(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Tuesday revived a lawsuit in which a West Virginia inmate accused state prison officials of invading his privacy by surgically removing marbles he had implanted in his penis.
By a 3-0 vote, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Adrian King could pursue claims that officials at Huttonsville Correctional Center illegally threatened him into consenting to the June 2013 surgery, or risk being segregated from other inmates and lose his eligibility for parole.
Circuit Judge Roger Gregory found “overwhelming evidence” that the intrusion was unreasonable, despite the asserted need by prison officials to police the security threat posed by inmates carrying contraband within their bodies.
“The interest in bodily integrity involves the most personal and deep-rooted expectations of privacy, and here, the nature of the surgery itself, surgery into King’s penis, counsels against reasonableness,” Gregory wrote for the Richmond, Virginia-based appeals court.
King had the marbles implanted in and tattoos drawn on his penis in late 2008, prior to his incarceration, during a “body modification” craze.
He said the surgery left his penis with tingling and numbness, and pain when it is touched or when it rains, snows or gets cold.
King said the surgery also resulted in mental and emotional anguish, saying that prison officials call him “Marble Man” and ask when searching him where his marbles are, and that gay inmates approach him because of how staff gossip about him.
Tuesday’s decision restores claims that King’s Fourth Amendment right against illegal searches and seizures, Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment, and 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection, were violated.
It reversed much of a February 2015 ruling by Chief Judge Gina Groh of the federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and returned the case to her for further proceedings. King is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
Lawyers for the prison officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A lawyer for King did not immediately respond to similar requests.
The appeals court upheld the dismissal of claims against some defendants, including Commissioner Jim Rubenstein of the West Virginia Division of Corrections.
The case is King v Rubinstein et al, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 15-6382.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum