Farmer v. Brennan

RESPONDENT: Edward Brennan, Warden
LOCATION: U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute

DOCKET NO.: 92-7247
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 511 US 825 (1994)
ARGUED: Jan 12, 1994
DECIDED: Jun 06, 1994
GRANTED: Oct 04, 1993

Elizabeth Alexander - on behalf of the Petitioner
Paul Bender - on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case

Dee Farmer, a biological male, underwent estrogen therapy, received silicone breast implants and underwent unsuccessful sex reassignment surgery. Farmer was convicted and sentenced to prison on federal criminal charges. Prison medical personnel diagnosed Farmer as a transsexual. Farmer was generally kept separate from the general male population, in part because of Farmer’s misconduct, but also because of safety concerns.

Farmer was transferred to the U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute and placed in the general male population in accordance with prison policy. Within two weeks, a cellmate allegedly beat and raped Farmer. Farmer sued in federal district court, alleging that prison officials deliberately and indifferently failed to protect a prisoner. This violated Farmer’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Farmer sought damages and an injunction against future incarceration in any prison. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the prison officials, noting that Farmer never complained or expressed any safety concerns prior to the incident. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed.


Is Farmer entitled to damages or an injunction against various federal prison officials responsible for transferring him to, or assigning Farmer within, a prison facility where Farmer was sexually assaulted by another inmate?

Media for Farmer v. Brennan

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 12, 1994 in Farmer v. Brennan

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 06, 1994 in Farmer v. Brennan

David H. Souter:

The first of the two is Farmer and Brennan, No. 92-7247.

This case is here on certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and it requires us to define the term, "deliberate indifference".

Under the Eighth Amendment, prison officials have a duty to ensure that prison inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, and to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.

Prison officials violate that constitutional duty when they act with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we hold that a prison official may be held liable for acting with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm only if he is aware of that risk and disregards it by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it.

That subjective definition of deliberate indifference is the equivalent of the recklessness as generally used in the criminal law and it is compelled by Wilson and Seiter decided in 1991 which interpreted the word "punishment" in a Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause to mandate inquiry into a prison official state of mind in which held that inmates challenging the conditions of their confinement must satisfy what we called a subjective requirement.

In object to approach deliberate indifference adapted by some Courts of Appeals and urged on us by petitioners simply incompatible with our precedent.

The prisoner here is a federal prisoner who is a transsexual and who respondent, federal prison officials agree, projects feminine characteristics.

The petitioner claimed to have been beaten and raped by another inmate after being transferred to a federal penitentiary and placed in its general prison population.

The District Court dismissed petitioner's lawsuit which claimed the violation of the Eighth Amendment in respondent's deliberate indifference to petitioner's safety and the Seventh Circuit narrowly affirmed.

Because the District Court may have applied a stricter test than the one we adapt today, we vacate the decision below and remand for further proceedings.

Justice Blackmun and Justice Stevens have filed concurring opinions; Justice Thomas has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.