Friday, September 1, 2017

This one is pretty nasty

I am sure this would change were this ever put up for a popular vote, but inmates -- even those convicted of felonies -- have rights to a dignified existence. The Constitution says so in the Eighth Amendment,which prohibits cruel and inhumane treatment. This case tells us how it all works.

The case is Garraway v. Griffin, a summary order decided on August 31. Garraway is in the care, custody and control of the New York State Department of Correctional Services, housed in its facility in Malone, New York. In July 2011, he complained in writing that his mattress was soiled with human feces. Nobody did anything about it until he filed a formal grievance in October 2011. The Court of Appeals (Raggi, Leval and Lohier) says plaintiff has a case.

As with all provisions of the Bill of Rights, we have multi-part balancing tests governing these disputes. To win a conditions-of-confinement case under the Eighth Amendment, the inmate must show his living conditions were "sufficiently serious that he was denied the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities" and that the defendants "acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind, such as deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety." In other words, the inmate has to show his living conditions were completely uncivilized and that no one at the jail gave a damn. These cases are not easy to win. Oftentimes the inmate's objections are not serious enough or he cannot prove deliberate indifference.

The Court says the feces-soiled mattress is disgusting enough to show that plaintiff's living conditions violated the Constitution. He was also able to show that jail officials looked the other way when he complained. Not only was the cell's previous occupant disciplined for throwing feces the day before plaintiff was moved into the cell, but, as set forth below, plaintiff's complaints fell on deaf ears:

Garraway asserts that he verbally informed each of defendants Shumaker, Edger, Brink, Erway, Belz, and Pulsifer about the condition of his mattress at least once and that he informed defendant Smith of the problem several times, both in writing and verbally. Shumaker and Edger, who initially placed Garraway in the cell with the obviously soiled mattress, allegedly mockingly told him “good luck,” and then failed to follow the protocol for having the cell cleaned. Other defendants told Garraway that they would look into his complaint but failed to do so. Still others told Garraway to direct his
request elsewhere.1 In short, no defendant advised of the mattress condition took any action until October 2011, when Garraway filed his formal grievance.
In the end, summary judgment in favor of the state is reversed and this case is remanded. Plaintiff, for now, does not have a lawyer. He handled this appeal pro se. 

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