University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Johnson v. Little CJ-TN-0004
Docket / Court 3:06-cv-00946 ( M.D. Tenn. )
State/Territory Tennessee
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Case Summary
On October 4, 2006, a death-sentenced inmate of the Riverbend Maximum Security Prison in Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee, filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Tennessee Department of Corrections in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. The State of ... read more >
On October 4, 2006, a death-sentenced inmate of the Riverbend Maximum Security Prison in Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee, filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Tennessee Department of Corrections in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. The State of Tennessee allows death-sentenced prisoners who committed their crimes prior to 1999 to choose their method of execution - lethal injection or the electric chair. Plaintiff complained to the Court that both methods of execution used in Tennessee were unconstitutional because they would torture the executed prisoner.

Plaintiff objected to the use of the state's electric chair (which was nicknamed "Old Sparky") during his execution by arguing that it had been modified and would not work properly because it would not deliver an adequate current. He quoted the manufacturer, who responded to the news of the chair's modifications by saying that the changes would make it an "instrument of torture" that is "tantamount to somebody being burned at the stake." Plaintiff also referred to allegedly botched executions involving electric chairs in other states.

Plaintiff also objected to the defendants' lethal injection protocol, arguing that it led to an unconstitutional risk of torture because it 1) did not specify the required credentials of the medical personnel involved, 2) involved the use of an anesthetic that would work only for a very short duration, therefore allowing the plaintiff to feel pain, 3) involved the use of a paralytic agent that would render the condemned unable to express the pain that he was feeling and unable to breathe, and 4) involved a dose of potassium chloride that was high enough to cause extreme pain but not high enough to arrest the heart and cause death. Plaintiff alleged that this combination of chemicals would render him conscious, paralyzed, and in extreme pain while he suffocated to death.

On October 10, 2006, the defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint and motion for a preliminary injunction, arguing that Plaintiff had not shown any likelihood of success on the merits and that he had brought the complaint only to delay his execution. Nine days later, the District Court (Judge Todd J. Campbell) denied Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction and granted the motion to dismiss, finding that Plaintiff was unlikely to succeed at trial and that he had brought the case only to delay the execution. Plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit granted motions to stay and consolidate the case with a similar death-row case, Harbison v. Little (07-6225). In that case, the District Court ruled that the lethal injection method was unconstitutional, and the defendants appealed. These two consolidated cases were stayed until the United States Supreme Court decided a Kentucky case, Baze v. Rees, CJ-KY-0002. In Baze, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that the Kentucky legal injection method, which was similar to the method used in Tennessee, was constitutional. Following that decision, the parties in this case set an oral argument date in December 5, 2013. However, on December 3, 2013, the Court of Appeals granted a joint motion to dismiss the appeals as moot, following the implementation of a new lethal injection protocol by the state of Tennessee.

Justin Benson - 03/21/2012
Maurice Youkanna - 07/28/2014


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Due Process
Death Penalty
Electric chair
Lethal Injection - Chemicals Used
Lethal Injection - General
Lethal Injection - Staffing (including physician)
Defendant-type
Corrections
Jurisdiction-wide
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) Tennessee Department of Corrections
Plaintiff Description A death-sentenced inmate of the Riverbend Maximum Security Prison in Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year 2013
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing CJ-KY-0002 : Baze v. Rees (State Court)
Additional Resources
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Links Philadelphia Forfeiture
http://ij.org/case/philadelphia-forfeiture/
By: Institute for Justice (Institute for Justice)
[ Detail ]

Docket(s)
3:06-cv-00946 (M.D. Tenn.) 12/03/2013
CJ-TN-0004-9000.pdf | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint 10/04/2006
CJ-TN-0004-0001.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Motion to Dismiss of Defendants Little and Bell 10/10/2006
CJ-TN-0004-0002.pdf | Detail
Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss of Defendants Little and Bell 10/10/2006
CJ-TN-0004-0003.pdf | Detail
Amendment to Complaint 10/18/2006
CJ-TN-0004-0004.pdf | Detail
Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Memorandum in Support 10/18/2006
CJ-TN-0004-0005.pdf | Detail
Memorandum [Granting Motion to Dismiss. Denying Preliminary Injunction] 10/19/2006 (2006 WL 2993339) (M.D. Tenn.)
CJ-TN-0004-0006.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [Staying and Consolidating Case] 01/27/2009
CJ-TN-0004-0007.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Joint Motion to Dismiss 11/27/2013
CJ-TN-0004-0008.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [Dismissing Case] 12/03/2013
CJ-TN-0004-0009.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Campbell, Todd J. (M.D. Tenn.)
CJ-TN-0004-0002 | CJ-TN-0004-0003 | CJ-TN-0004-0006 | CJ-TN-0004-0009 | CJ-TN-0004-9000
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Bottei , Paul R. (Tennessee)
CJ-TN-0004-0001 | CJ-TN-0004-9000
Henry , Kelley J. (Tennessee)
CJ-TN-0004-0001 | CJ-TN-0004-0004 | CJ-TN-0004-0005 | CJ-TN-0004-0007 | CJ-TN-0004-0008 | CJ-TN-0004-9000
Minton, Christopher M. (Tennessee)
CJ-TN-0004-0001 | CJ-TN-0004-9000
Swift, Gretchen L. (Tennessee)
CJ-TN-0004-0001 | CJ-TN-0004-0004 | CJ-TN-0004-0005 | CJ-TN-0004-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Campbell, Martha A. (Tennessee)
CJ-TN-0004-0002 | CJ-TN-0004-0003 | CJ-TN-0004-9000
Hudson , Mark Alexis (Tennessee)
CJ-TN-0004-0002 | CJ-TN-0004-0003 | CJ-TN-0004-0007 | CJ-TN-0004-0008 | CJ-TN-0004-9000
Moore, Michael E. (Tennessee)
CJ-TN-0004-0002 | CJ-TN-0004-0003
Other Lawyers None on record

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