FARMER v. BRENNAN No. 92-7247.
511 U.S. 825 (1994)
FARMER v. BRENNAN, WARDEN, et al.
United States Supreme Court.
Decided June 6, 1994.
Elizabeth Alexander argued the cause for petitioner. With her on the briefs were Alvin J. Bronstein, by appointment of the Court, 510 U.S. 941, and Steven R. Shapiro.
Deputy Solicitor General Bender argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Days, Assistant Attorney General Hunger, Amy L. Wax, Barbara L. Herwig, and Robert M. Loeb. *
Souter, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Blackmun, Stevens, O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. Blackmun, J., p. 851, and Stevens, J., p. 858, filed concurring opinions. Thomas, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, p. 858.
Justice Souter, delivered the opinion of the Court.
A prison official's "deliberate indifference" to a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate violates the Eighth Amendment. See Helling v. McKinney
The dispute before us stems from a civil suit brought by petitioner, Dee Farmer, alleging that respondents, federal prison officials, violated the Eighth Amendment by their deliberate indifference to petitioner's safety. Petitioner, who is serving a federal sentence for credit card fraud, has been diagnosed by medical personnel of the Bureau of Prisons as a transsexual, one who has "[a] rare psychiatric disorder in which a person feels persistently uncomfortable about his or her anatomical sex," and who typically seeks medical treatment, including hormonal therapy and surgery, to bring about a permanent sex change. American Medical Association, Encyclopedia of Medicine 1006 (1989); see also American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 74-75 (3d rev. ed. 1987). For several years before being convicted and sentenced in 1986 at the age of 18, petitioner, who is biologically male, wore women's clothing (as petitioner did at the 1986 trial), underwent estrogen therapy, received silicone breast implants, and submitted to unsuccessful "black market" testicle-removal surgery. See Farmer v. Haas,
The practice of federal prison authorities is to incarcerate preoperative transsexuals with prisoners of like biological sex, see Farmer v. Haas, supra, at 320, and over time authorities housed petitioner in several federal facilities, sometimes
On March 9, 1989, petitioner was transferred for disciplinary reasons from the Federal Correctional Institute in Oxford, Wisconsin (FCI-Oxford), to the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana (USP-Terre Haute). Though the record before us is unclear about the security designations of the two prisons in 1989, penitentiaries are typically higher security facilities that house more troublesome prisoners than federal correctional institutes. See generally Federal Bureau of Prisons, Facilities 1990. After an initial stay in administrative segregation, petitioner was placed in the USP-Terre Haute general population. Petitioner voiced no objection to any prison official about the transfer to the penitentiary or to placement in its general population. Within two weeks, according to petitioner's allegations, petitioner was beaten and raped by another inmate in petitioner's cell. Several days later, after petitioner claims to have reported the incident, officials returned petitioner to segregation to await, according to respondents, a hearing about petitioner's HIV-positive status.
Acting without counsel, petitioner then filed a Bivens complaint, alleging a violation of the Eighth Amendment. See Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents,
Respondents filed a motion for summary judgment supported by several affidavits, to which petitioner responded with an opposing affidavit and a cross-motion for summary judgment; petitioner also invoked Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f), asking the court to delay its ruling until respondents had complied with petitioner's pending request for production of documents. Respondents then moved for a protective order staying discovery until resolution of the issue of qualified immunity, raised in respondents' summary judgment motion.
Without ruling on respondents' request to stay discovery, the District Court denied petitioner's Rule 56(f) motion and granted summary judgment to respondents, concluding that there had been no deliberate indifference to petitioner's safety. The failure of prison officials to prevent inmate assaults violates the Eighth Amendment, the court stated, only if prison officials were "reckless in a criminal sense," meaning that they had "actual knowledge" of a potential danger. App. 124. Respondents, however, lacked the requisite
The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit summarily affirmed without opinion. We granted certiorari, 510 U.S. 811 (1993), because Courts of Appeals had adopted inconsistent tests for "deliberate indifference." Compare, for example, McGill v. Duckworth,
The Constitution "does not mandate comfortable prisons," Rhodes v. Chapman,
In particular, as the lower courts have uniformly held, and as we have assumed, "prison officials have a duty . . . to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners." Cortes-Quinones v. Jimenez-Nettleship,
It is not, however, every injury suffered by one prisoner at the hands of another that translates into constitutional liability for prison officials responsible for the victim's safety. Our cases have held that a prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met. First, the deprivation alleged must be, objectively, "sufficiently serious," Wilson, supra, at 298; see also Hudson v. McMillian, supra, at 5; a prison official's act or omission must result in the denial of "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities," Rhodes, supra, at 347. For a claim (like the one here) based on a failure to prevent harm, the inmate must show that he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm. See Helling, supra, at 35.
