WILKINS v. GADDY
130 S.Ct. 1175 (2010)
Jamey L. WILKINS, Petitioner,
Supreme Court of United States.
February 22, 2010.
In Hudson v. McMillian,503 U.S. 1, 4, 112 S.Ct. 995, 117 L.Ed.2d 156 (1992), this Court held that "the use of excessive physical force against a prisoner may constitute cruel and unusual punishment [even] when the inmate does not suffer serious injury." In this case, the District I
Court dismissed a prisoner's excessive force claim based entirely on its determination that his injuries were "de minimis." Because the District Court's approach, affirmed on appeal, is at odds with Hudson's direction to decide excessive force claims based on the nature of the force rather than the extent of the injury, the petition for certiorari is granted, and the judgment is reversed.
In March 2008, petitioner Jamey Wilkins, a North Carolina state prisoner, filed suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Wilkins' pro se complaint alleged that, on June 13, 2007, he was "maliciously and sadistically" assaulted "[w]ithout any provocation" by a corrections officer, respondent Gaddy.1 App. to Pet. for Cert. C-4. According to the complaint, Gaddy, apparently angered by Wilkins' request for a grievance form, "snatched [Wilkins] off the ground and slammed him onto the concrete floor." Ibid. Gaddy "then proceeded to punch, kick, knee and choke [Wilkins] until another officer had to physically remove him from [Wilkins]." Ibid. Wilkins further alleged that, "[a]s a result of the excessive force used by [Gaddy], [he] sustained multiple physical injuries including a bruised heel, lower back pain, increased blood pressure, as well as migraine headaches and dizziness" and "psychological trauma and mental anguish including depression, panic attacks and nightmares of the assault." Ibid. The District Court, on its own motion and without a response from Gaddy, dismissed Wilkins' complaint for failure to state a claim. Citing Circuit precedent, the court stated that, "[i]n order to state an excessive force claim under the Eighth Amendment, a plaintiff must establish that he received more than a de minimus [sic] injury." No. 3:08-cv-00138 (WD NC, Apr. 16, 2008), pp. 1, 2 (citing Taylor v. McDuffie,155 F.3d 479, 483 (C.A.4 1998); Riley v. Dorton,115 F.3d 1159, 1166 (C.A.4 1997) (en banc); footnote omitted). According to the court, Wilkins' alleged injuries were no more severe than those deemed de minimis in the Circuit's Taylor and Riley decisions. Indeed, the court noted, Wilkins nowhere asserted that his injuries had required medical attention.
In a motion for reconsideration, Wilkins stated that he was unaware that the failure to allege medical treatment might prejudice his claim. He asserted that he had been prescribed, and continued to take, medication for his headaches and back pain, as well as for depression. And he attached medical records purporting to corroborate his injuries and course of treatment.
Describing reconsideration as "an extraordinary remedy," the court declined to revisit its previous ruling. No. 3:08-cv-00138 (WD NC, Aug. 25, 2008), p. 1. The medical records, the court observed, indicated that some of Wilkins' alleged injuries "were pre-existing conditions." Id., at 3. Wilkins had sought treatment for high blood pressure and mental health issues even before the assault. The court acknowledged that Wilkins received an X ray after the incident "to examine his `bruised heel,'" but it "note[d] that bruising is generally considered a de minimus [sic] injury." Id., at 4. The court similarly characterized as de minimis Wilkins' complaints of back pain and headaches. The court denied Wilkins leave to amend his complaint. In a summary disposition, the Court of Appeals affirmed "for the reasons
stated by the district court." No. 08-7881 (CA4, Jan. 23, 2009).