Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:When Victoria W. reported to the Terrebonne Parish Criminal Justice Complex on July 28, 1999, she underwent a medical evaluation, which revealed that she was pregnant. She had three prenatal care medical examinations over the next nine days, all conducted at offsite clinics. At her Aug. 6 appointment, she was confirmed to be 15 weeks pregnant. Victoria informed the prison doctor, Ed Byerly, that she wanted to terminate her pregnancy. Byerly informed the prison warden, Joe Null. Null told Victoria that an abortion would be considered to be elective surgery, and there was an unwritten prison policy that, for a prisoner to get elective surgery, she would have to get a court order allowing her leave the prison. Emergency medical treatment for certain conditions did not require a court order. The policy had been invoked many times, but Victoria’s was the first case where the requested procedure was an abortion. Victoria was allowed to call her attorney, Howard Marcello, and Byerly explained to Marcello how the court-order procedure worked. Byerly also allowed Victoria to contact various clinics in New Orleans to compare pricing and scheduling options. Prison officials heard nothing from Marcello over the next week. Meanwhile, the sheriff’s attorney sent Victoria a letter, again notifying her of the policy, and informing her that she would be responsible for the cost of a guard who would go with her to New Orleans. She was told that some women’s rights groups might help her with the cost. The sheriff’s attorney also told Victoria that he suspected that Marcello had not contacted prison officials yet because he was morally opposed to abortion. Byerly wrote to Null and several others about the ongoing situation. He, too, noted that they had not heard from Marcello and that Victoria would soon be past the time limit for a legal abortion. Noting that the situation was not a moral issue for his department, Byerly asked for advice on how to proceed. Byerly again talked with Victoria about the policy on Aug. 24. Marcello finally took up Victoria’s situation by filing a motion, and a hearing was set for Sept. 9. Unbeknownst to Victoria, at the hearing, Marcello only asked the judge for Victoria’s early release from the remainder of her sentence. He did not ask for a court order. Though Victoria was in the building, neither the judge nor Marcello called her to participate in the hearing. The judge held the motion in abeyance, pending a medical evaluation. Marcello told Victoria that he’d done the best that he could, and that it would cost $1,500 to get the medical evaluation for the early release. Victoria filed her own motion for early release, citing problems with one or her other children. That motion was eventually granted, and Victoria was released on Oct. 13, which was too late for her to get an abortion. She carried the baby to term and placed it with adoptive parents. Victoria then sued the prison and the relevant prison and government officials under 42 U.S.C. �1983. She sued the officials both individually and in their official capacities. The district court granted summary judgment to all defendants on the individual-capacity claims, then Victoria dismissed her claims against all of the defendants except Byerly, the prison medical director, the parish attorney and the parish itself. Victoria claimed that the elective surgery policy denied her of her 14 thAmendment right to an abortion, and her Eighth Amendment right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. The parish countered that the policy served legitimate penological interests namely, prisoner security and cost. The district court granted summary judgment for the parish, finding that in addition to the legitimate penological interests at stake, Victoria had not proved causation and she did not establish that an abortion was a serious medical need for purposes of the Eighth Amendment. HOLDING:Affirmed. The court explains that among other things, there must a violation of a person’s constitutional rights for a claim under �1983, and the person must prove a direct causal link between the government action and the deprivation of those rights. Government action includes execution of an official policy implemented by policy makers. The court also explains that while prisoners still retain constitutional rights, those rights cannot be inconsistent with proper incarceration. The standard for evaluation prisoner rights cases is: “when a prison regulation impinges on inmates’ constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.” The court adds that it will consider four factors when assessing whether a regulation is so related: 1. whether the regulation has a valid, rational connection to a legitimate government interest; 2. whether alternative means are open to inmates to exercise the asserted right; 3. what impact an accommodation of the right would have on guards and inmates and prison resources; and 4. whether there are ready alternatives to the regulation. The court finds a “rational connection” between the interest in ensuring prisoner security and the policy at issue here. The policy’s focus is on the offsite transport of prisoners to a less secure environment, which increases the chance for escape. Prison resources are depleted when guards are required to accompany prisoners on these outings, and the parish would be liable for any acts committed by an escaped prisoner. The policy is also reasonable as applied to Victoria in particular. The court rejects Victoria’s argument that it was not rational since she was repeatedly released without a court order to get prenatal care. The court says the difference is that the prenatal care is required medical care; the abortion is not. Victoria’s insistence that she would bear the costs of the procedure might alleviate the prison’s interest in depleted resources, but it does not address the other legitimate concerns. Nor does Victoria offer a reasonable alternative to the policy’s requirements. Finally, the court rejects Victoria’s reliance on Monmouth County Correctional Institutional Inmates v. Lazar, 834 F.2d 326 (3d Cir. 1987), which struck down a similar prison policy. The Monmouth policy applied only to abortions, it required inmates to get a court order releasing them on their own recognizance, and the institution’s asserted interests were solely based on money and administration. The court then turns to Victoria’s claim that the prison officials acted with deliberate indifference to her constitutional rights. The court finds that the officials in this case acted quite the opposite, demonstrating and effort to respond to Victoria’s needs. Prison officials constantly kept Victoria informed, and there is no evidence that the court would have denied a properly made motion. The policy ultimately burdened Victoria’s access to an abortion, but it functioned properly. OPINION:Higginbotham, J.; Higginbotham, Stewart and Prado, JJ.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 1 article* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.