The second requirement follows from the principle that "only the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain implicates the Eighth Amendment." Wilson, 501 U. S., at 297 (internal quotation marks, emphasis, and citations omitted). To violate the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, a prison official must have a "sufficiently culpable state of mind." Ibid.; see also id. , at 302-303; Hudson v. McMillian, supra, at 8. In prison-conditions cases that state of mind is one of "deliberate indifference" to inmate health or safety, Wilson, supra, at 302-303; see also Helling, supra, at 34-35; Hudson v. McMillian, supra, at 5; Estelle, supra, at 106, a standard the parties agree governs the claim in this case. The parties disagree, however, on the proper test for deliberate indifference, which we must therefore undertake to define.
Although we have never paused to explain the meaning of the term "deliberate indifference," the case law is instructive. The term first appeared in the United States Reports in Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U. S., at 104, and its use there shows that deliberate indifference describes a state of mind more blameworthy than negligence. In considering the inmate's claim in Estelle that inadequate prison medical care violated the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, we distinguished "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners," ibid. , from "negligen[ce] in diagnosing or treating a medical condition," id. , at 106, holding that only the former violates the Clause. We have since read Estelle for the proposition that Eighth Amendment liability requires "more than ordinary lack of due care for the prisoner's interests or safety." Whitley v. Albers,
While Estelle establishes that deliberate indifference entails something more than mere negligence, the cases are also clear that itis satisfied by something less than acts or omissions for the very purpose of causing harm or with knowledge that harm will result. That point underlies the ruling that "application of the deliberate indifference standard is inappropriate" in one class of prison cases: when "officials stand accused of using excessive physical force." Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U. S., at 6-7; see also Whitley, supra, at 320. In such situations, where the decisions of prison officials are typically made "`in haste, under pressure, and frequently without the luxury of a second chance,' " Hudson v. McMillian, supra, at 6 (quoting Whitley, supra, at 320), an Eighth Amendment claimant must show more than "indifference," deliberate or otherwise. The claimant must show that officials applied force "maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm," 503 U. S., at 6 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted), or, as the Court also
With deliberate indifference lying somewhere between the poles of negligence at one end and purpose or knowledge at the other, the Courts of Appeals have routinely equated deliberate indifference with recklessness.
That does not, however, fully answer the pending question about the level of culpability deliberate indifference entails, for the term recklessness is not self-defining. The civil law generally calls a person reckless who acts or (if the person has a duty to act) failsto act in the face of an unjustifiably high risk of harm that is either known or so obvious that it should be known. See Prosser and Keeton § 34, pp. 213-214; Restatement (Second) of Torts § 500 (1965). The criminal
We reject petitioner's invitation to adopt an objective test for deliberate indifference. We hold instead that a prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference. This approach comports best with the text of the Amendment as our cases have interpreted it. The Eighth Amendment does not outlaw cruel and unusual "conditions"; it outlaws cruel and unusual "punishments." An act or omission unaccompanied by knowledge of a significant risk of harm might well be something society wishes to discourage,
In Wilson v. Seiter, we rejected a reading of the Eighth Amendment that would allow liability to be imposed on prison officials solely because of the presence of objectively inhumane prison conditions. See 501 U. S., at 299-302. As we explained there, our "cases mandate inquiry into a prison official's state of mind when it is claimed that the official has inflicted cruel and unusual punishment." Id. , at 299. Although "state of mind," like "intent," is an ambiguous term that can encompass objectively defined levels of blameworthiness, see 1 W. LaFave & A. Scott, Substantive Criminal Law §§ 3.4, 3.5, pp. 296-300, 313-314 (1986) (hereinafter LaFave & Scott); United States v. Bailey,
To be sure, the reasons for focusing on what a defendant's mental attitude actually was (or is), rather than what it should have been (or should be), differ in the Eighth Amendment context from that of the criminal law. Here, a subjective approach isolates those who inflict punishment; there, it isolates those against whom punishment should be inflicted. But the result is the same: to act recklessly in either setting a person must "consciously disregar[d]" a substantial risk of serious harm. Model Penal Code § 2.02(2)(c).
