Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730 (2002)

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730

OCTOBER TERM, 2001

Syllabus

HOPE v. PELZER et al.

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

No. 01-309. Argued April 17, 2002—Decided June 27, 2002

In 1995, petitioner Hope, then an Alabama prison inmate, was twice handcuffed to a hitching post for disruptive conduct. During a 2-hour period in May, he was offered drinking water and a bathroom break every 15 minutes, and his responses were recorded on an activity log. He was handcuffed above shoulder height, and when he tried moving his arms to improve circulation, the handcuffs cut into his wrists, causing pain and discomfort. After an altercation with a guard at his chain gang's worksite in June, Hope was subdued, handcuffed, placed in leg irons, and transported back to the prison, where he was ordered to take off his shirt, thus exposing himself to the sun, and spent seven hours on the hitching post. While there, he was given one or two water breaks but no bathroom breaks, and a guard taunted him about his thirst. Hope filed a 42 U. S. C. 1983 suit against three guards. Without deciding whether placing Hope on the hitching post as punishment violated the Eighth Amendment, the Magistrate Judge found that the guards were entitled to qualified immunity. The District Court entered summary judgment for respondents, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The latter court answered the constitutional question, finding that the hitching post's use for punitive purposes violated the Eighth Amendment. In finding the guards nevertheless entitled to qualified immunity, it concluded that Hope could not show, as required by Circuit precedent, that the federal law by which the guards' conduct should be evaluated was established by cases that were "materially similar" to the facts in his own case.

Held: The defense of qualified immunity was precluded at the summary judgment phase. Pp. 736-748.

(a) Hope's allegations, if true, establish an Eighth Amendment violation. Among the " 'unnecessary and wanton' inflictions of pain [constituting cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Amendment] are those that are 'totally without penological justification.' " Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U. S. 337, 346. This determination is made in the context of prison conditions by ascertaining whether an official acted with "deliberate indifference" to the inmates' health or safety, Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U. S. 1, 8, a state of mind that can be inferred from the fact that the risk of harm is obvious, Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U. S. 825.

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