A federal appeals court has sided with an Orrick-led pro bono effort, reviving a federal civil rights case against a for-profit Louisiana prison involving allegations of regularly beating detainees in a camera-free hallway and using chemical spray on them while they were handcuffed.
In a July 22 decision, the Fifth Circuit overturned a lower court decision and restored a wrongful death lawsuit brought on behalf of the family of Erie Moore, Jr., a black man who died in 2015 while being held at LaSalle Management-owned Richwood Correctional Center in rural Louisiana. Moore died after being assaulted, slammed multiple times to the floor headfirst, sprayed with chemicals and repeatedly beaten by prison guards.
A district court judge granted summary judgment to the defendants on most of the claims, holding there was insufficient evidence the prison was responsible for Moore’s death; that private prisons can’t be held liable for punitive damages; and that the city of Monroe can’t be held liable for delegating its responsibilities to a private prison company.
Orrick led the appeal, collaborating with Public Justice, the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, and trial counsel Nelson Welch Cameron.
The Fifth Circuit sided with our team’s arguments, led by associate James Anglin Flynn, who argued the case in the appellate court. The panel found that the lower court was wrong to rule that the family had not connected Moore’s death to the use of force. “Few things could be more self-evident, more within the common knowledge, than that repeated head strikes could cause a fatal head injury,” the court wrote. The panel also held that the claims alleging a custom of abuse at Richwood must go to trial, and it revived claims for punitive damages, rejecting LaSalle’s argument that private prison-management corporations are entitled to immunity.
“The Moore family has fought nearly seven years for justice for their father’s violent mistreatment by LaSalle’s for-profit prison and its staff,” James said. “Now, the Fifth Circuit has recognized the strength of our evidence requires a jury to decide these claims at trial, and we look forward to holding the defendants accountable for their pattern of abuses.”
In addition to James, the Orrick team includes partner Mark Davies, and associates Melanie Hallums, Joseph Kolker and Jodie Liu. Associates Ciarra Carr and Jade Gasek also worked on the case while Orrick racial justice fellows for Howard Law School, along with former Orrick associate Tiffany Wright and others. Attorneys Leslie Brueckner and Nelson Welch Cameron also were part of the team alongside Public Justice.