At oral argument, the Deputy Solicitor General advised against frank adoption of a criminal-law mens rea requirement, contending that it could encourage triers of fact to find Eighth Amendment liability only if they concluded that prison officials acted like criminals. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 39— 40. We think this concern is misdirected. Bivens actions against federal prison officials (and their 42 U. S. C. § 1983 counterparts against state officials) are civil in character, and a court should no more allude to the criminal law when enforcing the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause than when applying the Free Speech and Press Clauses, where we have also adopted a subjective approach to recklessness. See Harte-Hanks Communications, Inc. v. Connaughton,
Our decision that Eighth Amendment liability requires consciousness of a risk is thus based on the Constitution and our cases, not merely on a parsing of the phrase "deliberate indifference." And we do not reject petitioner's arguments for a thoroughly objective approach to deliberate indifference without recognizing that on the crucial point (whether a prison official must know of a risk, or whether it suffices that he should know) the term does not speak with certainty. Use of "deliberate," for example, arguably requires nothing more than an act (or omission) of indifference to a serious risk that is voluntary, not accidental. Cf. Estelle, 429 U. S., at 105 (distinguishing "deliberate indifference" from "accident" or "inadverten[ce]"). And even if "deliberate" is better read as implying knowledge of a risk, the concept of constructive knowledge is familiar enough that the term "deliberate indifference" would not, of its own force, preclude a scheme that conclusively presumed awareness from a risk's obviousness.
Because "deliberate indifference" is a judicial gloss, appearing neither in the Constitution nor in a statute, we could not accept petitioner's argument that the test for "deliberate indifference" described in Canton v. Harris,
Canton `s objective standard, however, is not an appropriate test for determining the liability of prison officials under the Eighth Amendment as interpreted in our cases. Section 1983, which merely provides a cause of action, "contains no state-of-mind requirement independent of that necessary to state a violation of the underlying constitutional right." Daniels v. Williams,
We are no more persuaded by petitioner's argument that, without an objective test for deliberate indifference, prison officials will be free to ignore obvious dangers to inmates. Under the test we adopt today, an Eighth Amendment claimant need not show that a prison official acted or failed to act believing that harm actually would befall an inmate; it is enough that the official acted or failed to act despite his knowledge of a substantial risk of serious harm. Cf. 1 C. Torcia, Wharton's Criminal Law § 27, p. 141 (14th ed. 1978); Hall 115. We doubt that a subjective approach will present prison officials with any serious motivation "to take refuge in the zone between `ignorance of obvious risks' and `actual knowledge of risks.' " Brief for Petitioner 27. Whether a prison official had the requisite knowledge of a substantial risk is a question of fact subject to demonstration in the usual ways, including inference from circumstantial evidence, cf. Hall 118 (cautioning against "confusing a mental state with the proof of its existence"), and a factfinder may conclude that a prison official knew of a substantial risk from the very fact that the risk was obvious. Cf. LaFave & Scott § 3.7, p. 335 ("[I]f the risk is obvious, so that a reasonable man would realize it, we might well infer that [the defendant] did in fact realize it; but the inference cannot be conclusive, for we know that people are not always conscious of what reasonable people would be conscious of"). For example, if an Eighth Amendment plaintiff presents evidence showing that a substantial risk of inmate attacks was "longstanding, pervasive, well-documented, or expressly noted by prison officials in the past, and the circumstances suggest that the defendant-official being sued had been exposed to information concerning the risk and thus `must have known' about it, then such evidence could be sufficient to permit a trier of
Nor may a prison official escape liability for deliberate indifference by showing that, while he was aware of an obvious, substantial risk to inmate safety, he did not know that the complainant was especially likely to be assaulted by the specific prisoner who eventually committed the assault. The question under the Eighth Amendment is whether prison officials, acting with deliberate indifference, exposed a prisoner to a sufficiently substantial "risk of serious damage to his future health," Helling, 509 U. S., at 35, and it does not matter whether the risk comes from a single source or multiple sources, any more than it matters whether a prisoner faces an excessive risk of attack for reasons personal to him or because all prisoners in his situation face such a risk. See Brief for Respondents 15 (stating that a prisoner can establish exposure to a sufficiently serious risk of harm "by showing that he belongs to an identifiable group of prisoners who are frequently singled out for violent attack by other inmates"). If, for example, prison officials were aware that inmate "rape was so common and uncontrolled that some potential victims dared not sleep [but] instead . . . would leave
Because, however, prison officials who lacked knowledge of a risk cannot be said to have inflicted punishment, it remains open to the officials to prove that they were unaware even of an obvious risk to inmate health or safety. That a trier of fact may infer knowledge from the obvious, in other words, does not mean that it must do so. Prison officials charged with deliberate indifference might show, for example, that they did not know of the underlying facts indicating a sufficiently substantial danger and that they were therefore unaware of a danger, or that they knew the underlying facts but believed (albeit unsoundly) that the risk to which the facts gave rise was insubstantial or nonexistent.
