Constitutional Law

6th Circuit Reinstates Ex-Inmate's Pro Se Suit Over Lack of Toothpaste

Jerry Flanory doesn’t have a lawyer—yet. But after scoring a pro se civil rights victory in federal appellate court in Detroit yesterday that could soon change.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Flanory’s constitutional case against officials of the Michigan prison at which he formerly served time for assault, finding that his allegations of being denied toothpaste for nearly a year adequately state a claim for cruel and unusual punishment, reports the Associated Press.

“This court has found dental health to be of great importance,” a three-judge panel said in a written opinion, reversing a federal district court’s determination that the case was frivolous. Being without “toothpaste for 337 days and resulting health problems amount to more than a mere inconvenience or a harmless deprivation of hygiene products.”

Leagle provides a copy of the court’s written opinion (PDF).

Flanory, 58, says he developed gum disease and had to have a tooth removed because he wasn’t able to brush adequately without toothpaste, the news agency recounts. The denial resulted from discipline at the Newberry prison in which he lost his indigent status–and hence the free toothpaste had had formerly received, he explains in the ligation.

He says he was disciplined because he refused to take classes toward a general high school equivalency degree since he already had an associate degree from a community college. By the time his college degree was confirmed by prison officials, he had been without toothpaste for 11 months.

Representatives of the state prisons and the Michigan attorney general’s office, which a spokeswoman says was never served with the complaint, are not familiar with the case, the AP reports.

Flanory is seeking $350,000 in damages in the civil rights case, which will now proceed toward trial in Marquette.

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