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Food service times

Spare a moment and shed a tear for the plight of one Keith Gardner. Gardner was a guest of the Virginia Department of Corrections and a voluntary member of that department’s Capital Construction Unit.65 The Capital Construction Unit provided prisoners the opportunity to do real, useful work at construction sites outside of the prison.66

In late 1990 and early 1991 Gardner’s unit was working on a site now known as Southampton Intensive Treatment Center under the direction of Assistant Warden Beale.67 At first, the unit members received three meals every day.68 Beale noticed that very few inmates showed up to the early morning breakfast on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, the days that the unit did not work, so he stopped providing them.69 Beale claimed that he had an informal agreement with the inmates prior to the reduction, but Gardner disputed that.70

After reducing food service to just brunch and dinner, there was an eighteen-hour overnight gap between prisoners’ meals.71 There were at least 34 days on which each prisoner received just two meals.72 The Food Service Operations Manual of the Department of Corrections required three meals to each prisoner per day, and a maximum overnight gap of fourteen hours between dinner and breakfast.73

Gardner did not attend the breakfast meal on non-work days before it was cancelled.74 Nevertheless, he filed an official grievance alleging that the deprivation had left him “starving.”75 Beale restored three-meal service as soon as he heard about the complaint.76 Despite the prompt response from Beale, Gardner filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim over the days of cancelled meals.77 The suit claimed violation of unspecified constitutional rights and “mental anguish,” and sought a cash payout.78

The court appeared to be unimpressed. Even though it carefully relied on other grounds to grant summary judgment to the defendants, the court went to the trouble of pointing out that Gardner did not present any evidence of physical or emotional injury, and that his suffering was probably minimal because he did not attend the breakfast meals when they were available.79

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