Constitutional Law

This summary also appears under Corrections

 

Issues: "Excessive force" claim by a prisoner against a corrections officer; U.S. Const. amend. VIII; Jurisdiction over an interlocutory appeal; Johnson v. Jones; Plumhoff v. Rickard; Romo v. Largen; Effect of "major misconduct hearing" findings; Peterson v. Johnson; University of TN v. Elliott; Blonder-Tongue Labs., v. University of IL Found.; Whether the defendant's alleged actions violated "clearly established law"; Brosseau v. Haugen; Everson v. Leis; Application of force "in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline"; Jennings v. Mitchell; Caldwell v. Moore; Hudson v. McMillian; Williams v. Curtin; Stenzel v. Ellis (8th Cir.)

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit

Case Name: Roberson v. Torres

e-Journal Number: 58331

Judge(s): Boggs, Siler, and Gibbons

 

[This appeal was from the ED-MI.] The defendant-prison guard (Torres) was properly denied qualified immunity on the plaintiff-inmate's (Roberson) Eighth Amendment claim because genuine issues remained as to whether the plaintiff was sleeping when the defendant sprayed him with a chemical agent, and, if so, whether the defendant's actions constituted excessive force. As an initial matter, the court determined that it had jurisdiction over the interlocutory appeal under Johnson. On appeal, Torres cited Peterson, and argued that, "as a matter of law, factual findings of a hearing officer at a Michigan major-misconduct hearing are entitled to preclusive effect . . . ." The court concluded that the hearing officer's factual determination at the major misconduct hearing (that Roberson was awake when Torres ordered him "to back up to the cell food slot to be placed in restraints") was not automatically entitled to "preclusive effect." The court noted that Peterson was "not a blanket blessing on every factual finding in a major-misconduct hearing." The preclusion question could not "be resolved categorically," and required "a case-by-case analysis of surrounding circumstances." The court remanded the preclusion issue to the district court to consider since the parties had not raised it there. Torres also argued that even if Roberson's allegations were true, he did not violate "clearly established law" by spraying him. The court has previously held that "'the use of . . . chemical agents against recalcitrant prisoners' did not violate the Eighth Amendment." However, "'when prison officials maliciously and sadistically use force to cause harm, contemporary standards of decency are always violated.'" The court rejected Torres's claim that it was "'not at all apparent under current case law that any use of [a] chemical agent is an obvious violation' of clearly established law." Accepting Roberson's version of the facts as required, the court agreed with his argument that "the use of a chemical agent was unjustified under the circumstances since it was not necessary in order to restore order and since 'less intrusive means' could have been used to wake him." The court held that under the circumstances as alleged, "spraying a sleeping prisoner with a chemical agent was unreasonable." The court also concluded that Torres's alleged conduct violated "clearly established law" under Williams, which "held that the prisoner stated an Eighth Amendment claim for excessive use of force when an officer allegedly sprayed him with a chemical agent after he asked why he needed to pack up his belongings." Affirmed.

 

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