- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 28, 2001

From combined dispatches
Federal inmates housed in private prisons or halfway houses cannot sue the operating companies for money if they think their civil rights were violated, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
The 5-4 ruling, led by the court's conservative majority, is a victory for a government contractor that ran a halfway house where a New York man said he was mistreated.
John E. Malesko suffered a heart attack after a halfway house employee made him climb five flights of stairs in 1994. His $4 million suit claimed he had a heart condition, and was supposed to be allowed to use an elevator.
In a separate case, the court dismissed on technical legal grounds a case challenging a federal affirmative-action program that favors minority businesses.
The dismissal had been expected since the arguments in the closely watched case Oct. 31, when the procedural problems dominated the questioning by the justices and cast doubt on whether the merits of the dispute would be decided.
The court majority in the Malesko case said the complainant does not have the right to sue Florida-based Correctional Services Corp. The court agreed with the prison company's argument that private companies should not be held liable in federal court, just the same as federal agencies are not liable.
Inmates such as Malesko have full access to internal Bureau of Prisons complaint systems, and can sue in federal court so long as they do not seek money, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote. He was joined by Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.
Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer dissented.
Malesko's lawyers had argued that a private company that steps into the shoes of government for profit should be held to higher standards. A federal court threw out the lawsuit, but the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated it.
The prison company's lawyers said the issue could affect companies that operate other facilities for the federal government, such as hospitals and schools. The number of people held in privately operated federal prisons has risen from 15,476 to 141,361 in the past 10 years, they added.
The affirmative-action suit that dated back to 1990 already had produced a 1995 high court ruling and involved a challenge by a Colorado firm, Adarand Constructors Inc., to the Transportation Department's highway construction program.
In a brief opinion, Chief Justice Rehnquist said the case's "current posture" prevented the justices from reaching the important question of whether the program passed constitutional muster. He said the U.S. appeals court ruling under review only addressed the use of federal funds for highway projects awarded by states and localities.
Justice Rehnquist said Adarand now says it is not challenging any part of the Transportation Department's state and local program. It claimed to be challenging only the federal funds for highway construction on federal lands.


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