NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a Nashville woman can sue private prison operator Corrections Corporation of America for allegedly leaving her mentally ill grandson in solitary confinement for months without bathing him or cleaning his cell.
Although a United States District Court judge dismissed Mary Braswell’s lawsuit in 2009 after ruling there was no evidence demonstrating that CCA had caused physical injury to her grandson Frank Horton, a three-judge federal appeals panel in Cincinnati ruled that Horton’s mental condition prevented him from filing an administrative grievance with the prison.
Horton was being held at the Metro Davidson County Detention Facility, which Nashville-based CCA operates under a contract with Metro government, for parole violations and assault. Horton’s psychiatric problems kept him segregated from most prisoners while at Metro Davidson.
According to court records, in mid-2006 Horton began refusing to leave his cell for days at a time, bathe or exercise. In turn, correctional officers used force against Horton several times, including an instance in 2007 in which he was forcibly removed from his cell so that he could be bathed and have his cell cleaned.
After new Assistant Warden Michael Corlew was hired in May 2007, he instructed officers to use force only in emergencies, according to testimony. In January 2008, correctional officer Patrick Perry notified the Metro Public Health Department that food trays were scattered on Horton’s cell floor and bacteria was growing in the toilet, and that Horton had not been bathed nor his cell cleaned in nine months. Perry was dismissed from his position that day.
Horton was transferred to a special needs facility in April 2008 and currently lives with his grandmother.
In their opinion, the judges wrote that CCA had violated Horton’s civil rights through a formal or informal policy. The opinion pointed to Corlew’s orders to use force only in emergencies and testimony that CCA tracked use-of-force reports that could be used to make decisions about employees’ annual bonuses and pay raises, as evidence of the existence of such a policy.
In a dissenting opinion, 6th Circuit Chief Judge Alice M. Batchelder wrote that Braswell wrongly sued CCA, and failed to show that company chiefs either had knowledge of or complied with the informal policy Corlew allegedly implemented.