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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ind. Decisions - One Indiana opinion today from 7th Circuit

In Anthony Smith v. Gil Peters (SD Ind., Young), a 6-page opinion, Judge Posner writes:

Anthony Smith, an Indiana state prisoner, filed this civil rights suit which charges that prison employees had violated the Eighth Amendment by forcing him to work at hard labor in dangerous conditions, and had violated the First Amendment by penalizing him for questioning the propriety of the work assignment and preparing to sue. He seeks damages. He also seeks injunctive relief, but that claim is moot because he’s been moved to a different prison. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim.

Smith was assigned to uproot tree stumps. Workers on the stump crew were forced, the complaint alleges (and since the complaint was dismissed on its face, we take its allegations to be true, though of course without vouching for their truth), to work in “freezing cold” with axes, pickaxes, and shovels and without having received any safety instruction or protective gear—not even gloves. * * *

The “usual discomforts of winter” to which the district judge referred do not include handling heavy tools with gloveless hands in subzero weather. Our prison system is not the gulag. Smith’s blisters could have been caused by his handling the stump removal tools without gloves, or could even have been precursors to or consequences of frostbite—the record does not say. But the allegations of the complaint are sufficient to preclude dismissal for failure to state a claim. * * *

The district court’s failure to address Smith’s First Amendment claim was another error. If the facts alleged in the complaint are true, which has yet to be determined, he was punished for complaining about mistreatment, and such punishment is an infringement of the freespeech rights, limited as they are, of prison inmates.

The judgment is reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. 1-19-

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 19, 2011 10:11 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions