ASSAULT BY ANOTHER PRISONER
Prison officials may be held liable under the Eighth Amendment only if they act with "deliberate indifference" or "reckless disregard" for a prisoner’s safety. See id. at 836-37. In other words, prison officials may be liable if they knew that a prisoner was at substantial risk of serious harm, but ignored that risk and failed to take reasonable steps to protect the prisoner. See id. at 847. Generally, courts have distinguished between a substantial risk of serious harm (or strong likelihood of injury) and the everyday risk of harm that comes from being in prison (or mere possibility of injury). See, e.g., Purcell ex rel. Estate of Morgan v. Toombs County, Ga, 400 F.3d 1313, 1319-20 (11th Cir. 2005); Brown v. Hughes, 894 F.2d 1533, 1537 (11th Cir. 1990). In addition, even when a prisoner is harmed, if prison officials responded reasonably to the risk, they are not held liable. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 844-45. Courts often dismiss isolated failures to protect as "mere negligence," even when prison officials had prior information about a threat to a prisoner, but failed to act on that information. See Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344, 347-48 (1986).
There are two ways to show deliberate indifference in a prisoner assault case. One is to show that prison officials failed to respond or act reasonably in light of knowledge of a particular threat of danger to an individual prisoner. See, e.g., Odom v. South Carolina Dep’t of Corr., 349 F.3d 765, 772 (4th Cir. 2003) (plaintiff warned officer that other prisoners would try to kill him); Scicluna v. Wells, 345 F.3d 441, 445 (6th Cir. 2003) (plaintiff testified he had told unit manager of risk of assault by his co-defendant); Cottone v. Jenne, 326 F.3d 1352 (11th Cir. 2003) (failure to monitor prisoner known to be violent is deliberate indifference); Peate v. McCann, 294 F.3d 879 (7th Cir. 2002) (plaintiff attacked twice by the same prisoner); Cantu v. Jones, 293 F.3d 839 (5th Cir. 2002) (guards allowed prisoner out of his cell to attack another prisoner); Horton v. Cockrell, 70 F.3d 397 (5th Cir. 1995) (staff failed to protect prisoner from attack despite his grievances requesting protection); Swofford v. Mandrell, 969 F.2d 547, 549 (7th Cir. 1992) (guards put sex offender in unsupervised holding cell). The other is to show prison conditions or practices that create a dangerous situation for prisoners in general. See, e.g., Marsh v. Butler County, Ala., 268 F.3d 1014, 1029 (11th Cir. 2001) (no segregation of nonviolent, pretrial detainees from violent, convicted prisoners; overpopulation; understaffing; locks on cell doors that did not properly function; availability of homemade weapons; and no medical, mental health, or conflict screening at intake); Butler v. Dowd, 979 F.2d 661, 675 (8th Cir. 1992) (en banc) (random housing assignments of vulnerable prisoners and obstacles to admission to protective housing); Skinner v. Uphoff, 234 F. Supp. 2d 1208 (D. Wyo. 2002) (unwritten policy of failing to investigate assaults). Sometimes both theories apply to the same fact situation.
In addition to showing deliberate indifference, a prisoner must show that the actions or practices of prison officials actually caused the assault. There must be a connection between what prison officials did or failed to do and the harm that occurred. See Best v. Essex County, 986 F.2d 54, 56-57 (3d Cir. 1993). Thus, courts have imposed liability on line correctional officers who observed an assault or knew of a risk to a prisoner, but did nothing, see, e.g., Ayala Serrano v. Lebron Gonzales, 909 F.2d 8, 14 (1st Cir. 1990); on higher-level supervisors who made or failed to make polices, or failed to act on risks they knew about, see, e.g. Redman v. County of San Diego, 942 F.2d 1435, 1447-48 (9th Cir. 1991); and on city or county government when a prisoner’s assault resulted from a governmental policy, see, e.g., Berry v. City of Muskogee, 900 F.2d 1489, 1497-99 (10th Cir. 1990). Courts require prisoners to show how individual named defendants are responsible for causing the assault. Morales v. New York State Dep’t of Corr., 842 F.2d 27, 29-30 (2d Cir. 1988) (explaining how several defendants were liable in the same incident).