Our government... teaches the whole people by its example. If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. ~Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis
[Note: Though sometimes absurd, don't loose sight of the fact that
many prisoner's suits are meritorious and have led to significant legal
gains, or that they can be an important (sometimes the only) balance
against otherwise unrestrained powers of prison officials or
legislators. A number of such cases are at the end of this file --
* (U.S. v. Bottoson): Bottoson, convicted of federal firearms charges
and postal fraud, and faced state court charges for the kidnapping and
murder of a female postal employee. The defendant sought post-conviction
relief in the federal court, and in a letter to the court said: "This
defendant is accused of murder in the state of Florida, this defendant
goes to a church which believes in the raising of the dead, which is the
defendants right under the Constitution of the United States. This
defendant wrote a letter ... stating his religious belief that if the
body of the deceased [postal employee] were to be taken from the ground
and brought into the defendants church the Lord of life would bring back
the deceased. ... The defendant feels his 'Religious Freedom' under the
constitution were violated, anyone has the right to his/her own belief
under Freedom of Religion. Defendant now asks this court to uphold his
rights under the constitution of the United States."
* A suit by a prisoner who claimed that the Department of Corrections
planted an electronic device in his brain. (Calif.)
* (Moody v. Miller): A Texas inmate filed twenty-two complaints,
alleging civil rights violations, including violations of his right to
use the telephone, his right not to be required to walk barefoot across
a cold floor, his right not to be issued pants that are too small.
* A suit by Lee Barnett challenging the stamping of his mail to
indicate it was sent from a state prison. (Calif.)
* A Georgia inmate filed petition alleging that he was a victim of a
"Behavior Modification Program" conducted by the prison, and that the
"controlling system is a watchful eye of the State through electronic
suveillance of the human body ..." The system, he claimed, "combs" his
body and "wantonly monitors and picks up sounds and voices, but is also
tuned directly to plaintiff's brain." The plaintiff sought $500,000 in
damages, claiming the State had "no right without any permission from
plaintiff to probe his mind and body with electric current or parabolic
sound waves." (Jones v. Ault)
* A prisoner in Idaho filed suit after guards refused to "tidy up" his
cell after a search.
* (Gordon v. N.J.): The Inmate, a "certified candidate for the office
of President of the U.S." filed suit claiming "that he was unlawfully
arrested in December 1975 while campaigning in the New Hampshire
primary, and unlawfully jailed until March 15, 1976, and accordingly
claimed that the 1976 presidential election was fraudulent and that new
"legal" elections had to be held for the office of President. He also
claimed that "Had there been a free legal 1976 Presidential election, he
would now be the President."
* Beaty v. Bury: A death-row inmate sues corrections officials for
taking away his Gameboy electronic game. (Arizona)
* (Demos v. Kincheloe...): This inmate filed 184 separate actions in a
little more than three yearsincluding ones alleging: all Washington
State law is unconstitutional because statutes subsequent to the 1881
code were not ratified by Congress; a claim for damages because prison
guards refused to address him by his Islamic name; a request to require
Congress to redraft language in the Declaration of Independence; a claim
of unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex because the State would
not honor his request to be transferred to an all-women correctional
institution; and a claim that the U.S. Treasury Dept violated his civil
rights by discontinuing the practice of backing treasury notes by
* Trice v. Reynolds: Ex-chef sues because the food was bad, yet he
wanted bigger portions. (Oklahoma)
* Searight v. N.J.: Searight claimed he was taken to the Eye, Ear and
Speech Clinic, where the State of New Jersey unlawfully injected him in
the left eye with a radium electric beam, and that someone now talks to
him on the inside of his brain. He sought $12 million in damages
* Murderer sues for $25,000, claiming a "defective" haircut resulted in
lost sleep, headaches, and chest pains. (New York)
* Sir Keenan Kester Cofield an Alabame inmate was creative. Besides
filing over a hundred actions against prison officials in various
Alabama courts.. One court said "Cofield is an overly litigious fellow.
