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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. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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