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Jerry v. Francisco

decided: October 14, 1980.


Before Adams, Van Dusen and Higginbotham, Circuit Judges.

Author: Per Curiam


The plaintiff brought this suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 seeking injunctive relief and money damages from the warden and three prison guards at the Beaver County Jail in Pennsylvania (the Jail), where he had been previously imprisoned. The defendants were alleged to have subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the eighth amendment of the Constitution, and to have deprived him of the free exercise of his first amendment rights. The magistrate, whose findings of fact and conclusions of law were adopted by the district court, found for the defendant on the damage claims principally because the plaintiff had failed to proffer evidence that any of the defendants were responsible for or were aware of the constitutional violations. During the hearing, however, the magistrate had assured the plaintiff that she would appraise him of whether witnesses that he had unsuccessfully sought to have transported to the hearing were needed to prove his case. Because the magistrate failed to supply the information she had promised and never ruled on the plaintiff's request for transportation of his witnesses-witnesses who could have provided the critical evidence she found lacking-we will reverse in part and affirm in part.


Bernard C. Jerry was committed to the Jail in Pennsylvania on February 13, 1977, while he was awaiting trial on state homicide charges. After he had been transferred from the Jail on March 29, 1977, he brought suit pro se against its Warden, Anthony Mastro Francisco, and three guards, Parker Bronson, Jerry LaValle, and Robert Apple, for violation of his constitutional rights.

During the pretrial stage the magistrate requested a summary of witnesses Jerry would call,*fn1 to which he responded with "an evidentiary offering of witnesses to be called at trial." This document contained the names and addresses of ten witnesses broken down into two groups of five. The first five witnesses were offered for "Summary testimony to above mentioned will attest to law books." The second group "will attest to dental, hygienic, church and overcrowded conditions at jail." Jerry also requested certain materials from the defendants. The document concluded with the request that "subpoenas be issued to above named and documents requested be available for trial." There is no evidence in the record that the magistrate ever ruled on this pretrial request for witnesses.

On August 15, 1978, Jerry appeared without counsel at a hearing held before the magistrate to consider his claim. According to Jerry's testimony, which was not rebutted by the defendants,*fn2 he was subjected to numerous debilitating conditions during his incarceration in the Jail. The Jail was overcrowded and, when he first arrived, he was confined with another prisoner in a hospital room initially without mats or covers, with "vomit ... all over the place." Tr. at 14. When Jerry was moved to a regular cell, he was forced to eat his meals either in his cell next to an open faced toilet or on a nearby tier. The mattress on which he slept emitted a nauseous stench, and he twice developed body lice. Jerry also testified that he had sought medical care when he first arrived at the prison, and later dental care, but never received any attention. In all of the instances of allegedly inadequate care and unhealthy conditions, however, Jerry did not specifically identify any person at the Jail who knew about, was specifically responsible for, or to whom he had spoken about the conditions.

In addition to his discussion on the physical condition of the Jail, Jerry also testified concerning restrictions on his receipt of books and free exercise of religion. On or about February 19th, 1977, a friend, Ms. Charlene Jones, was prevented by defendant Parker Bronson from delivering two law books to Jerry. The deprivation proved short-lived, however, for Jones brought the books back a week later, and they were delivered to Jerry.*fn3 Jerry stated finally that he had asked an unnamed guard about the arrangements for religious worship in the prison when he first arrived, and was told there were none. Toward the end of Jerry's testimony at the hearing, Jerry made another request that at least two of his witnesses then imprisoned be transported to testify. He stated:

And while I am on that, I would like to make a note, before I forget, that I had two witnesses that are down at the Western where I am at, and I think that there would have been no difficulty for them to come up with me and testify to things that occur, as corroboration.

Tr. at 15. The magistrate said that she would defer her ruling on the second request for transportation of witnesses, assuring Jerry that she would call them if they were needed.

THE COURT: As I explained to you in our pretrial conference, if you feel there are witnesses that you really need, after you have presented your case, you can tell me who they are and what you feel they would testify to, and I will determine whether you really need their testimony; and if so, I will make an attempt to get them in here. But that's after you have proved-after you have put in all the other evidence that you are able to produce, and I will determine whether you need their testimony.


At the conclusion of Jerry's presentation, however, when Jerry stated that he had no other witnesses, the magistrate did not inform him, as she had promised, whether his other two witnesses still in prison were needed, or rule on his previous motion that they be transported to the hearing. When Jerry stated that he had no further witnesses, the magistrate merely asked the defendants to present their case. The defendants waived their right to offer any evidence to rebut Jerry's testimony, resting their case on Jerry's failure to link them personally to any constitutional violation.

The magistrate subsequently recommended a finding for the defendants on all claims. On the eighth amendment claim, she found that Jerry had provided no evidence that his physical ailments were serious or that any defendant was responsible for or even aware of his physical ailment or the prison conditions. On the first amendment claim the failure to provide a religious advisor was found to be constitutional because Jerry had not requested that he be permitted to see a specific person. There was also no constitutional obligation to provide religious advisors for prisoners, such as Jerry, who were in a particular prison for a short period of time. Indeed, according to the magistrate, even if the ...

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