Among the many suits he has brought from his jail cell are suits against
both McDonald's and Burger King for using pork fat in the oil used to
fry french fried potatoes, thereby poisoning his body, mind and soul. He
has brought at least three libel actions against various newspapers for
prematurely printing his obituary. He also brought an action against
Coca-Cola alleging that a bottle of Coke he drank was filled with ground
glass. He has threatened or sued various restaurants in various cities
alleging food poisoning; it was later discovered that Cofield was
incarcerated at the time he supposedly was eating in these restaurants."
* Young v. Murphy: Prisoner sues for not receiving scheduled parole
hearing, though he was out on escape when the hearing was held.
* Inmate, calling himself a sports fanatic, complains that, as a result
of cruel and unusual punishment, he was forced to miss the NFL playoffs,
especially between Miami and San Diego, San Diego and Pittsburgh, and
Dallas and San Francisco. (Arkansas)
* Carter v. Ingalls: Inmate filed suit against the Georgia State Prison
hospital administrator, alleging receiving improper medication for his
ailments, which included "blue ink and glass in the General sensory
area" of his brain, along with amnesia and failing eyesight and claimed
the proper medication was "Cocane of Porcane." In a letter to the
court,he claimed the hospital had put the blue ink and glass in his
brain, had put his head in a sack with a rattlesnake which bit his face
and cracked his skull, and that he was forced to have sexual contact
with the snake. In a separate action against the warden and an inmate,
Carter alleged that the warden had "gave hisreliable informers fake
Pictures of me haveing [sic] sex with a dog ..."
* Brittaker v. Rowland: Inmate says his meal was in poor condition. He
claims his sandwich was soggy and his cookie was broken. (Calif)
* Beverly v. Groose: Suit says inmates working in prison law library
should be paid same rate as attorneys. (Missouri)
--- Florida A.G.'s Top 10 Frivolous Prison Inmate Lawsuits
10) Prisoner claims discrimination because he was not given a Department
of Corrections raincoat like other inmates. (Walker v. DOC)
9) Prisoner sues to be served fresh rather than reconstituted milk.
(Gerteisen v. Bowers)
8) Prisoner sues for right to conduct martial arts sparring and full-
contact fighting as part of his religion. (Gibson v. Miller)
7) Prisoner sues over being served three cheese sandwiches a day for one
week while in disciplinary confinement. (Derks v. Perrin, Jr.)
6) Prisoner sues because he was required to eat off of a paper plate.
(Procup v. Strickland, et al)
5) Prisoner who has filed more than 140 actions in state and federal
court sues over finding gristle in his turkey leg. (Attwood v. Bowers)
4) Prisoner sues to be served fruit juice at meals and three pancakes
instead of two. (Spradley v.Rathman)
3) Prisoner who murdered five people sues after lightning knocks out the
prison's TV satellite dish and he must watch network programs which he
says contain violence, profanity and other objectionable material.
(Jackson v. Barton)
2) Prisoner sues to be given Reeboks, Adidas, Pony or Avia brand
hightops rather than inferior brand sneakers issued by prison. (Brown v.
1) Prisoner who lost a lawsuit claiming his rights as a Muslim were
violated because the prison put "essence of swine" in his food announces
his conversion to Satanism and sues for tarot cards and doves' blood.
(Marshall v. DOC)
-- Suits By Harry Franklin, An Inmate In The Oregon State Penitentiary
* Franklin claimed he was denied daily half-hour out-of-cell walks. The
judge found this claim surprising, because in other filings Franklin
alleged he was crippled.
* He claimed prison guards abridged his "right to be supplied" with T-
shirts, a claim which had previously been dismissed.
* He claimed he did not receive "some unspecified medical treatment
because an officer neglected to wake him from his afternoon nap,"
causing him "mental frustration," which the judge learned meant "that
someone got his dander up."
* Franklin sued prison guards who he alleged "wear clopping heels on
their boots, which causes plaintiff to feel he's in a Natsy [sic] prison
* He asserted that his right to free speech was violated because prison
staff discliplined him "for commenting on a guard's allegedly out-of-
* He sought $3 million in damages for "mental frustration" he suffered
when a Portland television station allegedly misidentified a "14 wheeler
tractor and trailer rig" as an "18 wheeler."
