Oral argument: Nov. 1, 2011
Appealed from: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (June 7, 2010)
While serving time in a privately operated federal prison, Respondent Richard Lee Pollard fell and broke both his elbows. Pollard insists that the treatment he received from various prison employees following the accident amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Thus, Pollard sued the individual offending employees. However, the district court dismissed Pollard's claim, finding that alternative tort-based remedies barred the constitutional charge. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that, because the private prison and its employees operate under the "color of federal law," Pollard has a valid claim under Supreme Court precedent. Petitioners Margaret Minneci and her fellow employees appeal, arguing that Supreme Court precedent limits extensions of this type of claim to cases where adequate state-law remedies do not exist. In response, Pollard maintains that he is among the category of victims that the Supreme Court sought to protect in decisions carving out this type of claim. The Supreme Court’s decision in this case could have a significant impact on the types of liabilities faced by private companies contracting with the federal government.