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Justices to decide liability of private prison employees

Justices to decide liability of private prison employees

BOSTON — The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether a federal prison inmate has an implied cause of action for a violation of his constitutional rights against the employees of a private company that operates the facility.

The Court will review a decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowing the Bivens claims of an inmate at a federal prison in California.

A private company operated the prison under a contract with the government. The plaintiff alleged that seven employees of the private contractor violated his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to provide him with appropriate medical treatment for injuries suffered in a fall.

The defendants argued that a Bivens claim cannot be maintained against the employees of a private company.

But the 9th Circuit held that the defendant could be considered federal agents acting under color of federal law for the purpose of a Bivens claim.

The court said that there was “no principled basis” to distinguish the activities of the private employees in this case from governmental action.

“[The plaintiff] could seek medical care only from the [contractor’s] employees and any other private physicians [the contractor] employed. If those employees demonstrated deliberate indifference to [the plaintiff’s] serious medical needs, the resulting deprivation was caused, in the sense relevant for the federal-action inquiry, by the federal government’s exercise of its power to punish [the plaintiff] by incarceration and to deny him a venue independent of the federal government to obtain needed medical care,” the court said.

It noted a contrary decision from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A decision from the Supreme Court is expected next term.

The case is Minneci v. Pollard, No. 10-1104.


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