Hope v. Pelzer

536 U.S. 730 (2002)

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Hope v. Pelzer

United States Supreme Court
536 U.S. 730 (2002)

  • Written by Whitney Kamerzel , JD
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Larry Hope (plaintiff) was a prisoner in Alabama who was punished by Mark Pelzer and other prisoner guards (the prison guards) (defendants) for misbehaving. Hope was first handcuffed to a hitching post after Hope got into an argument with another inmate. During the two-hour period, the prison guards offered Hope drinking water and a restroom break every 15 minutes, and Hope’s responses to these questions were recorded. Hope suffered pain and discomfort from having his arms chained above his shoulders for long periods of time. Subsequently, Hope was handcuffed to a hitching post for wrestling with a guard. During this seven-hour period, Hope received no water or restroom breaks, and prison guards teased Hope about his thirst. At the time the hitching-post punishment was used, Alabama was the only state that used the practice to punish prisoners, and a federal district court in Alabama had held that the practice was reasonable. However, several Eleventh Circuit cases had held that handcuffing inmates to fences or forcing inmates to maintain awkward positions for long periods of time was unconstitutional. In contrast, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) had issued a regulation permitting the practice of handcuffing inmates to a hitching post as long as water and restroom breaks were offered every 15 minutes. Lastly, the Department of Justice (DOJ) had studied Alabama’s use of the hitching post and issued a report finding that the hitching-post punishment was unconstitutional. Hope sued the prison guards in federal court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Without deciding whether the punishment violated the Eighth Amendment, a magistrate concluded that the prison guards were entitled to qualified immunity, and the district court affirmed. The Eleventh Circuit also affirmed, although that court held that the prison guards’ actions violated the Eighth Amendment. The Eleventh Circuit held that qualified immunity protected the prison guards because the unconstitutionality of handcuffing an inmate to a hitching post had not been specifically addressed by prior case precedent. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Stevens, J.)

Dissent (Thomas, J.)

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