Cruel and Unusual Punishment Imposed by Federal Correctional Officers


A “Bivens remedy” is available to a prison inmate who alleges an Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual civil suit against a federal law enforcement corrections officer.


Marcellas Hoffman was a federal prison inmate, housed at the U.S. Atwater Penitentiary.  His prison job was as a cook; assigned to the kitchen detail.  In this capacity, he proposed an improved procedure to reduce waste in the food-service department; his proposal being approved all the way up the line to the prison’s warden.  For reasons not discussed in this case decision, this pissed off a corrections officer by the name of Timothy Preston.  Hoping to get Hoffman removed from the kitchen detail, Preston is alleged to have told another correctional officer, in front of Hoffman and other prisoners, that “inmates are snitching in the staff dining hall and writing the (staff members’) names down who are not paying for meals.”  Suspecting that Preston was talking about him, Hoffman denied that he was snitching on anyone.  A heated argument between the two resulted in Preston putting Hoffman in a holding cell, and then later moving him to what the Court referred to as “the Special Housing Unit.”  It was also alleged that following this incident, Preston “repeatedly and publicly labeled Hoffman as a snitch, telling other prisoners that Hoffman was reporting staff . . . for not paying for their meals.”  Preston made it clear that he wanted Hoffman kicked off the kitchen detail.  He was also alleged to have offered a bounty to specific prisoners, offering to pay them to harm Hoffman.  As result, another prisoner did in fact physically assault Hoffman, causing significant injuries.  Hoffman alleged in a later-filed administrative complaint that this attack was “as a direct result” of Preston’s actions.  As a result, Hoffman was eventually transferred to a different prison.  However, with his reputation as a snitch firmly established and following him wherever he went, the threats from other prisoners and staff continued nonetheless. Hoffman eventually filed a complaint against Preston pursuant to the prison’s administrative procedures—pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a)—alleging “cruel and unusual punishment,” as prohibited under the Eighth Amendment.  Hoffman’s complaints eventually wormed its way up to the federal district court (following what the Court here referred to as a “complicated procedural history”) pursuant to authority under the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (1971) 403 U.S. 388 (see below).  The federal district court granted Preston’s motion to dismiss, finding that Bivens did not provide Hoffman with a remedy for his complaints.  Hoffman appealed.