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Hamner v. Burls

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

September 11, 2019

Charles Hamner, Plaintiff - Appellant,
Danny Burls, Warden, Maximum Security Unit, ADC; Connie Jenkins, Classification Supervisor/Officer, Maximum Security Unit, ADC; Maurice Williams, Major, Maximum Security Unit, ADC; Steve Outlaw, Deputy Warden, Maximum Security Unit, ADC; Marvin Evans, Deputy Director, ADC, Defendants - Appellees. Professors and Practitioners of Psychiatry and Psychology, Amicus on Behalf of Appellant.

          Submitted: July 3, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Pine Bluff

          Before COLLOTON, GRUENDER, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.


         Charles Hamner sued Arkansas prison officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging deprivations of his constitutional rights while incarcerated. He sought injunctive and declaratory relief and damages. The district court[1] concluded that Hamner's complaint failed to state a claim and dismissed the action. In Hamner's appeal, only the claim for damages presents a continuing case or controversy. We affirm on the alternative ground that the complaint does not adequately allege a violation of Hamner's clearly established constitutional rights, so the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.


         For purposes of a motion to dismiss, we take the facts as alleged in Hamner's pleadings as true and apply all reasonable inferences in his favor. Hamner is an inmate in the custody of the Arkansas Department of Corrections. He suffers from a number of mental health problems, including borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, antisocial personality disorder, anxiety, and depression. He takes daily medication, as prescribed by a mental health physician.

         In March 2015, Hamner alerted prison authorities to a potential attack by another inmate against a prison guard. On March 26, after providing prison officials more details about the planned attack, he was transferred from general population to administrative segregation. Hamner remained in administrative segregation for 203 days, ultimately transferring back to general population on October 15, 2015. Hamner alleges that while administratively segregated, he received no satisfactory justification for his transfer; the only written explanation allegedly came on August 12 and cited "security concerns." Although Hamner details a long series of reviews and internal grievances, he claims that none of these processes followed "meaningful or relevant standards."

         While in administrative segregation, Hamner remained in his cell for twenty-three hours per day, leaving for "one hour a day, five days per week," if security concerns or weather did not interfere. Hamner was allowed three showers per week, three phone calls per week, and often served cold food. He had no television in his cell, and could not see the public television in the hallway due to distance and an obstructed view. He was allowed to keep a limited number of books in his cell, but complains that his light bulb was often burned out, "making it hard to see or read anything for days." He also lost his job and could not receive vocational training. He had no roommate and "rarely any human contact."

         Administrative segregation allegedly affected Hamner's health. He describes being "deprived of his prescribed adequate medical treatment and medication" and having his "pleas" for treatment "ignored." These deprivations, combined with the stress of solitary confinement and the alleged futility of his review process, impacted his mental health: he "often couldn't sleep, had a lack of appetite, hallucinations, nightmares, restlessness, anxiety and panic attacks," and felt a risk of "irreparable emotional damage" or suicide. Hamner alleged that he was "skipped [r]andomly at pill call," and that officers working in the administrative segregation unit knew about the gaps in his treatment.

         In March 2017, Hamner sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting that members of the prison classification committee had violated his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by subjecting him to atypical and significantly worse prison conditions without adequate procedural protections. He claimed that the prison's periodic reviews were superficial and did not provide him a meaningful opportunity to challenge his extended period of segregation. He also claimed that prison officials had retaliated against him for filing grievances. The defendants were warden Danny Burls, classification supervisor Connie Jenkins, building major Maurice Williams, deputy warden Steve Outlaw, and deputy director Marvin Evans.

         The district court screened Hamner's claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and concluded that Hamner's detention in administrative segregation for "nearly seven months" did not implicate a protected liberty interest. The court thus dismissed Hamner's due process claim with prejudice, but allowed the retaliation claim to proceed.

         Hamner then filed an amended complaint expanding his due process argument, reiterating his retaliation claim, and raising new claims under the Eighth Amendment-alleged deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs and unconstitutional conditions of confinement. He sought damages, a declaratory judgment, and injunctive relief. The district court dismissed all counts for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). ...

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