Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Walsh v. Mellas

decided: January 21, 1988.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, No. 79 C 3512, James B. Moran, Judge.

Coffey and Ripple, Circuit Judges, and Eschbach, Senior Circuit Judge.

Author: Coffey

COFFEY, Circuit Judge.

Defendants Nicholas Mellas and Harry Martin, prison officials at the Stateville Correctional Center, appeal the district court's award of $2,500 compensatory and $5,000 punitive damages in favor of a Stateville inmate, Thomas Walsh. We affirm.


The plaintiff-appellee Thomas Patrick Walsh ("Walsh"), a state prisoner currently serving sentences for three felony convictions, brought this action against six Stateville officers pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 (1976) after Walsh was assaulted by his cellmate (Frank Lee) at the Stateville Correctional Center in 1979 while both were confined in the "investigative status" area of the prison.*fn1 The trial judge, after conducting a bench trial on his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment claims,*fn2 ruled that placing a gang member in Walsh's cell constituted deliberate indifference toward Walsh's safety in violation of his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Even though the trial court found the defendants Mellas and Martin were the two officials primarily responsible for inmate security at Stateville therefore responsible for the constitutional violation, it also ruled that since their conduct was not the proximate cause of the injuries sustained, they were not liable for damages. The court went on to hold that the four other defendants did not violate Walsh's constitutional rights.

Walsh's appeal of the district court's decision led to our first opinion in this case, Walsh v. Brewer, 733 F.2d 473, 475 (7th Cir. 1984) ("Walsh I"). The court summarized the facts as follows:

"Walsh was incarcerated at Menard in 1973. While at Menard, Walsh helped officials repulse an attack on a prison office by inmate members of street gangs. After this incident, members of the Disciples and Vice Lords gangs at Menard threatened Walsh. Walsh later was released from Menard.

In 1978 Walsh was sent to Stateville to serve sentences for three felony convictions. Because Walsh feared that gang members at Stateville would retaliate against him for his role in the Menard incident,

Walsh asked prison officials to put him in protective custody in Cell House E. The prison officials granted Walsh's request. Walsh still feared for his safety in Cell House E, though, and he asked to be transferred to another prison. Stateville officials denied his request. Walsh then asked to be placed on twenty-four hour lockup in Cell House B, which housed inmates who violated a prison rule or were awaiting a disciplinary committee hearing. Some inmates apparently believed that twenty-four hour lockup was more secure than protective custody, and thus they would commit a technical violation of prison rules to gain admittance to twenty-four hour lockup. In order to be assigned to Cell House B, therefore, Walsh improperly refused his cell assignment and was charged with a disciplinary violation. Walsh was placed in Cell House B on January 24 or 25, 1979.

Stateville officials regularly assigned two men to a cell in Cell House B. Before double-ceiling inmates guilty of rules violations, officials were required by regulation to determine the prisoners' compatibility by checking their prison files. Prison officials, however, did not apply this regulation to inmates awaiting disciplinary hearings. In these cases, the cell house keeper made double assignments based on his evaluation of the inmates' size and his experiences with the inmates.

The Cell House B keeper assigned Walsh to an empty cell. On January 25, the keeper assigned another inmate, Frank Lee, to Walsh's cell. Lee was a Vice Lords gang member. Defendant Edward Franklin, a lieutenant, took Lee to the cell. Walsh testified that he immediately asked Franklin not to put Lee in the cell; Franklin testified that he could not recall Walsh making such a request. Walsh stated at trial that early the next morning, Lee stabbed him in the back and strangled him into unconsciousness with a wire.

At noon, the prison Adjustment Committee came to Walsh's cell to adjudicate his disciplinary charge. Defendants Daniels, Drew, and Nelson were the committee members. Walsh testified that he showed the committee members his stab wounds and requested immediate medical attention. The defendants all testified that they neither saw stab wounds nor observed anything unusual about Walsh. The defendants did agree that Walsh asked to go to sick call, and Daniels stated that he conveyed Walsh's request to the cell house keeper in accordance with standard Stateville procedures.

Later that afternoon, Lee assaulted Walsh by repeatedly strangling him with a wire. Prison officials found Lee standing over Walsh with a wire around Walsh's neck. The officers sent Walsh first to the Stateville emergency room, and then to a hospital in Joliet for two days."

This court also summarized the district court's findings with respect to the proximate cause issue:

"The [district] court stated: 'Plaintiff does not suggest that Lee ever knew plaintiff was a Vice Lords target. The cause of the attack was unrelated to the 1973 Menard incident; Lee attacked Walsh, but not as a vengeful gang member.' B. 79, at S. The district court further ruled that prison officials would not have known that Lee was likely to attack Walsh for other reasons even if they had consulted Lee's files. The court noted that Lee's file showed that he had no history of assaultive behavior at Stateville. In addition, the court declined to assume that Lee's psychological evaluation, which described him as 'sullen, antagonistic, angry, dangerous, explosive, completely peer-oriented,' would have alerted officials that Lee was more dangerous than many of the other inmates at the Stateville maximum security facility."

733 F.2d at 476 (emphasis added). In Walsh I, the panel held that the district court's "finding that prison officials would not have been alerted to the danger of placing Lee with another inmate had they examined Lee's file. . . ," 733 F.2d at 476, was not clearly erroneous. The court also affirmed the trial judge's holding that defendants Franklin, Daniels, Drew, and Nelson did not violate Walsh's constitutional rights. 733 F.2d at 477. However, the Circuit Court in its opinion stated that the "district court's legal analysis is incomplete." Id. at 476. As the Walsh I panel expressed:

"The district court's order does not discuss whether the evidence showed that the inmates at Stateville were exposed to an unconstitutionally high risk of harm, and thus we vacate and remand the court's decision for further consideration of the evidence. To show that the Stateville procedures were unconstitutional, the record must indicate either that assaults occurred so frequently that they were 'pervasive,'. . . or that Walsh belonged to an 'identifiable group of prisoners' for whom 'risk of . assault [was] a serious problem of substantial dimension.'"

Id. at 476 (emphasis added). This court vacated "that portion of the court's decision concerning defendants Mellas and Martin," and remanded for consideration of the possibility that Stateville's procedures were inadequate in the protection of inmates confined in "investigative" status against the risk of assault in light of the panel's guidelines set forth above. Id. at 477. Finally, the appellate court directed the district court to award "appropriate" damages if it ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.