Wilson v. Seiter

PETITIONER: Pearly L. Wilson
RESPONDENT: Richard Seiter et al.
LOCATION: Hocking Correctional Facility

DOCKET NO.: 89-7376
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1990-1991)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 501 US 294 (1991)
ARGUED: Jan 07, 1991
DECIDED: Jun 17, 1991

ADVOCATES:
Elizabeth Alexander - argued the cause for the petitioner
Rita S. Eppler - Assistant Attorney General of Ohio, argued the cause for the respondent
William C. Bryson - Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, argued the cause on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner

Facts of the case

While detained at the Hocking Correctional Facility in Nelsonville, Ohio, Pearly Wilson claimed he experienced cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Wilson sought financial awards and an injunction against the prison under 42 U.S.C. 1983. He filed suit in a federal district court against two state prison officials, Richard P. Seiter and Carl Humphreys. The District Court ruled against Wilson, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed. It held that Wilson had to show that the prison officials had a "culpable state of mind" when inflicting harm upon him.

Question

Did the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit err by holding that prison officials must have a "culpable state of mind" in order to establish cruel and unusual punishment of an inmate? Did the Court of Appeals err by overlooking an inmate's claim that prison officials showed "deliberate indifference" to his conditions of confinement?

Media for Wilson v. Seiter

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 07, 1991 in Wilson v. Seiter

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 17, 1991 in Wilson v. Seiter

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 89-7376 Wilson against Seiter will be announced by Justice Scalia.

Antonin Scalia:

The petitioner in this case, Pearly Wilson, is a prison inmate in Ohio.

He sued the respondents, who are prison officials, alleging that certain conditions of his confinement constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

The District Court granted summary judgment for the prison officials.

The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed, concluding that Wilson's affidavits failed to establish the requisite culpable state of mind on the part of the officials.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we agree with the Sixth Circuit that an inmate claiming that prison conditions violate the Eighth Amendment must show a culpable state of mind on the part of the officials.

This requirement is implicit in that Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The Sixth Circuit, however, appears to have applied an overly exacting intense standard, stating that the official's conduct must be marked by "persistent malicious cruelty."

The appropriate standard is the one we have long applied to prisoner claims involving medical care, namely deliberate indifference.

We vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case for reconsideration under that standard.

Justice White has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in which Justices Marshall, Blackmun, and Stevens have joined.