U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court Bars Federal Suit Against Private Prison Employees

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A prisoner in a federal facility operated by a private company cannot sue its employees for constitutional violations, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.

The inmate, Richard Lee Pollard, had claimed medical staffers and other employees of the Wackenhut Corrections Corp. had failed to deliver adequate medical care after he slipped on a cart left in a doorway.

The majority opinion (PDF) by Justice Stephen G. Breyer refused to authorize a so-called Bivens action because state tort law provides an alternative route to collect damages.

The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in 2001 that inmates can’t sue private prison companies for constitutional violations, according to Thomson Reuters News & Insight. But the court had not previously decided whether prison company employees can be sued in federal court.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion that agreed with the ruling in the case by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “Were Pollard incarcerated in a federal- or state-operated facility, he would have a federal remedy for the Eighth Amendment violations he alleges,” she wrote.

The case is Minneci v. Pollard.

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