Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 2 (2002)

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Cite as: 536 U. S. 730 (2002)

Syllabus

The Eighth Amendment violation here is obvious on the facts alleged. Any safety concerns had long since abated by the time Hope was handcuffed to the hitching post, because he had already been subdued, handcuffed, placed in leg irons, and transported back to prison. He was separated from his work squad and not given the opportunity to return. Despite the clear lack of emergency, respondents knowingly subjected him to a substantial risk of physical harm, unnecessary pain, unnecessary exposure to the sun, prolonged thirst and taunting, and a deprivation of bathroom breaks that created a risk of particular discomfort and humiliation. Pp. 736-738.

(b) Respondents may nevertheless be shielded from liability for their constitutionally impermissible conduct if their actions did not violate "clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U. S. 800, 818. In its assessment, the Eleventh Circuit erred in requiring that the facts of previous cases and Hope's case be "materially similar." Qualified immunity operates to ensure that before they are subjected to suit, officers are on notice that their conduct is unlawful. Officers sued in a 1983 civil action have the same fair notice right as do defendants charged under 18 U. S. C. 242, which makes it a crime for a state official to act willfully and under color of law to deprive a person of constitutional rights. This Court's opinion in United States v. Lanier, 520 U. S. 259, a 242 case, makes clear that officials can be on notice that their conduct violates established law even in novel factual situations. Indeed, the Court expressly rejected a requirement that previous cases be "fundamentally similar." Accordingly, the salient question that the Eleventh Circuit should have asked is whether the state of the law in 1995 gave respondents fair warning that Hope's alleged treatment was unconstitutional. Pp. 739-741.

(c) A reasonable officer would have known that using a hitching post as Hope alleged was unlawful. The obvious cruelty inherent in the practice should have provided respondents with some notice that their conduct was unconstitutional. In addition, binding Circuit precedent should have given them notice. Gates v. Collier, 501 F. 2d 1291, found several forms of corporal punishment impermissible, including hand-cuffing inmates to fences or cells for long periods, and Ort v. White, 813 F. 2d 318, 324, warned that "physical abuse directed at [a] prisoner after he terminate[s] his resistance to authority would constitute an actionable eighth amendment violation." Relevant to the question whether Ort provided fair notice is a subsequent Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) regulation specifying procedures for using a hitching post, which included allowing an inmate to rejoin his squad when he tells an officer that he is ready to work. If regularly observed, that provision

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