Monday, February 1, 2021

Court of Appeals reinstates inmate verdict on exercise-denial claim

Inmates have rights, too. Not the rights that we have, but courts over the years have set forth certain rights for them, including the right to exercise. This case tells us all about it.

The case is Edwards v. Quiros, issued on January 27. I argued this appeal. Christopher Licari, Esq., tried the case pro bono. I first wrote about this case at this link, discussing the Court of Appeals' finding that the defendant prison warden was personally liable for the exercise violation because circumstantial evidence allowed the jury to find that he knew for six months that plaintiff was denied proper exercise when he was placed in the exercise yard in full body restraints and was therefore unable to even walk around. 

The defendant did not just argue that he was personally unaware of the Eighth Amendment violation. He also argued that there was no Eighth Amendment violation. The Court of Appeals disagrees with the warden and finds the trial court improperly took the verdict away from plaintiff, who was awarded $750,000 in damages. 

The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The courts have held that this amendment requires prison officials to allow inmates to exercise. The analysis asks whether the rights violation was serious enough to deprive the inmate of the "minimal civilized measure of life's necessitates." We then then ask if the defendant subjectively acted with deliberate indifference to the plaintiff's rights. The Supreme Court created this two-part test because the Eighth Amendment provides no guidance in solving individual cases. 

The subjective part of the equation is discussed in this blog post. The warden knew that plaintiff was not getting enough exercise. But what about the objective test? There was no dispute that plaintiff was not able to move around much while in the outside exercise pen. The warden argues there is no case because plaintiff was able to exercise in his cell, and the jail had safety justifications for preventing plaintiff from exercising in more secure outside exercise pens where he could work out without body restraints. But the jury was able to reject that, the Court of Appeals (Walker, Katzmann and Wesley) says.

First, the availability of in-cell exercise is not enough because the under the totality of the circumstances, the cell was too small for real exercise, and the jury was therefore able to find that plaintiff was denied meaningful exercise opportunities. Standing around and breathing fresh air is not exercise under the Eighth Amendment. As for the safety justifications, defendant argued that prison security and plaintiff's disciplinary history made it impossible to transport him to other exercise areas. But the jury was able to reject those justifications because the record shows that, in practice, prison guards did not even use all of their safety measures in taking plaintiff out of his cell. The jury was also able to find that jail officials did not seriously consider ways to make the less secure exercise pens, where plaintiff exercised, more secure. 

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