WASHINGTON, May 26 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Tuesday that a state cannot keep prisoner suits against corrections officers out of the state courts.
New York legislators, considering prisoner damage suits against guards "largely frivolous and vexatious," passed a law which said state courts no longer had jurisdiction over such suits. Instead, the law channeled the suits against the state to the Court of Claims, a separate court of limited jurisdiction in which a prisoner would not be entitled to attorney fees, punitive damages or injunctive relief.
A prisoner at Attica filed two civil rights suit challenging the law, but the state courts sided with the state.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the law diverting the lawsuits violated the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes the Constitution as the supreme law of the land. Both state and federal courts have jurisdiction over civil rights suits, the opinion written by Justice John Paul Sevens said.
Stevens was joined by the court's three other liberals and swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy.