Solitary Confinement

Filed - July 26, 2017

Finley v. Huss (Sixth Circuit)


Mr. Finley suffers from severe mental illness, which compels him to swallow razor blades and engage in other acts of self-harm. After he swallowed—but did not pass—a razor blade, prison officials subjected him to solitary confinement, apparently because the blade lodged in his esophagus constituted dangerous contraband. A prison psychiatrist informed corrections personnel that solitary confinement would exacerbate Mr. Finley’s mental illness. Officials disregarded that admonition, however, and left him to languish in solitary for three months. Mr. Finley sued pro se, claiming that defendants violated the Eighth Amendment when they threw him in solitary confinement despite his obvious mental illness and a contrary recommendation from the prison psychiatrist. The district court tossed the suit at screening, reasoning that the prison’s administration of antipsychotic medication was an absolute defense. That our client did not “claim that he was encouraged to commit suicide” in solitary, also foreclosed the claims.

With Kirkland & Ellis as co-counsel, the MacArthur Justice Center challenged that decision in the Sixth Circuit. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that our client stated an Eighth Amendment claim. Unlike the district judge, the Sixth Circuit did not consider the administration of antipsychotic drugs to be a cure-all: “[I]f the prison psychiatrist states that solitary confinement will exacerbate a mental-health disorder, claiming that the medication makes it permissible is a little like bandaging a person’s broken leg but then taking away his crutches.” It was similarly unimpressed by defendants’ restraint in not rooting for Mr. Finley to kill himself. “[A] prisoner need not allege the worst-case scenario in order to get past the PLRA’s screening system.”

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