Sunday, June 03, 2018

No Qualified Immunity? For Prison Officials? In the 8th Circuit? What Is Happening?

First of all, if you're not reading Short Circuit (hosted on the Volokh Conspiracy blog), you're missing out. It's a great compendium of interesting circuit (and state appellate) court decisions, issued every week.

For example, this week we got Williams v. York, a deliberate indifference to medical needs claim brought by an Arkansas state prisoner. And -- get this -- the prison officials didn't get qualified immunity! If that sentence means nothing to you, you're most people. But if you have any familiarity with qualified immunity jurisprudence or prison litigation -- especially in the Eighth Circuit -- then it's jaw-dropping.

Williams benefited from drawing perhaps the best possible panel (Kelly, Arnold, and Smith). And he "benefited" because the facts really were shocking -- he experienced facial disfiguration, pus oozing from his gums, and mouth boils, all of which persisted for months after he first alerted prison officials to his condition and were obviously apparent even to laymen with no medical or dental training. In fact, Williams pulled out two of his own teeth before getting to see a dentist. Gross -- but also, powerful evidence.

So his case actually gets to proceed to trial. Congrats, Williams!

Also worth flagging is Rodriguez v. County of Los Angeles, a Ninth Circuit case involving sadistic beatings by prison guards of non-resisting inmates (the guards chanted the ritualistic "stop resisting!" while administering the beatings). The most interesting part is the officer's argument that the suit was barred because the prisoners failed to "exhaust administrative remedies" -- by which they mean, they failed to submit a complaint through the prison's internal review process. Generally that suffices to knock out a suit, but the court let it slide -- probably because the last time one of the inmates tried to file such a grievance he was put in the yard with rival gang members who somehow got their hands on razors and kicked the shit out of him.

Finally, McGirr v. Rehme tells a fascinating tale of a now-disbarred trial attorney whose been systematically shuffling his assets around to try and avoid a $42 million judgment granted to his own clients after he helped defraud them out of their settlement money. But here I think Short Circuit buried the lede -- the attorney in question is the husband of a federal district court judge! And, if footnote 9 is to be believed, several of the attorney's more "curious" transactions have been filtered through said wife.

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