In addition, prison officials who actually knew of a substantial risk to inmate health or safety may be found free from liability if they responded reasonably to the risk, even if the harm ultimately was not averted. A prison official's duty under the Eighth Amendment is to ensure "`reasonable safety,' " Helling, supra, at 33; see also Washington v. Har-
We address, finally, petitioner's argument that a subjective deliberate indifference test will unjustly require prisoners to suffer physical injury before obtaining court-ordered correction of objectively inhumane prison conditions. "It would," indeed, "be odd to deny an injunction to inmates who plainly proved an unsafe, life-threatening condition in their prison on the ground that nothing yet had happened to them." Helling, supra, at 33. But nothing in the test we adopt today clashes with that common sense. Petitioner's argument is flawed for the simple reason that "[o]ne does not have to await the consummation of threatened injury to obtain preventive relief." Pennsylvania v. West Virginia,
In a suit such as petitioner's, insofar as it seeks injunctive relief to prevent a substantial risk of serious injury from ripening into actual harm, "the subjective factor, deliberate indifference, should be determined in light of the prison authorities' current attitudes and conduct," Helling, supra, at 36: their attitudes and conduct at the time suit is brought and persisting thereafter. An inmate seeking an injunction on the ground that there is "a contemporary violation of a nature likely to continue," United States v. Oregon State Medical Soc.,
That prison officials' "current attitudes and conduct," Helling, 509 U. S., at 36, must be assessed in an action for injunctive relief does not mean, of course, that inmates are free to bypass adequate internal prison procedures and bring their health and safety concerns directly to court. "An appeal to the equity jurisdiction conferred on federal district courts is an appeal to the sound discretion which guides the determinations of courts of equity," Meredith v. Winter Haven,
Accordingly, we reject petitioner's arguments and hold that a prison official may be held liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying humane conditions of confinement only if he knows that inmates face a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it.
Against this backdrop, we consider whether the District Court's disposition of petitioner's complaint, summarily affirmed without briefing by the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, comports with Eighth Amendment principles. We conclude that the appropriate course is to remand.
In granting summary judgment to respondents on the ground that petitioner had failed to satisfy the Eighth Amendment's subjective requirement, the District Court may have placed decisive weight on petitioner's failure to notify respondents of a risk of harm. That petitioner "never expressed any concern for his safety to any of [respondents]," App. 124, was the only evidence the District Court cited for its conclusion that there was no genuine dispute about respondents' assertion that they "had no knowledge of any potential danger to [petitioner]," ibid. But with respect to each of petitioner's claims, for damages and for injunctive relief, the failure to give advance notice is not dispositive. Petitioner may establish respondents' awareness by reliance on any relevant evidence. See supra, at 842.
