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Harrington v. Scribner

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

May 7, 2015

GARRICK HARRINGTON, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
A. K. SCRIBNER; M. E. POULOS; YAMAMOTO -; R. R. LOWDEN; L. L. WOODS; FURHFOLDT; D. HICKS, Defendants-Appellees

Argued and Submitted, San Francisco, California October 6, 2014

Page 1300

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1301

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. D.C. No. 1:05-cv-00624-OWW-GSA. Oliver W. Wanger, Senior District Judge, Presiding.

SUMMARY[*]

Prisoner Civil Rights

The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's judgment, entered following a jury trial, in an action arising from a lockdown imposed on African American inmates at a California state prison.

Plaintiff, a Californian state prisoner, brought claims under the Eighth Amendment for injuries he suffered related to shower restrictions and under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment for the race-based classification of the lockdown.

Affirming with respect to the Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference to inmate safety claim, the panel held that the district court's jury instruction on that claim essentially correctly restated the elements of the test outlined in Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994), by requiring knowledge of a " substantial risk of serious harm" and that a defendant " disregarded that risk." The panel held that plaintiff was not entitled to urge liability based on defendants' constructive knowledge of the risk.

Reversing with respect to the equal protection claim, the panel held that the district court's jury instructions were inconsistent with the requirements of strict scrutiny. The panel held that the district court erred when it instructed the jury that a prison's obligations under the Eighth Amendment compete with its obligations under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. That error, which absolved the prison officials of their obligation to demonstrate that the race-based action was narrowly tailored, violated the tenets of Johnson v. California, 543 U.S. 499, 125 S.Ct. 1141, 160 L.Ed.2d 949 (2005), and was prejudicial.

The panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying plaintiff appointed counsel.

Concurring in part and dissenting in part, Judge O'Scannlain concurred in the panel's analysis of plaintiff's deliberate indifference and appointment of counsel claims and joined in the opinion and judgment to that extent. Judge O'Scannlain dissented from the panel's equal protection analysis and concluded that the relevant jury instruction appropriately incorporated deference to prison officials' unique expertise.

Allison B. Holcombe (argued), Abraham A. Tabaie (argued), and Carel Alé, Los Angeles, California, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Jose Zelidon-Zepeda (argued), Deputy State Attorney General; Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General of California; Jonathan L. Wolff, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Thomas S. Patterson, Supervising Deputy Attorney General, San Francisco, California, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before: Sidney R. Thomas, Chief Judge, and Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, and M. Margaret McKeown, Circuit Judges. Opinion by Judge McKeown; Partial Concurrence and Partial Dissent by Judge O'Scannlain.

OPINION

Page 1302

McKEOWN, Circuit Judge

This case arises from a lockdown imposed on African American inmates at a California state prison after violent incidents involving inmates and guards. Garrick Harrington brought suit against prison officials under the Eighth Amendment for injuries he suffered related to shower restrictions and under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment for the race-based classification of the lockdown. A jury found against him on both claims.

We consider the interplay between the Supreme Court's teaching in Johnson v. California, 543 U.S. 499, 125 S.Ct. 1141, 160 L.Ed.2d 949 (2005), that strict scrutiny applies to claims challenging racial classifications in prison, and the line of authorities, such as Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 107 S.Ct. 2254, 96 L.Ed.2d 64 (1987), that instruct courts to give deference to correctional officials with respect to constitutional claims involving prison regulations. We affirm the judgment with respect to the Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim. We reverse with respect to the equal protection claim because the jury instructions were inconsistent with the requirements of strict scrutiny. That error, which absolved the prison officials of their obligation to demonstrate that the race-based action was narrowly tailored, violated the tenets of Johnson and was prejudicial.

Background

Early 2004 was a violent period at California State Prison--Corcoran. In February and March, multiple violent incidents occurred, each involving African American inmates associated with gangs. Five more violent incidents occurred over the next two months, including riots involving white inmates and inmates associated with certain " disruptive groups," which are groups of individuals who have formed an alliance and act, often aggressively, at the direction of a leader. Prison officials also reported receiving information of a statewide risk that unidentified African American inmates would attack prison staff.

In response, the prison instituted a lockdown on African American inmates due " to multiple batteries on staff by Blacks . . . coupled with information indicating a coalition of Black inmates are plotting the murder of staff," as was explained in a Program Status Report, a weekly memorandum issued during periods of modified programming. That lockdown was followed by a state of emergency lockdown applicable to inmates of all races. As part of the emergency action, the prison instituted shower restrictions that, among other things, allowed inmates to wear only minimal clothing--boxer shorts and shower shoes--and required them to be handcuffed while being escorted to the shower. Eventually, the shower restrictions were lifted for all inmates except African American inmates, including Garrick Harrington, and members of the Northern Hispanic disruptive group. An updated Program Status Report explained that, amongst other things, " batteries on staff by various factions of black inmates" were an " ongoing state-wide concern indicating a mindset by this ethnic group to harm staff." Over time, the shower restrictions were eased for additional groups, including older African American inmates. The state of emergency ended, and the prison gradually lifted the lockdown restrictions and returned to normal programming.

Page 1303

While the race-based shower restrictions were still in place, Harrington--who was not involved in the violent altercations that led to the lockdown and was not associated with a gang or disruptive group--requested that he be permitted to walk to the showers wearing his government-issued boots instead of the shower slippers, which he described as " flimsy." A correctional officer denied his request, then escorted Harrington, who was handcuffed and wearing shower slippers, to a shower on another floor, all the while following behind without assisting him. Harrington came upon a pool of water and testified that he heard a correctional officer say, " It's slippery there." Harrington slipped in the water, fell, and injured his back. Despite treatments, his pain continues, requiring medication.

Harrington filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 against several prison officials, alleging claims for deliberate indifference in violation of the Eighth Amendment and for race discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. His repeated requests for the appointment of counsel were denied, an issue he raises again on appeal. The case proceeded to trial, where the jury found for the prison officials. ...


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