Thomas v. Tice, No. 18-1811 (3d Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
In the visiting room, a friend handed Pennsylvania inmate Thomas a bag of M&Ms. He ate one and then quickly drank soda. A guard, believing that Thomas had ingested contraband, removed him to a dry cell for observation until natural processes allowed the ingested contraband to be retrieved. The sink and toilet were capped. Dry cells lack all linens and moveable items other than a mattress. Inmates’ clothes are exchanged for a smock; their movements are carefully controlled to prevent them from concealing or disposing of contraband. To expedite his release from the dry cell, Thomas was offered and accepted laxatives. Over the next four days, Thomas had 12 bowel movements and was x-rayed. No evidence of contraband was found. He was confined to the dry cell for five more days. After exhausting his administrative remedies, Thomas filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Third Circuit reversed in part. Whether there was a penological justification to continue Thomas’s confinement in the dry cell after four days constitutes a disputed issue of material fact. When confinement in a dry cell is not foul or inhuman and serves a legitimate penological interest, it will not violate the Eighth Amendment.