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JUAN J. GUITRON, JR., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MICHAEL PAUL and BRADLEY MLODZIK, Defendants-Appellees. No. 11-2718.


Juan Guitron maintains that a guard at the prison where Guitron was confined bent and injured his wrist. The district court dismissed the complaint after the preliminary screening required by 28
U.S.C. §1915A.

Guitron’s complaint is skeletal. It alleges that, while Michael Paul and Bradley Mlodzik were escorting him down a hallway, Paul twisted his wrist and caused pain that lasted for two months.

Guitron’s appellate brief elaborates. He asserts that, while the guards were taking him to segregation, they saw other inmates in the hallway and directed Guitron “Get against the wall now”. Guitron tells us that, instead of complying, he replied: “That’s bogus man.”

Paul then began to bend Guitron’s wrist; he complained but did not move. Paul next “applied full force” and slammed Guitron against the wall. Only after Guitron reached his destination cellblock did Paul release his wrist, which was “swollen, red and skinned” from the pressure.

“To be cruel and unusual punishment, conduct that does not purport to be punishment at all must involve more than ordinary lack of due care for the prisoner’s interests or safety. . . . It is obduracy and wantonness, not inadvertence or error in good faith, that characterize the conduct prohibited by the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause. . . . The infliction of pain in the course of a prison security measure, therefore, does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment simply because it
may appear in retrospect that the degree of force authorized or applied for security purposes was unreasonable, and hence unnecessary in the strict sense.” Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312,
319 (1986)

Paul did not use any force until Guitron disobeyed a command that was designed to maintain order within the prison; and, when Paul applied modest force, Guitron remained defiant. Paul did not violate the Constitution by applying additional force. Even if “it may appear in retrospect that the degree of force authorized or applied for security purposes was unreasonable” (Whitley, 475 U.S. at 319), an error of judgment does not convert a prison security measure into a constitutional violation.

The district court reached its conclusion by a different route. It stated that Guitron’s injury is de minimis and therefore not actionable under the eighth amendment. 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 72795 (E.D. Wis. July 6, 2011).

Custodians must be able to handle, sometimes manhandle, their charges, if a building crammed with disgruntled people who disdain authority (that’s how the prisoners came to be there, after all) is to be manageable. When a physical injury occurs as the result of force applied in the course of prison operations, as happened to Guitron, the courts should approach the matter as Whitley directs, rather than trying to classify injuries as de minimis.