Bearchild v. Cobban, No. 17-35616 (9th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff, an inmate at the Montana State Prison (MPS), filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against prison staff members, alleging that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated when he was sexually assaulted during the course of a pat-down search. The district court dismissed all defendants except Sergeant Larry Pasha, the prison guard who conducted the pat down, and a jury subsequently returned a verdict in Pasha's favor. Plaintiff appealed.
The Ninth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by failing to continue plaintiff's trial sua sponte. The panel recognized that there was no model jury instruction for Eighth Amendment sexual assault, and took this opportunity to address this circuit's law governing this type of claim.
The panel held that a prisoner presents a viable Eighth Amendment claim where he or she proves that a prison staff member, acting under color of law and without legitimate penological justification, touched the prisoner in a sexual manner or otherwise engaged in sexual conduct for the staff member’s own sexual gratification, or for the purpose of humiliating, degrading, or demeaning the prisoner. In this case the model instructions plainly misstated the law applicable to plaintiff's cause. The panel reversed and remanded for a new trial because it was impossible to determine whether the jury would have reached the same result had it been properly instructed.