Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Idaho William B. Shubb, Senior District Judge, Presiding No. 3:04-cv-00099-WBS
The opinion of the court was delivered by: B. Fletcher, Circuit Judge:
Argued and Submitted July 9, 2012-Portland, Oregon
Before: Betty B. Fletcher and Harry Pregerson, Circuit Judges, and Donald E. Walter, District Judge.*fn1
Opinion by Judge B. Fletcher
Plaintiff-Appellant Lance Conway Wood is a state prisoner in Idaho. Wood allegedly engaged in a romantic, but not sexual, relationship with a female prison guard, Sandra de Martin. Wood alleges that both during and after the relationship, Martin perpetrated sexual acts on him without his consent. He filed a civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging constitutional violations of the First, Fourth, and Eighth Amendments.
The district court granted summary judgment to defendants on Wood's Eighth Amendment claims finding that the romantic relationship between Wood and Martin was consensual and, therefore, Wood implicitly consented to Martin's sexual conduct. Having consented, the district court held, Wood could not state an Eighth Amendment claim. Wood appeals.
The appeal involves sexual abuse of prisoners by those supposed to protect them, the prison guards. Unfortunately, this is a serious problem in our prisons today but when prisoners seek redress for their abuse, often the state argues it has no liability because the prisoner consented to the sexual conduct.
As we explain more fully below, because of the enormous power imbalance between prisoners and prison guards, labeling a prisoner's decision to engage in sexual conduct in prison as "consent" is a dubious proposition.
Wood's complaint alleged that Martin began working as a corrections officer at the prison in 2001 and that Martin started working on the unit where Wood resided in 2002. Wood alleged that Martin had a "reputation for . . . being overly friendly with the inmates." Wood tried to stay away from Martin but she pursued him. They conversed often about personal topics. Eventually, a romantic relationship developed between them. Occasionally, they would hug, kiss, and touch each other on the arms and legs, but they did not engage in sexual contact.
A few months after their relationship began, Wood started to hear rumors that Martin had gotten married. This upset Wood as his religious beliefs did not permit him to engage in adultery.
Shortly after Wood started hearing rumors that Martin was married, he asked her about it twice but she denied it each time. He decided to confront her a third time. Wood went to Martin's office and told her:
[S]he had to be honest with me. Because I did express to her before that my feelings on adultery . . . . I was kind of crushed in a way because. . . I believed that we were working on something . . . that we had a future together.
I said that we needed to back off . . . . [W]e got to stop.
He said the reason he wanted to back away was because he wanted to investigate whether she was married.
Twenty minutes later, she entered his prison cell. He described the incident as follows:
She came in to me. I mean, she came right in to me. She told me not to worry, she wasn't married. And she put - she cupped her hand on my groin . . . enough to excite me.
Wood described his response:
I pushed her away on that, literally pushed her away. . . .[I told her] "[t]his isn't the time . . . . ...