from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Louisiana
SMITH, GRAVES, and WILLETT, Circuit Judges.
WILLETT, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Jason was struck by a fellow inmate on the back of the head
with a yard tool that the prison issued to inmates. Jason
sued four state officials under § 1983 for violating his
Eighth Amendment rights, claiming deliberate indifference and
failure to train. The officials asserted qualified immunity,
but the district court granted it only to one official. The
other three appeal that denial. We REVERSE and grant
qualified immunity to all four officials.
Jason was an inmate at a Louisiana prison. The prison has an
inmate yard that features a football field, a baseball field,
and a basketball court. One day while Jason was on the yard,
a fellow inmate struck him on the back of the head with a
sling blade. A sling blade is a manual weed-cutting tool
consisting of a long wooden handle with a heavy (often
hooked) steel blade at the end. The attacker had a sling
blade in the first place because Sergeant Master Bradley
Pierce had issued it to a third (and otherwise uninvolved)
inmate as part of a program in which inmates tended the yard.
prison issued a few sling blades each morning. To check out a
sling blade, an inmate handed over his ID card. (An inmate
relies on his ID for meals, attending educational programs,
visitation privileges, and "virtually anything
else" that requires leaving his unit. So, apparently,
the exchange was a meaningful accounting measure.) Meanwhile,
officers supervised the inmates by making periodic rounds in
this ID-exchange protocol, one inmate with a sling blade
abandoned his tool and wandered off. Before the supervising
officer noticed, the attacker picked up the discarded blade
and cracked Jason's skull from behind. The blow caused
Jason "severe head trauma."
before this, Jason had gotten into an argument with his
attacker. But other than that, Jason alleges no previous
disputes with him. The prison discovered the attack when the
supervising officer, Lt. Shane Ladner, came across a pool of
blood and a broken sling blade while on patrol. At that
point, Ladner radioed for help, and the officers nabbed the
this happened despite the prison's Tool Control Policy.
The warden, Robert Tanner, testified that he and several
other prison officials drafted the Tool Control Policy; that
the policy is reviewed annually; and that the American
Correctional Association found that the tool policy complied
with its standards in every audit since 1993.
Tool Control Policy instructs the prison on how to inventory
and categorize various tools-like "restricted
tools" and "compound maintenance tools." Jason
seemed to imply in his brief that sling blades were
restricted tools. And the district court too determined that
they were restricted tools. But according to the prison
officers, "swing blades and other similar yard tools . .
. (such as shovels, reel mowers, and hoes)" weren't
classified as restricted. Presumably, they may have been
classified as "compound maintenance tools."
event, under the policy, the prison stores yard tools in a
locked storage room while they're not being used. The
prison issued yard tools for two to three hours at a time.
And the officers testified that, under the policy, they
"received regular, ongoing training . . . to ensure the
safety and security of the inmates."
monitoring the yard, Ladner and Pierce testified that
1. They both make rounds;
2. Two "dorm officers" "observe the yard
through the dorm windows during their [dorm] rounds";
3. Several tower cameras at the fence line continually show
4. The "Gate" officer has a line of sight
"over the front portions of [the yard]"; and
5. So do "officers stationed at the gym, and the
laundry, and the vo-tech building" as well as the Gate
officer for another, nearby prison unit.
none of these measures prevented this attack.
"at least as far back as 2007," there had been
"no prior assaults by inmates with a yard tool at [the
prison]." And "during the previous seven-year
period, there [had] only been four incidents"-three with
a broom and one with a mop.
filed a § 1983 suit asserting violations of his Eighth
Amendment rights. He sued:
• Shane Ladner, Lieutenant at the prison;
• Bradley Pierce, Sergeant Master at the prison;
• Robert Tanner, Warden of the prison; and
• James LeBlanc, Secretary of the Louisiana Department
of Public Safety and Corrections.
Ladner and Pierce, Jason claims they were deliberately
indifferent to his safety. And as to Tanner and Bradley,
Jason claims that they failed to properly train prison
defendants moved for summary judgment, asserting qualified
immunity. The district court granted Secretary LeBlanc
qualified immunity. But it denied qualified immunity to
Ladner, Pierce, and Tanner.
Ladner and Pierce, the district court found that they had
subjective knowledge of the risk in handing out sling blades
to inmates. The court also held that "even if Defendant
Pierce and Defendant Ladner did not have subjective knowledge
of the substantial and obvious risk posed by handing out
potentially dangerous tools to inmates without appropriate
supervision, the risk was so obvious that they should have
known." And the court determined that they were
deliberately indifferent because they did not show that a
prison official "had a direct line of sight and was
actually looking at all inmates while they used restricted
tools" at all times.
Tanner, the district court found that there was a material
dispute about how many minutes of training Pierce and Ladner
received; and so whether they were adequately trained. The
district court held that this potential lack of training
would've caused the attack because the officers
"lacked basic knowledge about the [tool policy]."
And finally, the court held that under the "single
incident exception," there was a material dispute about
whether Tanner's failure to train his officers was so
"obviously likely to lead to an assault" that it
constitutes deliberate indifference.
Pierce, and Tanner appeal the denial of qualified immunity.
denial of a motion for summary judgment based on qualified
immunity is immediately appealable notwithstanding that such
denial was premised upon the existence of 'material
issues of fact.'" We have jurisdiction to review only the
district court's legal analysis of qualified
review the denial of qualified immunity de
novo. In doing so, we assess the scope of
established rights and the reasonableness of officer
conduct. Summary judgment is appropriate only if
"there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and
the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law." In reviewing, we consider only "the
scope of clearly established law and the objective
reasonableness" of the defendant's acts (as
determined by the district court). As we've explained, we
"can review the materiality of any factual
disputes, but not their
challenges "contend that taking all the
plaintiff's factual allegations as true no violation of a
clearly established right was shown." And we must view
the facts in the light most favorable to the
Supreme Court explained in Harlow, government
officials have a right to qualified immunity when carrying
out their duties. But that immunity is not absolute.
Plaintiffs can go to trial if they show that the official
violated their clearly established right. In other
words, it's a two-prong test- (1) whether the official
violated a right; and (2) whether that right was clearly
constitutional right here is the Eighth Amendment's
protection against cruel and unusual punishment. As the
Supreme Court explained in Farmer and as we
reiterated in Williams, "prison officials have
a duty to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of
other prisoners." For claims against officials who
failed to adequately protect an inmate and who failed to