Bistrian v. Levi, No. 18-1967 (3d Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Bistrian, a detainee at the Philadelphia FDC, awaiting trial for wire fraud was placed in the special housing unit (SHU) four times. He became an orderly, allowed to interact with other SHU inmates. A fellow inmate, Northington, asked him to pass notes between inmates. Bistrian told officers, which led to a surveillance operation. Bistrian secretly passed inmate notes to prison officials, who photocopied them and gave Bistrian the originals to pass along. Eventually, Bistrian accidentally gave a photocopy to an inmate. After his cooperation became known, he received threats and made prison officials aware of them. In June 2006, prison officials placed him in the recreation yard with Northington and other inmates, who brutally beat Bistrian. Officials yelled but did not enter the yard until more guards arrived. Bistrian suffered severe injuries. In December 2006, officials again placed him in the SHU, citing death threats against him. At a 2007 sentencing hearing, Bistrian objected to his treatment. Two days after Bistrian’s counsel pressed for an explanation of his SHU time, Bistrian was returned to the SHU. Bistrian alleges that Warden Levi, denying an appeal, said Bistrian “would never see the light of day again.” In Bistrian’s civil rights suit, the district court granted qualified immunity to some defendants but denied summary judgment on Bistrian’s "Bivens" constitutional claims. The Third Circuit affirmed in part. Bistrian has a cognizable Bivens claim for the alleged failure to protect him; an inmate’s claim that prison officials violated his Fifth Amendment rights by failing to protect him against a known risk of substantial harm does not present a new Bivens context. The punitive-detention and First Amendment retaliation claims do amount to an extension of Bivens into a new context; special factors counsel against creating a new Bivens remedy in those contexts.