Inmate Gets New Shot to Sue Over Missing Meals

     (CN) – A federal judge should have let the jury consider awarding nominal damages to a man who says he was not fed for five days in prison, the 8th Circuit ruled.
     Arthur Taylor is serving 25 years at Jefferson City Correctional Center for robbing a gas station at gun point.
     He claims that the prison failed to feed him for five consecutive days in September 2005 while trying to place him in a suitable cell.
     The Missouri Department of Corrections has a policy wherein a prisoner can switch cells by declaring his current cellmate an “enemy.” Officials at Jefferson City, a maximum-security facility, shackle such prisoners to a restraint bench until it can place them. Policy also dictates that prisoners can eat only in their cells.
     Taylor says he declared his cellmate an enemy on Sept. 9, 2005, and was restrained until the prison placed him in a new cell on Sept. 11.
     Taylor apparently fell asleep in his new cell, missed meal time, and then woke up only to get into another argument with his new cellmate. After declaring this new cellmate his enemy that day, Taylor was brought back to the bench and not fed until Sept. 15.
     A jury found for the prison officials on Taylor’s claims of Eighth and 14th Amendment violations, but the federal appeals court in St. Louis ruled Tuesday that Taylor deserves a new trial.
     According to the 8th Circuit model jury instructions, “nominal damages must still be submitted in Eight Amendment cases if requested.”
     The prison officials argued that the error was harmless because the jury found in their favor, but the court disagreed.
     “Under the instruction the District Court gave, damages are a required element of a verdict in favor of Taylor,” Judge William Benton wrote for a three-member panel.
     “None of the instructions mentioned nominal damages,” Benton added. “The damages instruction also stated: ‘Remember, throughout your deliberations you must not engage in any speculations, guess, or conjecture and you must not award any damages under this Instruction by way of punishment or through sympathy.’ In the absence of a nominal damages instruction, the instructions misled the jury.”

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