Leaking Hole in Jail Cell, Can you File a Lawsuit for Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

prison_prison_window_window-scaledWhen prison officials do nothing to fix a large hole that leaks onto the floor in a jail cell, could the inmate have a claim for cruel and unusual punishment? The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals case answers no. Many instances of inmates complaining about mistreatment are not uncommon to hear about, but when do we draw the line from complaints to unusual punishment? The subsequent lawsuit helps us answer this question of Eighth Amendment rights violations.

Ceasar Shannon was a Dixon Correctional Institute prisoner for over three years. The cell he was in had a large hole in the ceiling that would leak water when it rained. Shannon, along with other inmates, had made many complaints to maintenance requesting it to be fixed. Many times the guards just put buckets to catch the water dripping. One of these times, Shannon woke up at night to use the bathroom and slipped and fell on the puddle from the leak. Shannon suffered injuries to his back, shoulder, and hip.

Shannon filed a lawsuit against the Louisiana prison official under 42 U.S.C § 1983 action in federal district court. Under 42 U.S.C § 1983 a person can seek remedies against others who violated their constitutional rights. Shannon claimed the prison guards were aware of the hole in the wall and did nothing to fix the problem, thus showing deliberate indifference to Shannon’s health and safety, violating his Eight Amendment right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. In response, the State filed a motion to dismiss. The State claimed slip-and-fall cases are negligence claims, not actionable under § 1983. The district court held in favor of the State. Unhappy with the district court’s ruling, Shannon appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The court of appeals reviewed the district court’s grant of the motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6) in favor of the State. The Eighth Amendment is violated when an inmate is subjected to “extreme deprivation of any ‘minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities.’” Gates v. Cook. The court stated that Shannon did not show sufficient facts that would provide enough evidence to show the leak in the cell coming from the home constituted an unsafe environment. The prison guards and other officials did not act with ‘deliberate indifference’ to the inmates’ health or safety by not fixing the leaking hole in the wall. Farmer v. Brennan. 

The appellate court, therefore, found that Shannon’s allegation that a hole allowing rainwater to enter his cell caused him to slip and fall on this one occasion is not sufficient enough to show cruel and unusual punishment on behalf of the prison officials. This lawsuit shows there must be significant evidence to support a claim of cruel and unusual punishment against state officials. A simple slip and fall from a leaky hole in a jail cell is insufficient to have an action claiming a violation of your Eight Amendment rights.


Written by Berniard Law Firm Writer Brianna Saroli

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