Groping/Fondling of Inmate Constitutes 8th Amendment Violation
Two inmates bring suit, complaining they were groped around the genitalia for the personal gratification of a corrections office. The District Court, reviewing the facts and applying the prevailing 8th Amendment Standard, dismissed the complaint. Specifically, the Plaintiff alleged that Corrections Officer (CO) Simon Prindle sexually abused him and subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment. The standard in these cases (8th Amendment) is set down by Boddie v. Schnieder, 105 F.3d 857 (2d Cir. 1997). In reviewing the dismissal, the Second Circuit reinstates the complaint and clarifies the standard for stating an Eighth Amendment claim arising from sexual abuse in prison.
So, what exactly happened in this prison? CO Prindle took an inmate, Corley, and put him up against the wall to make sure he did not have an erection. He held him on the wall and began to fondle and squeeze his penis. Corley backed off the wall and, in response, Prindle threatened him. Days later, CO Prindle took inmate Crawford, initiated a search and grabbed Crawford's crotch. Prindle used this as an excuse to squeeze and fondle the area around Crawford's penis. When Crawford attempted to resist, Prindle threatened him. The complaint alleges that there were twenty more inmate complaints alleging sexual abuse by CO Prindle. The District Court (T1) found that these instances did not constitute an 8th Amendment violation under Boddie.
Law: [Although not “every malevolent touch by a prison guard gives rise to a federal cause of action,” the Eighth Amendment is offended by conduct that is “repugnant to the conscience of mankind.” Id. at 9‐10 (internal quotation marks omitted). Actions are repugnant to the conscience of mankind if they are “incompatible with evolving standards of decency” or involve “the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” Id. at 10 (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102‐03 (1976)).]
Boddie set forth the standard for sexual abuse but would not find a constitutional violation for isolated instances/single occasions of sexual abuse. After reviewing Prindle's acts, the Second Circuit clarified that standard: "A corrections officer’s intentional contact with an inmate’s genitalia or other intimate area, which serves no penological purpose and is undertaken with the intent to gratify the officer’s sexual desire or to humiliate the inmate, violates the Eighth Amendment. Moreover, we recognize that sexual abuse of prisoners, once passively accepted by society, deeply offends today’s standards of decency. The proper application of the rule in Boddie must reflect these standards." P. 4
The Court states, therefore, that "a single incident of sexual abuse, if sufficiently severe or serious, may violate an inmate’s Eighth Amendment rights no less than repetitive abusive conduct." Pp. 12. There need not be penetration but simply "[a] corrections officer’s intentional contact with an inmate’s genitalia or other intimate area, which serves no penological purpose and is undertaken with the intent to gratify the officer’s sexual desire or humiliate the inmate, violates the Eighth Amendment." Pp. 13. Additionally, the Court comments that what is 'decent,' 'cruel,' and 'unusual' is not the same today as it was many years ago. "Accordingly, conduct that might not have been seen to rise to the severity of an Eighth Amendment violation 18 years ago may now violate community standards of decency, and for that reason, we believe that the officer’s conduct in Boddie would flunk its own test today." Pp. 20.
Conclusion: The case is remanded to determine whether Qualified Immunity should be granted.
The case is Crawford v. Cuomo, et al., 14-969-cv (2d Cir. Aug 11, 2015)