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Judges reverse dismissal of prisoner's suit

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of a prisoner’s civil rights suit that stemmed from his lack of gloves while working in the cold to remove tree stumps.

Chief Judge Richard Young of the Southern District of Indiana dismissed Anthony Smith’s First and Eighth Amendment claims for failure to state a claim. Smith, an inmate in state prison, alleged that he and others assigned to the stump crew were forced to work in the “freezing cold” with axes, pickaxes, and shovels without receiving any safety instructions or protective gear. He developed blisters from handling the heavy tools without gloves in the cold.

He also filed grievances with prison officials regarding the hazards, and he was transferred to a recreational job. But he alleged that he was eventually retaliated against for complaining by being fired from his new job and having his access to the law library limited.

Chief Judge Young dismissed the Eighth Amendment claim on the ground that Smith’s blisters were nothing more than the “usual discomforts of winter” and ruled that his fear of the dangerous conditions was a claim for emotional or psychological injury, which isn’t actionable without a physical injury. The chief judge didn’t address the First Amendment claim.

“The ‘usual discomforts of winter’ to which the district judge referred do not include handling heavy tools with gloveless hands in subzero weather. Our prison system is not the gulag,” wrote Judge Richard Posner in Anthony L. Smith v. Gilbert Peters, et al. “Smith’s blisters could have been caused by his handling the stump removal tools without gloves, or could even have been precursors to or consequences of frostbite – the record does not say. But the allegations of the complaint are sufficient to preclude dismissal for failure to state a claim.”

Smith’s allegations regarding the hazardous work environment also present a distinct Eight Amendment claim. Previous caselaw has held that prison officials who recklessly expose a prisoner to a substantial risk of serious physical injury violate his or her Eighth Amendment rights, wrote Judge Posner. Therefore, they are subject to the remedies that are not barred by 42 U.S.C. Section 1997e(e), such as injunctive relief or nominal and punitive damages.

In addition, the District Court erred in not addressing the First Amendment complaint, because if the facts alleged are true, Smith was punished for complaining about being mistreated and that punishment is an infringement of the free speech rights of inmates, wrote the judge. The 7th Circuit remanded for further proceedings.

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  1. Based on several recent Indy Star articles, I would agree that being a case worker would be really hard. You would see the worst of humanity on a daily basis; and when things go wrong guess who gets blamed??!! Not biological parent!! Best of luck to those who entered that line of work.

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  3. Don't believe me, listen to Pacino: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6bC9w9cH-M

  4. Law school is social control the goal to produce a social product. As such it began after the Revolution and has nearly ruined us to this day: "“Scarcely any political question arises in the United States which is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question. Hence all parties are obliged to borrow, in their daily controversies, the ideas, and even the language, peculiar to judicial proceedings. As most public men [i.e., politicians] are, or have been, legal practitioners, they introduce the customs and technicalities of their profession into the management of public affairs. The jury extends this habitude to all classes. The language of the law thus becomes, in some measure, a vulgar tongue; the spirit of the law, which is produced in the schools and courts of justice, gradually penetrates beyond their walls into the bosom of society, where it descends to the lowest classes, so that at last the whole people contract the habits and the tastes of the judicial magistrate.” ? Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

  5. Attorney? Really? Or is it former attorney? Status with the Ind St Ct? Status with federal court, with SCOTUS? This is a legal newspaper, or should I look elsewhere?

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