On May 1, 2006, an inmate at the Supermax Unit of the Arkansas Department of Corrections who was awaiting execution, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. The inmate was represented by a Federal Public Defender and claimed that the procedures used for carrying out lethal injections in Arkansas were unconstitutional. The district court (Judge Susan Webber Wright) allowed a second death row inmate, to intervene as a plaintiff in the action. Judge Wright denied the defendant's motion to dismiss on June 19, 2006. The court granted the second inmate's motion for preliminary injunction on June 26, 2006 after a hearing during which a medical expert testified that the state's lethal injection procedure created medically unacceptable risks of inflicting pain and suffering. On December 1, 2006, Judge Wright allowed a third inmate to intervene as a plaintiff in this action.
On December 12, 2006, Plaintiff Nooner filled a pro se motion seeking voluntary dismissal of this federal court action. The motion consisted of nonsensical assertions regarding the Department of Corrections and his genitalia. On January 3, 2007, counsel for the Plaintiff Nooner, filed a motion opposing the plaintiff's pro se motion. Defender Brain argued that the pro se motion was a product of the plaintiff's severe mental illness and not an effort to end the present lawsuit. Specifically, counsel argued that "[i]n light of Mr. Nooner's prolific history of filing pleadings pro se that are manifestations of his delusional beliefs and symptomatic of his severe mental illness, the Court should decline to entertain Mr. Nooner's most recent pleading just as it has rejected his previous submissions." On May 5, 2007, the district court denied the plaintiff's pro se motion. The court reasoned that, "the content of Nooner's filings indicate that his goal is to expand, rather than dismiss, his claims."
On July 7, 2007 the United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit issued an opinion that reversed the opinion of the district court and vacated the stay of execution it issued in regards to plaintiff-intervenor Davis. The Court of Appeals found that the district court had "abused its discretion in granting the preliminary injunction and stay of execution." Specifically, the Court of Appeals held that the district court had applied the wrong legal standard in failing to find a delay in Davis' §1983 filing. Accordingly, equity required the district court to consider whether Davis "could have brought his claim at such a time as to allow consideration of the merits without requiring entry of a stay." After considering the record, the court found that "Mr. Davis's delay gives rise to the equitable presumption against a stay in this case, and he has offered no basis for overcoming that strong presumption."
On July 17, 2007 the defendants filed a motion for summary judgement. The defendants argued that Arkansas's lethal injection protocol is substantially identical to the protocol used by the state of Missouri, which was upheld against constitutional challenge by the United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. On July 30, 2007 the plaintiffs filed a reply to the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The plaintiffs argued that they had not been provided with the opportunity to engage in discovery. Furthermore, they argued that even without discovery there were a significant number of genuine issues of material fact. On August 5, 2008 the District Court granted the Defendants' motion for summary judgment and dissolved the stay of Davis' execution. The district court relied on the 8th circuit's approval of Missouri's lethal injection protocol, which the court found was sufficiently similar to Arkansas' protocol. Specifically, the court found that the "Plaintiffs have failed to come forward with evidence that Arkansas' protocol for execution by lethal injection subjects them to constitutionally significant risk of pain."
On February 8, 2010 the United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the defendants. As a first matter, the Court of Appeals found that the district court had not abused its discretion by finding that the lack of discovery in the case had not prevented the motion from being ripe. Next, the Court of Appeals found that Arkansas' protocol was substantially similar to Missouri's protocol upheld by the Court of Appeals and to Kentucky's protocol upheld by the Supreme Court.
On November 10, 2010 the clerk of the United States Supreme Court sent a letter to the Clerk of the United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit to inform the court that the Supreme Court had denied the plaintiffs' petition for a writ of certiorari.Justin Benson - 01/30/2012