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Hamilton v. Leavy

June 30, 1997






(D.C. Civil No. 94-cv-00336)

Before: NYGAARD and LEWIS, Circuit Judges and COHILL, *fn* District Judge.

LEWIS, Circuit Judge.

Filed June 30, 1997

Submitted Under Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) January 23, 1997


Jerome K. Hamilton appeals from a district court order granting a motion to dismiss his civil suit, litigated pro se. Hamilton brought suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 1983 against Faith Levy, Pamela Faulkner, William Queener, members of the Multi-Disciplinary Team at the Gander Hill prison facility in Wilmington, Delaware (the "MDT defendants"), and Frances Lewis, chairperson of the Delaware Department of Corrections Central Institutional Classification Committee ("CICC"). He alleges that the appellees violated his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Specifically, Hamilton claims that these defendants knew of and disregarded an excessive risk to his safety posed by other inmates.

This case requires us to determine whether the district court misapplied the Supreme Court's decision in Farmer v. Brennan, 114 S. Ct. 1970 (1994), in which the Court announced the guidelines for determining "deliberate indifference" on the part of prison officials for purposes of Eighth Amendment claims. We must also determine whether the district court erred when it declined to allow Hamilton to pursue discovery, denied his request for the appointment of counsel and refused to permit him to amend his complaint to add new defendants.

For the reasons explained below, we will reverse.


Hamilton has a long history of being assaulted throughout the Delaware prison system. He has been transferred out of the State of Delaware twice, and has been placed in protective custody on numerous occasions. While an explanation for each of Hamilton's violent clashes throughout the prison system is absent from the record, the fact that Hamilton's safety has been an ongoing concern is not in dispute.

The earliest evidence of violence against Hamilton dates back to February 14, 1976. On that day he was stabbed by a fellow inmate while incarcerated in the Maximum Security Unit ("MSU") at the Delaware Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware ("DCC"). Over a year later, on May 8, 1977, an inmate attacked Hamilton with a chair in the MSU. On August 1, 1977, he was assaulted in the MSU by twenty inmates who stabbed him in the back, stomach and arms. He also suffered severe lacerations to the head and face, which required his hospitalization at the Institution Hospital at Gander Hill. For his own protection, Hamilton remained confined there for four months with no outside activities whatsoever. During that time, Hamilton made an effort to return to the MSU, but due to threats by other inmates, he was placed in protective custody pursuant to the "Inmates Rule (31) Emergency Provisions" procedure. Appellant's app. at 44a. Hamilton was later transferred out of the Delaware state prison system entirely and was held in federal custody in Leavenworth, Kansas. The stated reasons for Hamilton's transfer were to alleviate overcrowding and because "[Hamilton] had been assaulted and stabbed at the DCC and the staff feared for his safety." Id. at 27a.

At some point between 1982 and 1984, Hamilton was returned from federal custody to the custody of the State of Delaware, where he was again incarcerated at Gander Hill. The assaults continued. On March 25, 1985, he was transferred to the general prison population at Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown, Delaware. There, he eventually notified officials that his "life was in danger" and that he would "be killed" if he remained there. Prison officials believed him. The following week, they recommended that he be placed in protective custody back at Gander Hill. Hamilton was later transferred, on April 11, 1986, from Gander Hill to DCC. Hamilton was informed that the reason for his transfer was that "it [was] felt that [he] may be in danger of physical harm should [he] continue to be housed [at Gander Hill]." Id. at 17a. In a document prepared by a member of the MDT, it was explained that "[Hamilton] was moved because he required protective custody in a more secure setting in that his life was in danger at [Gander Hill]." Id. at 47a. On May 21, 1986, Hamilton was placed in protective custody at DCC.

For reasons not apparent from the record, and despite the serious concerns described above, Hamilton was again returned to Gander Hill at some point in 1986. At that time, Hamilton cooperated with an official investigation of drug trafficking that led to the arrest of officers and inmates at Gander Hill. Not surprisingly, Hamilton was then labeled "a snitch" within certain circles of the prison population. Id. at 10a. This latest development required numerous transfers of Hamilton into protective custody. Frances Lewis, CICC Chairperson, personally approved transfers on November 16, 1988 and February 8, 1989, and Hamilton was recommended for protective custody again on May 11, 1989. Even up until November 30, 1989, the MDT acknowledged that Hamilton's need for protective custody had not changed. In fact, while Hamilton was still in protective custody at Gander Hill, the MDT recommended on August 17, 1990, that he be transferred "out of the building" to protective custody at another location. Id. at 29a. Because there appeared to be no safe place for Hamilton in the Delaware prisons, on September 4, 1990, prison officials decided that Hamilton would be transferred to Virginia to ensure his safety. Id. at 18a.

On December 12, 1991, Hamilton was temporarily returned from Virginia to Gander Hill for the purpose of prosecuting two civil actions in the Delaware courts, one of which was an action against Delaware prison officials. Concern for Hamilton's safety was again triggered, when, on March 25, 1992, in a room at Gander Hill with several inmates present, a guard called Hamilton "a good telling mother f_____g snitcher." Id. at 25a. A committee appointed to investigate this incident, apparently recognizing the risk to Hamilton's safety, concluded that "comments of this nature [have] the potential of a major disturbance and requires immediate action." Id. at 24a. The guard who made the statement was later reprimanded.

On June 18, 1992, Levy, Faulkner and Queener convened a MDT meeting at Gander Hill to review Hamilton's security classification and consider his request to be placed in protective custody. The MDT made an administrative summary of the reasons for Hamilton's earlier transfer to Virginia and for his return to Delaware. After reviewing Hamilton's history of being assaulted in prison, the MDT unanimously recommended that Hamilton be placed in protective custody. But despite their own recommendation, the MDT took no immediate action to protect Hamilton. The MDT's ...

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