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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. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  4. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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