Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the seventh circuit

No. 92-7247. Argued January 12, 1994—Decided June 6, 1994

Petitioner, a preoperative transsexual who projects feminine characteristics, has been incarcerated with other males in the federal prison system, sometimes in the general prison population but more often in segregation. Petitioner claims to have been beaten and raped by another inmate after being transferred by respondent federal prison officials from a correctional institute to a penitentiary—typically a higher security facility with more troublesome prisoners—and placed in its general population. Filing an action under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U. S. 388, petitioner sought damages and an injunction barring future confinement in any penitentiary, and alleged that respondents had acted with "deliberate indifference" to petitioner's safety in violation of the Eighth Amendment because they knew that the penitentiary had a violent environment and a history of inmate assaults and that petitioner would be particularly vulnerable to sexual attack. The District Court granted summary judgment to respondents, denying petitioner's motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f) to delay its ruling until respondents complied with a discovery request. It concluded that failure to prevent inmate assaults violates the Eighth Amendment only if prison officials were "reckless in a criminal sense," i. e., had "actual knowledge" of a potential danger, and that respondents lacked such knowledge because petitioner never expressed any safety concerns to them. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: 1. A prison official may be held liable under the Eighth Amendment for acting with "deliberate indifference" to inmate health or safety only if he knows that inmates face a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it. Pp. 832-851. (a) Prison officials have a duty under the Eighth Amendment to provide humane conditions of confinement. They must ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, and must protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners. However, a constitutional violation occurs only where the deprivation alleged is, objectively, "sufficiently serious," Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U. S.


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