KING v. RUBENSTEIN, NO. 15-6382

Decided: June 7, 2016

The Fourth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed, vacated, and remanded in part the district court’s decision.

Prior to his incarceration on March 23, 2012, Adrian F. King, Jr. had marbles implanted in his penis. Based on an inmate’s report that King and another inmate had been seen implanting marbles into their penises, King was told to report to medical on January 8, 2013, for examination. The examining nurse determined that the marbles were not recently implanted, that there was no sign of infection, and that there was no medical need to remove the marbles. Despite this, he was still found in violation of Policy Directive 325.00-1.26 prohibiting inmates from giving one another tattoos or piercings, and was sentenced to segregation. After being threatened with indefinite segregation until he consented to surgery to remove the marbles, King let them remove the marbles on June 19, 2013. Following the surgery, King experienced mental and emotional suffering as a result, and he also suffers from pain and other physical symptoms he had never experienced prior to the removal of the implants. King filed suit in a West Virginia circuit court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against various correctional officers, prison administrators, and medical personnel. The defendants removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, where the defendant’s motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) was granted in full. King filed a timely appeal.

The Fourth Circuit first analyzed King’s appeal of the dismissal of his Fourth Amendment claim. The Court noted that while the Supreme Court held in Hudson v. Palmer that an inmate has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his prison cell, “prisons are not beyond the reach of the Constitution.” As such, the Supreme Court in Bell v. Wolfish identified four factors to determine whether a sexually invasive search is reasonable: the scope of the search, the manner in which it was performed, the justification for preforming the search, and where it is conducted. The nature of the removal of King’s penile implants and the unnecessary risk of harm, physical suffering and emotional trauma caused by the surgery weights against reasonableness. Further, the intrusion cannot be justified as to protect the health and safety of inmates, because others were not required to have similar implants removed even after they were caught and charged. Finally, the fact that the procedure was conducted in a hospital does not defeat significant amount of evidence that the search was unreasonable. Therefore, the Fourth Circuit reversed the dismissal of King’s Fourth Amendment claim, holding that his pleading was sufficient enough to plausibly entitle King to relief.

Next, the Fourth Circuit examined the dismal of King’s Eighth Amendment claim by using the two-part test from Williams v. Griffin. Under this test, in order to establish a prima facie case of a violation of the Eighth Amendment as a result of poor prison conditions, a plaintiff must show “(1) a serious deprivation of a basic human need; and (2) deliberate indifference to prison conditions on the part of prison officials.” According to the Court, King’s allegations of physical injury and mental trauma as a result of the surgery he was coerced into having sufficiently support a finding of a serious injury satisfying the first part. Additionally, the second part is satisfied by the fact that the marbles were not recently implanted, the surgery was not medically necessary, and the defendants must have been aware of the substantial risk obviously associated with an invasive surgery on such a sensitive area of the body. Consequently, the Fourth Circuit reversed the dismissal of King’s Eighth Amendment claim.

Then, the Fourth Circuit followed the two-prong analysis outlined in Morrision v. Garraghty to determine whether King successfully stated a Fourteenth Amendmend Equal Protection claim. First, the Court determined King clearly showed that he was treated different from other inmates with implants who were not subject to segregation or surgical removal, and King’s allegations that the defendant’s singled him out shows intentional discrimination and unequal treatment. Further, by allowing other inmates to keep their implants, this disparity in treatment cannot be justified as preventing a security threat.

As to King’s substantive due process claim, which he raised for the first time on appeal, the Fourth Circuit held that King’s failure to specifically label the claim with a due process heading does not mean he failed to raise such a claim. Thus, the Fourth Circuit remanded the claim for consideration of this claim.

Finally, with respect to the dismissal of King’s claim against Warden Marvin Plumley with prejudice, the Fourth Circuit held that, in spite of the district court’s conclusion that King’s allegations merely established that Plumley played a part in King’s segregation, these allegations connect Plumley’s actions and the actions of his subordinate staff, thus stating a claim against Plumley. Therefore, the Fourth Circuit reversed the dismissal as to Plumley.

However, the allegation fell short of stating claims against Commission Jim Rubenstein and Head Psychologist Cliff Goodin, and thus the dismissal against these defendants was proper, although in such a situation the dismissal should have been without prejudice. Consequently, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal as to Rubenstein and Goodin, but modified it to be without prejudice.

Accordingly, based on the above reasoning, the Fourth Circuit reversed the dismissal of King’s Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Claims. The Court also reversed and vacated the district court’s dismissal of the claim against Marvin Plumley, and remanded the case for further review. Finally, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims against Stacy Scott, Cliff Goodin, and Jim Rubenstein, but modified the latter two to reflect it is without prejudice.

Full Opinion

Charlotte Harrell

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