Hope v. Pelzer

LOCATION: Los Angeles City Hall

DOCKET NO.: 01-309
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)

CITATION: 536 US 730 (2002)
ARGUED: Apr 17, 2002
DECIDED: Jun 27, 2002

Facts of the case

As an Alabama prison inmate, Larry Hope was twice handcuffed to a hitching post for disruptive conduct. Both times prison guards handcuffed Hope above shoulder height, and when he tried moving his arms to improve circulation, the handcuffs cut into his wrists. During the second incident, guards order Hope to remove his shirt and he spent seven hours on the hitching post in the sun. While there, he was given one or two water breaks, but no bathroom breaks. Hope filed a civil suit against the guards. Subsequently, a Magistrate Judge found that the guards were entitled to qualified immunity. Ultimately affirming, the Court of Appeals, while finding that the hitching post's use for punitive purposes violated the Eighth Amendment, concluded that the guards nevertheless entitled to qualified immunity.


Does the Court of Appeals holding of qualified immunity where prison guards' conduct violated the Eighth Amendment comport with United States v. Lanier, 520 U.S. 259?

Media for Hope v. Pelzer

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 17, 2002 in Hope v. Pelzer

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 27, 2002 in Hope v. Pelzer

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the court in No. 01-309 Hope against Pelzer will be announced by Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

In 1995 Alabama was the only State that followed the practice of chaining prison inmates to one another in work squads. It was also the only State that handcuffed prisoners to hitching posts to punish them for disrupting the work of chain games.

The petitioner in this case was punished in this way on two occasions, once for fighting with another prisoner and the second time for an altercation with the guard.

The first occasion, the handcuff into the hitching post lasted for only about two hours because the petitioner was released when the guard decided that the other prisoner had started the fight.

On the second occasion he was handcuff to the post in an uncomfortable standing position for seven hours.

During this period he was given water only once or twice and was denied bathroom breaks.

Petitioner filed an action against three guards alleging that the use of the hitching post was cruel and unusual punishment that violated the Eighth amendment.

The Court of Appeals held that the practice was unconstitutional but that the guards were entitled to qualified immunity because the applicable rule of federal law had not been set forth in earlier cases involving materially similar facts.

We granted certiorari to review the court’s holding on the qualified immunity issue.

For reason stated in an opinion filed with Clerk, we conclude that the Court of Appeals applied an incorrect standard and that earlier decisions did give respondents a fair warning that the use of the hitching post for punitive was unconstitutional.

Accordingly we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand for further proceedings.

Justice Thomas has filed a dissenting opinion that is joined by the Chief Justice and Justice Scalia.