* Franklin launched constitutional challenges to Oregon statutes which
denied felons the ability to be candidates for public office or to vote
during their incarceration.
* Franklin brought up some Oregon history in one of his claims. In
1923, the D'Autermont boys robbed a train in the Sikiyou Mountains,
killing several railroadmen. According to Franklin, since the incident,
trains blew their whistles as they pass the penitentiary in the early
morning hours, violating his "right to public piece [sic]." The judge
found that "Even assuming the railroads do carry on such a heinous
practice, it would not violate one of Franklin's federally protected
* He sued "Ronal Regan and his constiuants [sic]" for $8.9 million for
"violation of undue restraint" in connection with an Oregon seatbelt
law. he believed the law was underinclusive because it did not apply to
bicycles and horses as well as cars.
* He complained that he lost sleep on three occasions because the
penitentiary's steam heater pipes snap and pop, and that he endured
"Harassment by Water" because the prison authority's over-watering of
the prison yard in the summer made it difficult for him to find a dry
place to lie down.
* He claimed the pentitentiary's cleanliness rules violated his
"constitutional right to accumulate an unlimited number of newspaper
* Franklin was also a reformer, suing Oregon's governor, attorney
general, legislators, and judges for failing "to pass Legislation which
would keep our System such as The Courts, &/or Jails from being so
* He complained that the penitentiary food service bakes desserts in
aluminum rather than stainless steel pans, and that he could not eat
from aluminum pans because the "scrapings" from the pans would "settle
in [his] Human Joints."
Prison Guards routinely sexually assault female prisoners. One officer
sexually fondles a prisoner who is receiving medical care in the
infirmary, forces her to perform oral sex, then rapes her. Another
officer forces a prisoner to perform oral sex while she empties trash as
part of a work detail. Women Prisoners v. District of Columbia, D.C.
(1994) (post trial order).
Prisoners restrained in handcuffs and shackles have their heads bashed
into walls and floors by prison guards, their bodies repeatedly kicked
and hit with batons, their teeth knocked out, their jaws fractured,
their limbs broken, and their bodies burned with scalding water. Madrid
v. Gomez, Cal. (1995) (post trial order).
Confined youth are routinely beaten by facility staff, staff trafficking
in illegal drugs is rampant, and sexual relations between staff and
confined youth is commonplace. D.B. v. Commonwealth, Penn. (1993)
Dozens of women. some as young as 16, are forced to have sex with prison
guards, maintenance workers, and a prison chaplain. Many become
pregnant and are coerced by prison staff to have abortions. Cason v.
Seckinger, Ga. (1994) (consent decree).
A 17 year-old boy, in jail for failing to pay $73 in traffic fines, is
tortured for 14 hours and finally murdered in his cell by other
prisoners. Another teenage had been beaten unconscious by the same
prisoners several days earlier. Yellen v. Ada County, Idaho (1985)
Prison officials ignore warnings by the Commissioner of Health and fail
to implement basic tuberculosis detection and control procedures. Over
400 prisoners are infected in a single prison. Austin v. Dept. of
Corrections, Penn. (1992) (post hearing order).
Prison staff engage in sexual relations with female prisoners and allow
male inmates to enter the prisons to engage in forcible intercourse with
the women prisoners. Hamilton v. Morial, La. (1995) (consent decree
pending court approval).
Several suicidal children are transferred to the state mental hospital
where they are placed, naked or in paper gowns, in four point
restraints, hands and feet found to the four corners of their beds, and
then forcibly injected with psychotropic drugs as part of "aversive
therapy." Robert K. v. Bell. S.C. (1984) (consent decree).
A prisoner gives birth on the floor of the jail without medical
assistance three hours after informing prison staff that she was in
active labor. Other prisoners have deformed or stillborn babies as a
result of receiving almost no pregnancy-related medical care. Yeager v.
Smith and Harris v. McCarthy, Cal. (1989) (consent decree).
Single person cells house four or five prisoners with mattresses on the
floor soaked by overflowing toilets, the drinking water is contaminated
with sewage, and prisoners' cells are infested with rats. Carty v.
Farrelly, U.S.V.Is. (1994) (consent decree).
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