Rinaldi v. US — prisoner rights — partial reversal — Krause
In a significant prisoner case, a divided Third Circuit panel today ruled in favor of a prisoner whose suit alleged that USP Lewisburg administators retaliated against him for filing inmate grievances by moving him into a cell with another prisoner known for assaulting his cellmates. The prisoner did not to administratively exhaust that claim with prison officials before filing suit—understandably!—but the government chose to argue that it should be dismissed for failure to exhaust and the district court agreed. Today the Third Circuit (per unanimous panel) disagreed, announcing the standard for when a prisoner’s failure to exhaust is excused by administrator’s intimidation and remanding for the district court to apply this standard.
The panel split over a second exhaustion issue. As to another of the prisoner’s claims, he failed to follow the prison’s grievance procedures, but the prison considered the merits of this claim anyway. The panel majority held that, with the PLRA as with habeas, a claim is exhausted even if it was not properly presented if it was considered anyway and denied at the highest level of review. On this point, Judge Scirica dissented.
Finally, the unanimous panel affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the prisoner’s claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act, holding that the FTCA’s discretionary-function exception to liability included prisoners’ challenges to BOP housing and cellmate assignments.
Joining Krause was Fuentes and Scirica in part, with Scirica dissenting in part. Arguing counsel were Tarah Ackerman of Allegheny Technologies (formerly of Jones Day) for the inmate, appointed by the court pro bono, and Timothy Judge of the US Attorney’s office in Scranton for the government.
Jutrowski v. Township of Riverdale — civil rights — partial affirmance — Krause
Several state troopers and local police officers participated in arresting a man for drunk driving. During the arrest, one of the officers kicked the man in the face while he was on the ground, hard enough to break the man’s nose and eye socket. But the officers had the man’s face pinned to the pavement when the bone-breaking kick was delivered, so the man didn’t see who did it. The officers — Riverdale police officers Travis Roemmele and Christopher Biro, NJ state troopers Jeffrey Heimbach and James Franchino–all denied that they were the one who kicked the man, and–critically–they all denied having seen who did. (Officer Biro’s dashcam video “allegedly did not record.”) The man sued for excessive force, and, today, the Third Circuit rejected his excessive force claim:
We are now called upon to outline the contours of this “personal involvement” requirement in § 1983 cases and to consider its application when a plaintiff who indisputably suffered a constitutional injury at the hands of one officer comes up against to the proverbial “blue wall of silence.” Despite the unfortunate situation created for plaintiffs like Jutrowski who are unable to identify their attackers through no fault of their own, we hold that a plaintiff alleging that one or more officers engaged in unconstitutional conduct must establish the “personal involvement” of each named defendant to survive summary judgment and take that defendant to trial.
Unfortunate situation indeed. Because the man couldn’t identify after discovery which of the officers present delivered the kick, the Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of his excessive force claim against them all. On the bright side:
Nonetheless, where a plaintiff adduces sufficient evidence of an after-the-fact conspiracy to cover up misconduct, even of an unidentified officer, he may be able to state a claim under § 1983 for the violation of a different constitutional right: the due process right of access to the courts. Such is the case here.
Joining Krause were Jordan and Greenberg. Arguing counsel were Robert Degroot of Newark for the kicked man, Anthony Seijas of Cleary Giacobbe for the Riverdale defendants, and Matthew Lynch of the NJ AG’s office for the state-trooper defendants.
Clemens v. New York Central Mutual Fire Insurance — civil — affirmance — Greenaway
The introduction, minus cites:
After a jury awarded him $100,000 in punitive damages under the Pennsylvania Bad Faith Statute, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8371, Appellant Bernie Clemens submitted a petition for over $900,000 in attorney’s fees from Appellee New York Central Mutual Fire Insurance Company (“NYCM”). The District Court denied this petition in its entirety, reasoning that it was not adequately supported and that the requested amount was grossly excessive given the nature of the case. Finding no abuse of discretion, we will affirm and, in doing so, take the opportunity to formally endorse a view already adopted by several other circuits—that is, where a fee-shifting statute provides a court discretion to award attorney’s fees, such discretion includes the ability to deny a fee request altogether when, under the circumstances, the amount requested is “outrageously excessive.”
The opinion hammered counsel’s failure to maintain contemporaneous time records for most of the litigation (the court expressed astonishment that counsel sought recovery of over $25,000 for 64.5 hours spent reconstructing their time records), submission of time entries like “Other” and “Communicate,” and submission of 562 hours of otherwise unexplained time for trial preparation for the one-week trial.
Joining Greenaway were Restrepo and Bibas. The case was decided without oral argument.