Delay From Man Blinded in Prison May Be Excused
CHICAGO (CN) - Excusing the late filing from a man blinded in prison, the 7th Circuit noted the "unusual gravity" of his injuries, and his resulting struggle to make a life for himself after his release.
Gerald Hill was a federal inmate serving a five-year sentence for possession of a gun in furtherance of drug trafficking when another prisoner attacked him.
The attack cost Hill an eye and left him with serious damage to his other eye, leaving him almost completely blind.
Hill's subsequent lawsuit alleged that the Bureau of Prisons negligently permitted overcrowding at the Federal Correctional Institute at Greenville, Ill., and failed to protect inmates from the resulting violence.
While his case was pending, Hill was released to a halfway house, but did not keep the court informed of his new address. The Southern District of Illinois dismissed the case for failure to prosecute.
Hill then retained counsel and attempted to set aside the dismissal by claiming that his lapse had not been "intentional nor was it meant to vex the government or unduly delay the courses [sic] of my case."
"Life for me now is a major struggle and I have been greatly distracted by my ongoing problems as an ex-convict," Hill told the court.
In reversing the dismissal Monday, the 7th Circuit noted that Hill's statement "sounds rather persuasive, given his greatly impaired vision."
While the reason for Hill's delay in filing a new case remains unclear, the appellate court found that "the unusual gravity of the plaintiff's injuries" warrants more lenient consideration.
The initial dismissal of Hill's case focused on his failure to update the court with his address after he left the halfway house.
But "the judge gave no weight to what may well have been the plaintiff's desperate circumstances when he found himself on his own after that sudden expulsion," Judge Richard Posner wrote for a three-member panel.
"We do not prejudge the issue; we merely think it deserves fuller consideration," Posner added.