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Harmon v. Payne

Supreme Court of Arkansas

January 16, 2020

DEXTER HARMON, APPELLANT
v.
OFFICER DEXTER PAYNE, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION; OFFICER JAMES GIBSON, WARDEN, VARNER UNIT; OFFICER JAMES SHIPMAN, DEPUTY WARDEN, VARNER UNIT; OFFICER YOLANDA CLARK, FOOD SERVICE DEPARTMENT; OFFICER LAQUISTA SWOPES, CORRECTIONAL OFFICER, APPELLEES

Page 620

          PRO SE APPEAL FROM THE LINCOLN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT NO. 40CV-18-58. HONORABLE JODI RAINES DENNIS, JUDGE.

         COUNSEL:

          Dexter Harmon, appellant, Pro se.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Rosalyn Middleton, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          SHAWN A. WOMACK, Associate Justice. BAKER, J., concurs without opinion. HART, J., concurs in part; dissents in part.

         OPINION

Page 621

          SHAWN A. WOMACK, Associate Justice

          Dexter Harmon sued Arkansas prison officials under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act and state tort law for allegedly depriving him of a nutritionally adequate diet that is safe for consumption. He filed suit against Appellees in their official and individual capacities. The circuit court concluded that Harmon's complaint was barred by sovereign and statutory immunity and failed to state facts upon which relief could be granted. The court dismissed the action and issued a strike. We affirm the dismissal but reverse the strike.

         I.

          During the relevant time period, Harmon was incarcerated at the Varner Supermax Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC). In his pro se complaint, Harmon alleged that Appellees failed to comply with an ADC administrative regulation and unit policy concerning the food service at Varner Supermax. He sought to hold Appellees liable for negligence and for cruel and unusual punishment under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act. He requested injunctive and declaratory relief and reimbursement of costs.

Page 622

          According to the complaint, Appellees consistently served small portions of cold and unappetizing food. Harmon claimed he was provided nutritionally inadequate, poorly seasoned, and " regularly unappealing" food that " tastes nasty." He also alleged that meals were delivered by unqualified prison employees who had not been trained in food service. He stated that employees did not wash their hands, had poor personal hygiene, appeared sick, and wore their regular uniforms while handling food. Harmon further complained that the food was not kept at acceptable temperatures. He accused Appellees of being deliberately indifferent to these concerns by refusing to thoroughly investigate his grievances and refusing to properly oversee food distribution. As a result, Harmon alleged that he was afraid to eat the food because he believed it was contaminated and placed him at risk of contracting a foodborne illness. According to Harmon, he consequently suffered emotional harm, weight loss, energy loss, and fatigue.

          The circuit court granted Appellees' motion to dismiss. The court concluded that the complaint was barred by sovereign and statutory immunity and failed to state facts upon which relief could be granted.[1] The court also issued a strike under ...


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