Moore v. Calderon

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Court:
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Issues: Criminal Justice, Criminal Justice and Police Misconduct, Transgender Rights

Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Jesse Moore, urging the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a district court’s order that dismissed her complaint for failure to state a claim.

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Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Jesse Moore, urging the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a district court’s order that dismissed her complaint for failure to state a claim.

Ms. Moore, a transgender woman, alleged that while in custody at Kern Valley State Prison in California, she had just come out of her cell to shower when she was approached by a male prison guard. The two were completely alone. The guard demanded that Ms. Moore remove her top and show the guard her breasts. When she refused, the guard got angry and threatened to “screw [her] over” if she did not comply. He ultimately threatened to make her time in prison “hell,” stating “You’re going to wish you were dead!” The guard’s attempt and threats caused Ms. Moore such severe distress that she twice attempted suicide in the coming weeks.  

Ms. Moore filed suit in federal court alleging the guard had violated her Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The district court “screened out” Ms. Moore’s lawsuit, dismissing it before the defendant was required even to answer the allegations. Although the court acknowledged that verbal harassment can sometimes state an Eighth Amendment claim, it concluded that Ms. Moore’s allegations (taken as true, which the court was required to do at this stage) did not state a constitutional claim because she had not alleged a physical assault or an “unusually gross” instance of verbal harassment.

Ms. Moore is represented by the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center on her appeal. Our brief explains that the Eighth Amendment protects incarcerated people—especially those that are particularly vulnerable to sexual victimization—from sexual coercion and threats by prison guards. The Ninth Circuit has repeatedly recognized that sexual victimization—inflicted for no legitimate purpose—is designed to cause unnecessary suffering and violates the Eighth Amendment. Enacted federal and state legislation echo the same principle: that certain forms of non-physical sexual assault and abuse are serious deprivations of an incarcerated person’s rights. We urge the Ninth Circuit to clarify that courts should assess allegations of sexual coercion and sexualized threats in context, rather than routinely dismissing allegations of non-physical conduct. 

Amici curiae are civil rights and non-profit organizations including Black & Pink National, Center for Constitutional Rights, Equality California, Just Detention International, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Transgender Law Center, and the Translatin@ Coalition.