Right to Complain About Prison Conditions, Huff v. Corner, et al.
Johnny Huff is a prison inmate with a serious heart condition. While incarcerated at Haynesville Correctional Center, he had to stand in line at an outdoor pill window every day in order to receive his heart medication. The inmates were not permitted to wear coats or any other outdoor clothing, even when it was snowing or raining and the temperature below freezing. In a letter to the director of the Virginia Department of Corrections and other officials, Huff complained about this treatment and referred to "your cold, callus, cruel, evil, uncaring, unmercyful, inhumane officials you left in charge as wardens." For this language, Huff was charged with an Institutional Infraction for "Vulgar or Insolent Language Directed Toward an Employee." He was placed in administrative segregation for more than 90 days.
Huff filed suit pro se claiming that the outdoor pill window violated the Eighth Amendment and the punishment for the letter violated the First Amendment. The judge dismissed the Eighth Amendment claim, but denied a motion to dismiss the First Amendment claim. We filed an amended complaint on Huff's behalf and asked the court to reinstate the Eighth Amendment claim. On March 31, 2008, the district court held that prison officials' conduct did not violate the First Amendment. We have appealed. The case is fully briefed and oral arguments were heard on January 25, 2009. On February 25, 2009, the Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that Huff's speech was not protected by the First Amendment. A petition for rehearing was denied.