The summary judgment record does not so clearly establish respondents' entitlement to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of subjective knowledge that we can simply assume the absence of error below. For example, in papers filed in opposition to respondents' summary-judgment motion, petitioner pointed to respondents' admission that petitioner is a "non-violent" transsexual who, because of petitioner's "youth and feminine appearance" is "likely to experience a great deal of sexual pressure" in prison. App. 50-51, 73-74. And petitioner recounted a statement by one of the respondents, then warden of the penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, who told petitioner that there was "a high probability that [petitioner] could not safely function at USP-Lewisburg," id. , at 109, an incident confirmed in a
We cannot, moreover, be certain that additional evidence is unavailable to petitioner because in denying petitioner's Rule 56(f) motion for additional discovery the District Court may have acted on a mistaken belief that petitioner's failure to notify was dispositive. Petitioner asserted in papers accompanying the Rule 56(f) motion that the requested documents would show that "each defendant had knowledge that USP-Terre Haute was and is, a violent institution with a history of sexual assault, stabbings, etc., [and that] each defendant showed reckless disregard for my safety by designating me to said institution knowing that I would be sexually assaulted." App. 105-106. But in denying the Rule 56(f) motion, the District Court stated that the requested documents were "not shown by plaintiff to be necessary to oppose defendants' motion for summary judgment," id., at 121, a statement consistent with the erroneous view that failure to notify was fatal to petitioner's complaint.
Because the District Court may have mistakenly thought that advance notification was a necessary element of an Eighth Amendment failure-to-protect claim, we think it proper to remand for reconsideration of petitioner's Rule 56(f) motion and, whether additional discovery is permitted or not, for application of the Eighth Amendment principles explained above.
Respondents urge us to affirm for reasons not relied on below, but neither of their contentions is so clearly correct as to justify affirmance.
With respect to petitioner's damages claim, respondents argue that the officials sued in their individual capacities (officials at FCI-Oxford and the Bureau of Prisons North Central Region office) were alleged to be liable only for their transfer of petitioner from FCI-Oxford to USP-Terre Haute, whereas petitioner "nowhere alleges any reason for believing that these officials, who had no direct responsibility for administering the Terre Haute institution, would have had knowledge of conditions within that institution regarding danger to transsexual inmates." Brief for Respondents 27— 28. But petitioner's Rule 56(f) motion alleged just that. Though respondents suggest here that petitioner offered no factual basis for that assertion, that is not a ground on which they chose to oppose petitioner's Rule 56(f) motion below and, in any event, is a matter for the exercise of the District Court's judgment, not ours. Finally, to the extent respondents seek affirmance here on the ground that officials at FCI-Oxford and the Bureau of Prisons regional office had no power to control prisoner placement at Terre Haute, the record gives at least a suggestion to the contrary; the affidavit of one respondent, the warden of USP-Terre Haute, states that after having been at USP-Terre Haute for about a month petitioner was placed in administrative segregation "pursuant to directive from the North Central Regional Office" and a "request . . . by staff at FCI-Oxford." App. 94— 95. Accordingly, though we do not reject respondents' arguments about petitioner's claim for damages, the record does not permit us to accept them as a basis for affirmance when they were not relied upon below. Respondents are free to develop this line of argument on remand.
With respect to petitioner's claim for injunctive relief, respondents argued in their merits brief that the claim was
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Although I do not go along with the Court's reliance on Wilson in defining the "deliberate indifference" standard, I join the Court's opinion, because it creates no new obstacles for prison inmates to overcome, and it sends a clear message to prison officials that their affirmative duty under the Constitution to provide for the safety of inmates is not to be taken lightly. Under the Court's decision today, prison officials may be held liable for failure to remedy a risk so obvious and substantial that the officials must have known about it, see ante, at 842-843, and prisoners need not "`await a tragic event [such as an] actua[l] assaul[t] before obtaining relief,' " ante, at 845.
Petitioner is a transsexual who is currently serving a 20year sentence in an all-male federal prison for credit card fraud. Although a biological male, petitioner has undergone treatment for silicone breast implants and unsuccessful surgery to have his testicles removed. Despite his overtly feminine characteristics, and his previous segregation at a different federal prison because of safety concerns, see Farmer v. Carlson,
Homosexual rape or other violence among prison inmates serves absolutely no penological purpose. See Rhodes v. Chapman,
The fact that our prisons are badly overcrowded and understaffed may well explain many of the shortcomings of our penal systems. But our Constitution sets minimal standards governing the administration of punishment in this country, see Rhodes, 452 U. S., at 347, and thus it is no answer to the complaints of the brutalized inmate that the resources
The Court's analysis is fundamentally misguided; indeed it defies common sense. "Punishment" does not necessarily imply a culpable state of mind on the part of an identifiable punisher. A prisoner may experience punishment when he suffers "severe, rough, or disastrous treatment," see, e. g., Webster's Third New International Dictionary 1843 (1961),
The Court's unduly narrow definition of punishment blinds it to the reality of prison life. Consider, for example, a situation in which one individual is sentenced to a period of confinement at a relatively safe, well-managed prison, complete with tennis courts and cable television, while another is sentenced to a prison characterized by rampant violence and terror. Under such circumstances, it is natural to say that the latter individual was subjected to a more extreme punishment. It matters little that the sentencing judge did not specify to which prison the individuals would be sent; nor is it relevant that the prison officials did not intend either individual to suffer any attack. The conditions of confinement, whatever the reason for them, resulted in differing punishment for the two convicts.
