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Judgment for prison employees affirmed

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of prison employees in an inmate's Eighth Amendment violations suit, finding the inmate's lack of cooperation in providing details of threats against him prohibited the officials from protecting him from an attack by another inmate.

In Curtis L. Dale v. Pamela Poston, et al., No. 06-2847, Curtis Dale appealed summary judgment in favor of the defendants, several prison employees in Terre Haute, arguing they didn't reasonably respond when he requested a transfer out of the Terre Haute maximum security prison to a medium security prison in Illinois.

Dale was in prison on drug convictions and as a part of his plea agreement, he was to provide testimony against people involved in the drug trade. Several inmates began to suspect he was testifying and was a "snitch" because he would leave the prison for periods of time. When he would return from testifying he would be held in a Special Housing Unit (SHU) until prison employees could determine if there were any potential dangers against him because of his testimony.

Dale requested a transfer to the Illinois prison, but was denied because he didn't provide detailed information about who was threatening him or how he was being threatened. When questioned, he was vague and illusive, and refused housing in the SHU, but believed just reporting the threat was enough to have him transferred. Dale was later attacked by a fellow inmate who accused him of being a snitch.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals had to use the facts from the government in this case instead of facts from Dale because the District Court found Dale's "statement of facts" violated the court's local rule. Dale's own attorney admitted that even if the District Court erred in disregarding Dale's statement of facts, any error was harmless, wrote Judge Terence Evans.

Dale's Eighth Amendment violation claims against the prison employees fail the deliberate indifference test. Even though Dale's claim passes the first prong - knowing there is a risk - it failed the second prong - actual knowledge of impending harm. The prison employees questioned Dale about his statements alluding to threats from other inmates, but he refused to offer details and refused to be housed in the SHU, wrote Judge Evans. In fact, the prison employees did almost the exact opposite of deliberate indifference and they couldn't have segregated Dale against his will.

"We will not create this sort of constitutional Catch 22 - where prison officials violate the Eighth Amendment if they don't segregate a prisoner but violate the Due Process Clause if they do," he wrote.

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