Published April, 1999

Powell v. Schriver, 175 F.3d 107 (2d Cir. 1999)

In this opinion, the Second Circuit recognizes that a correction officer's disclosure of an inmate's HIV status and transgender status may violate the inmate's constitutional right to privacy and Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment. The court extended the reasoning in Doe v. City of New York, 15 F.3d 264 (2d Cir. 1994)—which stated that individuals have a constitutional right to privacy in the confidentiality regarding medical information, particularly in matters related to HIV status—to confidentiality regarding an individual's transsexualism. It then held that prison officials may impinge on this right only to the extent that their actions are reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. The court held that, because this right was not clearly established at the time of the incident, the correction officer was entitled to qualified immunity, and the claim was dismissed. It is important to note, however, that this case does establish the right clearly, and thus an officer's actions after this opinion was issued presumably would not be entitled to qualified immunity.

The court also held that disclosure of an inmate's HIV-positive status and transgender status could violate the Eighth Amendment because "under certain circumstances and absent legitimate penological purposes [such disclosure] could constitute a deliberate indifference to a substantial risk that the inmate would suffer serious harm at the hands of other inmates." The court held that the officer was not entitled to qualified immunity on this claim because a reasonable prison official at the time would have known that such disclosure would violate the Eighth Amendment.