Wilson `s myopic focus on the intentions of prison officials is also mistaken. Where a legislature refuses to fund a prison adequately, the resulting barbaric conditions should not be immune from constitutional scrutiny simply because no prison official acted culpably. Wilson failed to recognize that "state-sanctioned punishment consists not so much of specific acts attributable to individual state officials, but more of a cumulative agglomeration of action (and inaction) on an institutional level." The Supreme Court—Leading Cases, 105 Harv. L. Rev. 177, 243 (1991). The responsibility for subminimal conditions in any prison inevitably is diffuse, and often borne, at least in part, by the legislature. Yet, regardless of what state actor or institution caused the harm
Though I believe Wilson v. Seiter should be overruled, and disagree with the Court's reliance upon that case in defining the "deliberate indifference" standard, I nonetheless join the Court's opinion. Petitioner never challenged this Court's holding in Wilson or sought reconsideration of the theory upon which that decision is based. More importantly, the Court's opinion does not extend Wilson beyond its illconceived boundaries or erect any new obstacles for prison inmates to overcome in seeking to remedy cruel and unusual conditions of confinement. The Court specifically recognizes that "[h]aving incarcerated `persons [with] demonstrated proclivities for criminally antisocial and, in many cases, violent conduct,' [and] having stripped them of virtually every means of self-protection and foreclosed their access to outside aid, the government and its officials are not free to let the state of nature take its course." Ante, at 833. The Court further acknowledges that prison rape is not constitutionally tolerable, see ante, at 834 ("Being violently assaulted in prison is simply not `part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society' "), and it
Justice Stevens, concurring.
While I continue to believe that a state official may inflict cruel and unusual punishment without any improper subjective motivation, see Estelle v. Gamble,
Justice Thomas, concurring in the judgment.
Prisons are necessarily dangerous places; they house society's most antisocial and violent people in close proximity with one another. Regrettably, "[s]ome level of brutality and sexual aggression among [prisoners] is inevitable no
I adhere to my belief, expressed in Hudson and Helling v. McKinney,
When approaching this case, however, we do not write on a clean slate. Beginning with Estelle v. Gamble,
Although I disagree with the constitutional predicate of the Court's analysis, I share the Court's view that petitioner's theory of liability—that a prison official can be held liable for risks to prisoner safety of which he was ignorant but should have known—fails under even "a straightforward application of Estelle. " Helling, supra, at 42 (Thomas, J., dissenting). In adopting the "deliberate indifference" standard for challenges to prison conditions, Estelle held that mere "inadverten[ce]" or "negligen[ce]" does not violate the Eighth Amendment. 429 U. S., at 105-106. "From the outset, thus, we specified that the Eighth Amendment does not apply to every deprivation, or even every unnecessary deprivation, suffered by a prisoner, but only that narrow class of deprivations involving `serious' injury inflicted by prison officials acting with a culpable state of mind." Hudson, supra, at 20 (Thomas, J., dissenting). We reiterated this understanding in Wilson v. Seiter,
The question remains, however, what state of mind is sufficient to constitute deliberate indifference under Estelle.
Even though the Court takes a step in the right direction by adopting a restrictive definition of deliberate indifference, I cannot join the Court's opinion. For the reasons expressed more fully in my dissenting opinions in Hudson and Helling, I remain unwilling to subscribe to the view, adopted by ipse dixit in Estelle, that the Eighth Amendment regulates prison conditions not imposed as part of a sentence. Indeed, "[w]ere the issue squarely presented, . . . I might vote to overrule Estelle. " Helling, 509 U. S., at 42 (Thomas, J., dissenting). Nonetheless, the issue is not squarely presented
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