the plug. We know that inmates get slapped around when no one's looking.

The case is DeBoe v. DuBois, a summary order decided on November 27. Plaintiff's civil rights lawsuit against Orange County corrections officers was dismissed. The district court said that DeBoe's complaint did not state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). The Second Circuit (Walker, Katzmann and Hall) reinstates the lawsuit because plaintiff has the right to re-plead his failed claims. The Court of Appeals reasons:

In his complaint, DeBoe alleged that, after he refused [Orange County Correctional Facility] officer Kessner’s “sexual demands,” Kessner threatened DeBoe, “punish[ed]” him, and instituted “[p]unitive retaliations.” Given these allegations, we cannot say at this juncture that, if the district court had provided DeBoe with an opportunity to amend his complaint, he would have been unable to state a § 1983 claim under the due process provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment. We therefore find that a remand is necessary to permit DeBoe to amend his complaint against the OCCF defendants.
Who knows what happened to this guy at the Orange County Jail? The Complaint was probably too conclusory to exit the starting gate. The Court of Appeals knows the plaintiff is an inmate who doesn't know how to draft a complaint. But his conclusory allegations may lead to something, so he gets another chance.

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