Dongarra v. Smith, No. 20-2872 (3d Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
Dongarra, incarcerated for bank robbery, was transferred to a new prison and went through the onboarding process, supervised by Officer Smith. Smith gave him an ID card that indicated “Registered Offender,” and a T-shirt “know[n]” to be a “sex offender T-shirt.” The shirt falsely suggested that he had been imprisoned at Terre Haute, “a sex offender prison.” Dongarra stated that he “could be killed” if prisoners mistook him for a sex offender. Smith said he did not care and that he “hope[d] [Dongarra] kn[e]w how to fight.” Dongarra appealed to other staff, who asked Smith for another T-shirt. Smith refused. Frightened, Dongarra skipped meals and lost weight and stopped going out for recreation. Dongarra filed a grievance. Though he never got a response, a few weeks later the prison replaced his ID card and T-shirt.
Dongarra sued Smith and two unnamed officers, seeking damages and an injunction, citing “Bivens.” The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his 42 U.S.C. 1983 case. Injunctive relief is not available because Dongarra had not sued anyone who could fire or discipline Smith and by the time Dongarra sued, the prison had corrected the error. No court has extended Bivens to cover similar facts; “special factors” bar extending Bivens here. Although the officer violated Dongarra’s rights, the feared risk never materialized. Damages cannot be awarded to compensate him for an assault that never happened.