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Hamilton v. Leavy

February 28, 2003


Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Delaware (D.C. Civil Action No. 94-cv-00336) District Judge: Honorable Gregory M. Sleet

Before: Nygaard, Ambro, Circuit Judges and O'NEILL,*fn1 District Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambro, Circuit Judge


Argued April 18, 2002


This 42 U.S.C. S 1983 case is before us on interlocutory appeal. The defendants, members of the Gander Hill Prison Multi-Disciplinary Team ("MDT") and the Delaware Department of Corrections Central Institutional Classification Committee ("CICC"), challenge the District Court's denial of their summary judgment motion for absolute or qualified immunity from Delaware prisoner Jerome Hamilton's lawsuit alleging violations of the Eighth Amendment. The defendants contend that they are entitled to absolute immunity because they acted pursuant to a court order or otherwise in a quasi-judicial capacity. Alternatively, they argue that they should receive qualified immunity because they did not violate Hamilton's Eighth Amendment rights or because their actions were objectively reasonable. We agree with the District Court that on this record the defendants are not absolutely immune on the ground that they acted pursuant to a court order. We remand, however, for the District Court to analyze under the legal tests noted below whether the defendants are entitled either to absolute immunity for acting in a quasi-judicial capacity or to qualified immunity.


On August 5, 1992, Hamilton's cellmate in Delaware's Gander Hill prison attacked and injured him.*fn3 Hamilton alleges that his cellmate was able to commit this assault because the defendant prison officials acted with deliberate indifference to his safety.

Hamilton has been the victim of numerous attacks from other inmates throughout his lengthy stint in the Delaware prison system, some of which we described in a prior appeal in this case. See Hamilton v. Leavy, 117 F.3d 742, 744-45 (3d Cir. 1997) (Hamilton I). For Hamilton's safety, prison officials have transferred him among various prisons both in and outside Delaware and have placed him in protective custody.

In 1986 Hamilton cooperated with a drug trafficking investigation at the Gander Hill prison that ended with the arrest of prison officials and inmates. He became known as a "snitch" and, as a result, prison officials repeatedly had to place him in protective custody. In 1990 prison officials transferred Hamilton to a Virginia prison "[b]ecause there appeared to be no safe place for Hamilton in the Delaware prisons." Id. at 745.

After the move to Virginia, however, Hamilton initiated two civil lawsuits in Delaware state courts, and he was returned in December 1991 to the Gander Hill prison to enable him to prosecute those actions effectively. He brought one of the lawsuits against state officials. Deputy Attorney General John Polk defended that case. Judge Clarence Taylor of the Delaware Superior Court, who presided over the case, held a hearing on December 13, 1991, and addressed the question where Hamilton could be housed while discovery took place.

Deputy A.G. Polk suggested to the Court that Hamilton be kept in Delaware for a "month or so." When Judge Taylor expressed concern that the Delaware prison system be able to take the "special precautions" necessary for Hamilton, Polk volunteered to check with the appropriate officials whether this was possible, and the Court granted a recess for him to do so. After the recess, Polk informed the Court that an official from the Delaware Department of Corrections Compact had "reiterated to [him] that Mr. Hamilton is in need of protective custody," but that the Department could "accommodate" Hamilton for two months at either Gander Hill or the Sussex Correctional Institution. Polk then stated that he had requested that the Department keep Hamilton at Gander Hill.*fn4

The Court next informed Hamilton:

Let's leave it that way, then. So, you'll -- you are to be detained up here at the State Gander Hill Prison for a length of time up to two months, and it will be dependent [on] what reports I get back from the Deputy Attorney General, from you and what progress is made toward resolving this thing without further trial. .. . Prison will have you up to two months and during that time Mr. Polk will cooperate with you and try to work out something . . . .

The docket entry for December 13 states: "Detained at Gander Hill up to 2 months in protective custody."

Hamilton was still at the Gander Hill prison on March 5, 1992, almost three months later, when Judge Taylor sent a letter to the Deputy A.G.:

At a hearing held on December 13, 1991, you were ordered to supply petitioner Jerome Hamilton with answers to petitioner's requests for admissions by December 27, 1991 . . . .

[T]he Interstate Corrections Compact Administrator has contacted my office to see if the petitioner can be returned to the prison from which he had been transferred for the purpose of resolving this case.

You have failed to comply with my order of December 13, 1991. If Gander Hill Prison needs action, then you should take immediate action to comply with the order of December 13, 1991. Until you comply with the Order, there is no alternative but to keep petitioner Hamilton at the Gander Hill facility.

The Court: They can?

Deputy A.G.: They can accommodate. She reiterated to me that Mr. Hamilton is in need of protective custody, and I said can you accommodate him in Delaware. She said he can be accommodated in Gander Hill or SCI [Sussex Correctional Institution]. My request of the Department -- and I don't think that there would ...

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