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Jeremiah Thomas, et al. v. Walter A. McNeil, et al.

Case Conclusion Date: 01.09.2009

Practice Area: Civil rights

Outcome: For Plaintiffs

Description: Prevailed in an appeal noted by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to present important questions concerning the intersection of the Eighth Amendment and the incarceration of inmates with serious mental illnesses. In an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against various officers and employees of the Florida Department of Corrections (“FDOC”), Plaintiffs alleged that the use of chemical agents on inmates with mental illnesses and other vulnerabilities violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. After four years of litigation and settling the Plaintiffs’ damages claims against the individual correctional officers responsible for administering the chemical agents, the Florida Justice Institute, along with co-counsel from Florida Institutional Legal Services (“FILS”) and Holland & Knight (“H&K”), prevailed in a five day bench trial in the Middle District of Florida on declaratory judgment and injunctive relief claims against Walter McNeil, Secretary of the FDOC, and Randall Bryant, Warden of Florida State Prison (“FSP”), the two individuals responsible for the policy which authorized the use of chemical agents on mentally ill inmates. The District Court concluded that Plaintiffs were sprayed with chemical agents at times in which they were unable to conform their behavior to prison standards due to their mental illnesses such that the DOC’s use of force amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. To remedy the violation, the district court permanently enjoined the defendants, in their official capacities, from allowing the non-spontaneous use of chemical agents on Plaintiffs without first consulting trained mental health staff to evaluate Plaintiffs’ mental health status, which Defendants appealed. After extensive briefing and oral argument by both parties, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the holding of the District Court in a published opinion entered on August 20, 2010, finding that that the FDOC’s non-spontaneous use-of-force policy as applied to Plaintiffs violates the Eighth Amendment and that the District Court’s permanent injunction was both necessary and properly tailored to remedy the identified harm.

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