Jail Better Be Ready to Fight Suit Over Bad Food

     CHICAGO (CN) – A Wisconsin man can go to trial against the jail officials who put him on a “nutriloaf” diet that allegedly caused vomiting, weight loss and possibly an anal fissure, the 7th Circuit ruled.
     While Terrance Prude was serving time in Wisconsin state prison, having plead guilty to five counts of armed robbery in 2000, he was periodically transferred to the Milwaukee County Jail to attend court proceedings relating to a postconviction petition that he had filed. He spent at least three weeks in Milwaukee during three separate trips.
     During his second and third stays, the jail put Prude on a nutriloaf-only diet, as part of its new policy for new transfers in segregation, regardless of their behavior.
     Nutriloaf, also called “prison loaf” or “disciplinary loaf,” is well known for its terrible taste. The food is frequently composed of beans, carrots, ground beef and other leftovers from regular prison meals, though recipes vary by prison.
     After two days on the nutriloaf diet during his third stay in Milwaukee, Prude began vomiting his meals and experiencing stomach pains and constipation. He stopped eating the nutriloaf and lived on only bread and water. Prude lost 14 pounds during the course of his last two stays at the county jail, weighing 154 pounds when he left.
     County jail nurses gave Prude antacids and a stool softener, but symptoms continued after his transfer back to state prison. Doctors later diagnosed Prude with an anal fissure, presumably developed while in county jail. Prude soon filed a pro-se lawsuit against the Milwaukee County sheriff, two county inspectors and a prison guard.
     Even after an order by U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller, the federal complaint met little success. Stadtmueller threatened to impose sanctions as prison officials ignored discovery demands. But the judge failed to carry through and later dismissed Prude’s complaint.
     The 7th Circuit balked at the dismissal last week, calling the defense counsel’s performance “contumacious.”
     Rather than providing a recipe or other evidence, the defense produced a “preposterous affidavit” stating only that “nutriloaf has been determined to be a nutritious substance for regular meals,” the court found.
     “The defendants decided to defy rather than to defend,” Judge Richard Posner wrote for a three-judge panel.
     “Deliberate withholding of nutritious food or substitution of tainted or otherwise sickening food, with the effect of causing substantial weight loss, vomiting, stomach pains, and maybe an anal fissure … or other severe hardship, would violate the Eighth Amendment.”
     Prude’s uncontested evidence that other prisoners experienced vomiting in reaction to the Milwaukee nutriloaf could sufficiently demonstrate that jail officials knew that the nutriloaf was sickening them.
     The jail’s failure to submit a recipe for its nutriloaf made further inquiry impossible, the court ruled, because the recipe varies among prisons. Even if a recipe were produced, day-to-day variations are likely because of how the food is made.
     “‘Nutriloaf’ isn’t a proprietary food like Hostess Twinkies but, like ‘meatloaf’ or ‘beef stew,’ a term for a composite food the recipe of which can vary from institution to institution, or even from day to day within an institution; nutriloaf could meet requirements for calories and protein one day yet be poisonous the next if, for example, made from leftovers that had spoiled,” Posner wrote.
     The court also rebuked the defendants’ courtroom behavior. “In addition to stonewalling the plaintiff and the district judge, the defendants failed to file a brief in this court and failed to respond to our order to show cause why they hadn’t filed a brief,” he wrote. “They seem to think that the federal courts have no jurisdiction over a county jail.”
     On remand, the District Court must appoint a lawyer to represent Prude and sanction the defendants.
     “We order the defendants to show cause within 14 days of the date of this order why they should not be sanctioned for contumacious conduct in this court,” Posner concluded ominously. “If they ignore this order to show cause like the last one, they will find themselves in deep trouble.”

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