Haines v. Kerner

PETITIONER: Francis Haines
RESPONDENT: Otto J. Kerner, former Governor of Illinois
LOCATION: Illinois State Penitentiary at Menard, Illinois

DOCKET NO.: 70-5025
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 404 US 519 (1972)
ARGUED: Dec 06, 1971
DECIDED: Jan 13, 1972
GRANTED: Mar 08, 1971

Stanley A. Bass - for petitioner
Warren K. Smoot - for respondents, pro hac vice, by special leave of Court

Facts of the case

Francis Haines was placed in solitary confinement for 15 days because he hit another inmate over the head with a shovel during a confrontation. Haines was 66 years old and suffered from a foot disability. He claimed his foot disability worsened due to being kept in solitary confinement, where he had to sleep on the floor with only blankets for support. Haines sued the State of Illinois and argued that the conditions of his solitary confinement violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The State of Illinois moved to dismiss the case on the grounds that Haines failed to state a cause of action. The district court granted the dismissal, and stated that courts can only intercede with the internal operations of state prisons under exceptional circumstances. The district court also found that Haines had failed to show that he had been deprived of his constitutional rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld the dismissal and determined that state penitentiaries were entitled to their own discretion when punishing inmates.


Does an inmate have the right to offer proof of an alleged injury before his case is dismissed on the grounds of failure to state a cause of action for said injury?

Media for Haines v. Kerner

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 06, 1971 in Haines v. Kerner

Warren E. Burger:

5025, Haines against Kerner.

Mr. Bass you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Stanley A. Bass:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case is here on Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit which affirmed the dismissal of a pro se action brought by an Illinois prisoner against prison officials and others under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 seeking damages and other relief for injuries resulting from allegedly unconstitutional disciplinary treatment.

The District Court granted the respondent officials' motion to dismiss without allowing relief to amend or to amplify, without directing an answer from the defendants, without allowing discovery, without a point to counsel as some other person to assist the petitioner and without conducting any hearing.

The facts are basically as follows.

In 1968, Haines was then 66 years old, was an inmate of the Illinois State Penitentiary serving a life sentence imposed for burglary as habitual offender which was imposed in 1939.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Where was he, at State Ville or?

Stanley A. Bass:

He was in Menard.

Harry A. Blackmun:


Stanley A. Bass:

At the time he had a foot disability for which he had been awarded compensation by the Illinois Industrial Commission.

On March 10 of 1968, Haines while on work detail was threatened by two younger inmates about 30 years old.

Statements were made by the other inmates to the effect that the young blood was taking over and that the old blood like Haines was dying.

Haines did not immediately react to these torrents, but obtained an inmate pass to go outside and inspect the pile of cinders.

When Haines reentered the shack, the two younger inmates resumed their arguments and their threats stating that Haines had better watch out or he would be hurt.

Again, Haines did not react.

After Haines entered the bathroom, these other inmates approached him in a threatening manner and resumed the argument.

One of the two men asked him if he wanted to start something, he thinks of Dorothy and Haines then hit Dorothy with a shovel. Subsequently, there was a scuffle with Mr. Moore and after that Mr. Haines was taken by one of the officials of the prison to the solitary confinement.

Sometime after that which is not clear from the complaint, Mr. Haines was taken by the defendant Rogers to the disciplinary officer.

Mr. Haines refused to explain his actions other then to acknowledge he had hit Dorothy with the shovel.

He was locked again in an isolation cell until the report that he had from the defendant Duncan.

Sometime after that, it is also not clear how long the period was, the report was submitted to the disciplinary committee.

At that time Haines was brought before them and objected to certain statements regarding his hitting the shovel on the floor.

Haines had indicated that he had dislodged some dirt from the shovel and the defendant Lance wanted to know why plaintiff would hit Dorothy and stated that it been 28 years since Mr. Haines had been in the hole.

When plaintiff refused to talk to these officers he was given 15 days punishment in solitary from March 10 to March 25, 1968.

Mr. Haines described somewhat the conditions of the solitary.

He said that it was a dark cell, that he had no bed or mattress, that he had to sleep on the floor on blankets, that he had received one regular meal during the afternoon and some bread in the morning and in the evening, that there were no personal articles of hygiene, specifically no soap or towel and that his false teeth became so rancid he had to take them out.

Following his day in solitary confinement, Mr. Haines was demoted to C grade which meant that he lost certain commissary privileges and other privileges which Haines said are not known to him.

Although in discovery Haines filed numerous requests for admissions and interrogatories where he sought to ascertain more information along that line.

The issues in the case are first whether or not the District Court prematurely dismissed the complaint.