(CN) – Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said her colleagues were wrong to turn down the appeal of a Louisiana inmate who said prison officials punished him for refusing to take his HIV medication by forcing him to do hard labor in 100-degree heat.
Anthony Pitre stopped taking his medication to protest a transfer. He said prison officials punished him by subjecting him to hard labor in sweltering heat and denied his requests for lighter duty, even after he twice had to be rushed to an emergency room.
Pitre claimed the hard labor caused his fragile condition to deteriorate even further, in violation of his Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
One prison official admitted that Pitre was “dealing with unnecessary pain and suffering, as well as cruel and unusual punishment,” but accused the inmate of “bringing it on himself.”
“To be sure, Pitre’s decision to refuse medication may have been foolish and likely caused a significant part of his pain,” Sotomayor wrote. “But that decision does not give prison officials license to exacerbate Pitre’s condition further as a means of punishing or coercing him.”
The lower courts had rejected Pitre’s Eighth Amendment claim, and the Supreme Court majority declined Pitre’s appeal without comment.
“Pitre’s allegations, if true, describe ‘punitive treatment [that] amounts to gratuitous infliction of “wanton and unnecessary” pain that our precedent clearly prohibits,'” Sotomayor wrote, quoting the high court’s 2002 decision in Hope v. Pelzer.
“I cannot comprehend how a court could deem such allegations ‘frivolous.'”
She said she would have taken up Pitre’s appeal. The case is Pitre v. Cain, 09-9515.