Ninth Circuit: Correctional Officer Can be Liable for Inmate-on-Inmate Assault During Escort

In Cortez v. Skol, 776 F.3d 1046 (9th Cir. 2015), the Ninth Circuit reversed summary judgment on a § 1983 claim in favor of a prison guard who allegedly failed to protect an inmate from an attack by two other inmates during a prison escort.  The guard had been escorting three maximum custody inmates back to their cells by himself through a back-alley area that was outside the view of cameras.  One of the inmates, the victim of the assault, was a protective custody inmate, who are generally targeted for attack by other inmates. The inmates were also not wearing leg restraints, contrary to policy.  The court held that the undermanned escort by one guard of three high-security inmates in an isolated area posed a substantial risk of harm, and that there was sufficient evidence that the guard escorting the inmates knew about, but disregarded, specific hostility between the inmates, the victim’s protective custody status, and the leg-restraint policy. The court also reversed summary judgment on an analogous gross negligence claim, concluding as a matter of law that, because there were material fact disputes with respect to the Eighth Amendment claim, there were necessarily issues of fact with respect to the analogous, lesser-standard gross negligence claim.

Tags: Case Update, Prison Litigation