In a § 1983 action by a former jail inmate, default judgment was granted against a jail employee who failed to appear despite being properly served. The court found that the employee sexually assaulted and raped the inmate and, after an evidentiary hearing, awarded her more than $700,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
Findings of fact
In 2015, the Plaintiff was imprisoned at the Lynchburg Adult Detention Center and placed on suicide watch shortly after her arrival. Under that designation, she was prevented from wearing normal clothes and given only a “suicide blanket” to cover herself.
Defendant Timothy Farrar, a night-shift jail employee, threatened to take the Plaintiff’s blanket away. He withheld toilet paper and food unless she revealed herself to him. He would also watch her use the bathroom. He obtained access to her medication and used it to extort sexual acts. In May 2015, Farrar forcibly raped the Plaintiff in her cell. She reported the incidents and received mental health counseling for the remainder of her time in jail.
As a result of the assaults, the Plaintiff suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. She has difficulty sleeping and enjoying time with her family.
In April 2017, she sued Farrar pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging Eighth Amendment violations.
Service of process
Farrar was served in August 2017, and he has failed to appear, answer, or file a responsive pleading. The Plaintiff then moved for default judgment, but had not followed Virginia’s procedures for “substituted service” required under Code § 8.01-296(2)(b). Now that she has done so, Farrar has been properly served and is not an infant, incompetent, or currently engaged in military service. Because there is no apparent reason for Farrar’s failure to respond, the Plaintiff has demonstrated her entitlement to default judgment.
For purposes of default judgment, the Plaintiff has properly pleaded an Eighth Amendment violation. Farrar was employed by Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority and acted under color of state law when he repeatedly and knowingly sexually assaulted the Plaintiff. These assaults inflicted serious bodily harm and emotional distress on her. The Plaintiff requests compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees.
The Plaintiff is entitled to compensatory damages. At the evidentiary hearing on damages, she testified as to her ongoing mental health issues, emotional damages, and pain and suffering she endured as a result of the assaults. Currently, she receives monthly mental health treatment and needs indefinite weekly therapy sessions to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and to maintain her mental health generally. These weekly one-on-one sessions cost $100 each, in addition to weekly group therapy sessions at $30 each. The closest PTSD treatment center is 50 miles away from her current residence. Attending these sessions for the rest of her life would cost $432,888.
The Plaintiff also seeks $200,000 for emotional damages as a direct result of Farrar’s assaults. Based on her testimony, the court finds her request appropriate in light of the graphic sexual assaults she endured and the specific physical injuries she sustained. Accordingly, the Plaintiff will be awarded a total of $632,888 in compensatory damages.
The Plaintiff is also entitled to punitive damages. Under the § 1983 standard for such damages, the court strains to think of a clearer example of demonstrating a “callous indifference” to a prisoner’s Eighth Amendment rights than extorting sexual favors in exchange for medical treatment. Accordingly, the Plaintiff will be awarded $100,000 in punitive damages.
The Plaintiff will be awarded $732,888 in damages. On her timely and proper motion, the court will also award attorneys’ fees and costs.
Painter v. Blue Ridge Reg’l Jail Auth., Case No. 6:17cv34, July 31, 2018. WDVA at Lynchburg (Moon). VLW No. 018-3-332, 9 pp.