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Farmer v. Brennan

Supreme Court of the United States

January 12, 1994, Argued ; June 6, 1994, Decided

No. 92-7247


 [*828]   [***820]   [**1974]  JUSTICE SOUTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

 ] A prison official's "deliberate indifference" to a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate violates the Eighth Amendment. See Helling v. McKinney 509 U.S. 25, 125 L. Ed. 2d 22, 113 S. Ct. 2475 (1993); Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 115 L. Ed. 2d 271, 111 S. Ct. 2321 (1991); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 50 L. Ed. 2d 251, 97 S. Ct. 285  [*829]  (1976). This case requires us to define the term "deliberate indifference," as we do by requiring a showing that the official was subjectively aware of the risk.

The dispute before us stems from a civil suit brought by petitioner, Dee Farmer, alleging that respondents, federal prison officials, violated the Eighth Amendment by their deliberate indifference to petitioner's safety. Petitioner, who is serving [****9]  a federal  [**1975]  sentence for credit card fraud, has been diagnosed by medical personnel of the Bureau of Prisons as a transsexual, one who has "[a] rare psychiatric disorder in which a person feels persistently uncomfortable about his or her anatomical sex," and who typically seeks medical treatment, including hormonal therapy and surgery, to bring about a permanent sex change. American Medical Association, Encyclopedia of Medicine 1006 (1989); see also American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 74-75 (3d rev. ed. 1987). For several years before being convicted and sentenced in 1986 at the age of 18, petitioner, who is biologically male, wore women's clothing (as petitioner did at the 1986 trial), underwent estrogen therapy, received silicone *** implants, and submitted to unsuccessful "black market" testicle-removal surgery. See Farmer v. Haas, 990 F.2d 319, 320 (CA7 1993). Petitioner's precise appearance in prison is unclear from the record before us, but petitioner claims to have continued hormonal treatment while incarcerated by using drugs smuggled into prison, and apparently wears clothing in a feminine manner, as by displaying [****10]  a shirt "off one shoulder," App. 112. The parties agree that petitioner "projects feminine characteristics." Id., at 51, 74.

The practice of federal prison authorities is to incarcerate preoperative transsexuals with prisoners of like biological sex, see Farmer v. Haas, supra, at 320, and over time authorities housed petitioner in several federal facilities, sometimes  [*830]  in the general male prison population but more often in segregation. While there is no dispute that petitioner was segregated at least several times because of violations of prison rules, neither is it disputed that in at least one penitentiary petitioner was segregated because of safety concerns. See Farmer v. Carlson, 685 F. Supp. 1335, 1342 (MD Pa. 1988).

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511 U.S. 825 *; 114 S. Ct. 1970 **; 128 L. Ed. 2d 811 ***; 1994 U.S. LEXIS 4274 ****; 62 U.S.L.W. 4446; 94 Cal. Daily Op. Service 4103; 94 Daily Journal DAR 7626; 8 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 209



Disposition: Vacated and remanded.


prison official, inmate, deliberate indifference, prison, the Eighth Amendment, inflicted, assault, cases, cruel and unusual punishment, recklessness, substantial risk, district court, conditions, state of mind, sentence, conditions of confinement, prison conditions, criminal law, respondents', deliberately, injunction, rape, summary judgment, penitentiary, confinement, indifferent, quotation, culpable, reasons, violent

Constitutional Law, Bill of Rights, Fundamental Rights, Cruel & Unusual Punishment, Criminal Law & Procedure, Sentencing, Civil Rights Law, Protection of Rights, Prisoner Rights, Confinement Conditions, Medical Treatment, Safety, Welfare, Postconviction Proceedings, Imprisonment, Civil Procedure, Remedies, Injunctions, Preliminary & Temporary Injunctions, Assault & Battery, Simple Offenses, General Overview, Crimes Against Persons, Preliminary Considerations, Equity, Grounds for Injunctions, Preliminary Proceedings, Pretrial Motions & Procedures, Pleadings, Amendment of Pleadings, Prison Litigation Reform Act, Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies