Harrington v. Scribner

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 05-07-2015
  • Case #: 09-16951
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge McKeown for the Court; Chief Judge Thomas and Circuit Judge O’Scannlain; Partial Concurrence and Partial Dissent by O’Scannlain
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the Farmer test, deliberate indifference is found when an official is aware of a substantial risk of serious harm, but disregards that risk.

As a result of violent riots involving white inmates and “disruptive groups” (a group of aggressive inmates following a leader’s direction), and a state-wide risk of an African American inmate uprising against prison staff, the California State Prison—Corcoran instituted a lockdown on African American inmates. This lockdown also consisted of shower restrictions, where African American inmates were forced to wear limited clothing and shower slippers, and were handcuffed during transportation to the showers. Garrick Harrington, one of the inmates who was not involved in a disruptive group, slipped on a puddle of water and hurt his back, as a result of wearing the “flimsy” shower slippers. Harrington then filed a claim against prison officials for deliberate indifference, thus violating the Eighth Amendment, and racial discrimination by violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. At trial, Harrington’s request for appointment of counsel was denied, and the jury found for the prison officials. On appeal, Harrington challenged the jury instructions for his Constitutional claims. The Ninth Circuit reviewed the test from Farmer v. Brennan to determine “deliberate indifference,” which dictates that an official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment unless the official is aware and then disregards the safety risks for inmates. The panel held that the jury instructions for Harrington’s Eighth Amendment claims correctly restated the Farmer test for deliberate indifference, and therefore were affirmed. With respect to the race discrimination issue and the Equal Protection Clause, the panel held that the jury instructions were not correct in giving the requirements for strict scrutiny. Under Johnson v. California, the jury instructions erred by absolving prison officials from the obligation of demonstrating that race-based discrimination was narrowly tailored, and thus Harrington’s equal protection claim was reversed and remanded. AFFIRMED; REVERSED, VACATED, and REMANDED in Part.

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