Confinement of Prisoner in Cruel and Inhuman Prison Conditions

Taylor, a Texas inmate, alleges that in September 2013, correctional officers confined him in a cell covered, nearly floor to ceiling, in “ ‘massive amounts’ of feces.” Taylor did not eat or drink for nearly four days. Officers then moved Taylor to another, frigidly cold cell, which was equipped with only a clogged floor drain to dispose of bodily wastes. Taylor held his bladder for over 24 hours, but eventually, involuntarily relieved himself, causing the drain to overflow and raw sewage to spill across the floor. The cell lacked a bunk and Taylor was confined without clothing; he was left to sleep naked in sewage.

Court of Appeal:

The Fifth Circuit held that such conditions of confinement violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment but, concluding that “[t]he law wasn’t clearly established” that “prisoners couldn’t be housed in cells teeming with human waste” “for only six days,” the court held that the prison officials did not have “ ‘fair warning’ that their specific acts were unconstitutional.”

Supreme Court of USA

The officers were not entitled to qualified immunity; no reasonable correctional officer could have concluded that, under these extreme circumstances, it was constitutionally permissible to house Taylor in such deplorably unsanitary conditions for an extended period of time. There was no evidence that the conditions of Taylor’s confinement were compelled by necessity or exigency nor that those conditions could not have been mitigated, either in degree or duration. While an officer-by-officer analysis will be necessary on remand, the record suggests that at least some officers involved in Taylor’s ordeal were deliberately indifferent to the conditions of his cells.

It was held that:

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit properly held that such conditions of confinement violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. But, based on its assessment that “[t]he law wasn’t clearly established” that “prisoners couldn’t be housed in cells teeming with human waste” “for only six days,” the court concluded that the prison officials responsible for Taylor’s confinement did not have “ ‘fair warning’ that their specific acts were unconstitutional.” 946 F. 3d, at 222 (quoting Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 741 (2002)).

The Fifth Circuit erred in granting the officers qualified immunity on this basis. “Qualified immunity shields an officer from suit when she makes a decision that, even if constitutionally deficient, reasonably misapprehends the law governing the circumstances she confronted.” Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 198 (2004) (per curiam). But no reasonable correctional officer could have concluded that, under the extreme circumstances of this case, it was constitutionally permissible to house Taylor in such deplorably unsanitary conditions for such an extended period of time. See Hope, 536 U. S., at 741 (explaining that “ ‘a general constitutional rule already identified in the decisional law may apply with obvious clarity to the specific conduct in question’ ” (quoting United States v. Lanier, 520 U.S. 259, 271 (1997))); 536 U. S.,at 745 (holding that “[t]he obvious cruelty inherent” in putting inmates in certain wantonly “degrading and dangerous” situations provides officers “with some notice that their alleged conduct violate[s]” the Eighth Amendment). The Fifth Circuit identified no evidence that the conditions of Taylor’s confinement were compelled by necessity or exigency. Nor does the summary-judgment record reveal any reason to suspect that the conditions of Taylor’s confinement could not have been mitigated, either in degree or duration. And although an officer-by-officer analysis will be necessary on remand, the record suggests that at least some officers involved in Taylor’s ordeal were deliberately indifferent to the conditions of his cells. See, e.g., 946 F. 3d, at 218 (one officer, upon placing Taylor in the first feces-covered cell, remarked to another that Taylor was “ ‘going to have a long weekend’ ”); ibid., and n. 9 (another officer, upon placing Taylor in the second cell, told Taylor he hoped Taylor would “ ‘f***ing freeze’ ”).

Confronted with the particularly egregious facts of this case, any reasonable officer should have realized that Taylor’s conditions of confinement offended the Constitution.[2] We therefore grant Taylor’s petition for a writ of certiorari, vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

[Source: Taylor v. Riojas, 592 U.S. ___ (2020) USA]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s