CONSTITUTIONAL LAW-EIGHTH AMENDMENT-CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT-SOLITARY CONFINEMENT-MENTAL CONDITION

December 8th, 2022 by Rieders Travis in Constitutional Law

Clark v. Coupe, 2022 U.S. App. LEXIS 32644 (3rd Cir. November 28, 2022) (Restrepo, J.) Angelo Clark, a prisoner diagnosed with manic depression and paranoid schizophrenia, brought an as-applied claim alleging his months-long placement in solitary confinement violated his constitutional rights. The District Court dismissed the claim on qualified immunity grounds, finding Clark failed to allege the violation of a clearly established right. We must disagree. Clark alleged prison officials imposed conditions they knew carried a risk of substantial harm and caused him to suffer debilitating pain that served no penological purpose. Because these allegations trigger established Eighth Amendment protection, we will reverse the grant of qualified immunity and remand for further proceedings.  In Palakovic v. Wetzel, we held allegations that solitary confinement was “inhuman for [Palakovic] in light of his mental illness” averred a viable conditions of confinement claim without discussing his access to mental health treatment. 854 F.3d 209, 226 (3d Cir. 2017). Accordingly, we conclude that the jury’s verdict does not preclude our review of Clark’s “per se” solitary confinement claim. In re Medley, 134 U.S. 160, 168, 10 S. Ct. 384, 33 L. Ed. 835 (1890). This Court has long held that allegations of inflicting a serious mental injury are sufficient to state a claim under the Eighth AmendmentWhite v. Napoleon, 897 F.2d 103, 110-11 (3d Cir. 1990) (allegations that prison doctor’s purposeful infliction of unnecessary emotional harm on inmate patients raises Eighth Amendment cause of action). Further, there was a general consensus among the Courts of Appeals preceding Clark’s stay in the SHU that a threat of serious psychological injury invokes Eighth Amendment protection. See, e.g., Shakka v. Smith, 71 F.3d 162, 166 (4th Cir. 1995) (serious or significant emotional injury resulting from conditions of confinement satisfies Eighth Amendment claim); Thomas v. Farley, 31 F.3d 557, 559 (7th Cir. 1994) (the infliction of mental torture has been the basis for viable cruel and unusual punishment claims in prisoner cases); Jordan v. Gardner, 986 F.2d 1521, 1529 (9th Cir. 1993) (en banc) (severe psychological pain can violate the Eighth Amendment); Scher v. Engelke, 943 F.2d 921, 924 (8th Cir. 1991) (“fear, mental anguish, and misery” can cause sufficient pain to violate the Eighth Amendment). Clark alleged his pre-existing condition of serious mental illness heightened the impact of solitary confinement, rendering it capable of inflicting severe mental trauma. By claiming the prison officials knowingly imposed such conditions, Clark sufficiently alleged the violation of a clearly established right. Accordingly, we will reverse the order of the District Court dismissing this claim and remand for further proceedings.

Attorney Cliff Rieders

Attorney Cliff RiedersCliff Rieders is a Nationally Board Certified Trial Lawyer practicing personal injury law. A large part of his practice involves multi-district litigation, including cases related to pharmaceuticals, vitamin supplements and medical devices. He is admitted in several state and federal courts, as well as the Supreme Court of the United States. Rieders is the past regional president of the Federal Bar Association and is a life member of the distinguished American Law Institute, which promulgates proposed rules adopted by many state courts. He is a past president of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, formerly Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. As a founder of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, he served on the Board for 15 years.

Not only has Rieders held many highly esteemed, leadership positions, he authored legislation related to the Patient Safety Authority and the Mcare Act, which governs medical and hospital liability actions in Pennsylvania. He authored texts upon which both practitioners and judges rely, including Pennsylvania Malpractice Laws and Forms, and Financial Responsibility Law Issues in Pennsylvania, the latter governing auto and truck collisions in Pennsylvania. In addition, he wrote several books on the practice of law in Pennsylvania regarding wrongful death and survivor actions, insurance bad faith, legal malpractice claims and worker rights, among others. Rieders also serves as a resource to practitioners as a regular speaker for Celesq, an arm of the world’s largest legal publisher, Thomson Reuters West Publishing.

As recognition of his wide range of contribution to his profession and of his dedication to protecting the rights of his clients, he received numerous awards, among them the George F. Douglas Amicus Curiae Award, the Milton D. Rosenberg Award, the B’nai B’rith Justice Award, and awards of recognition from the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers. [ Attorney Bio ]

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