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In Foster v. Runnels, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that “it is clearly established under the Eighth Amendment that prison officials are obligated to provide inmates with nutritionally adequate meals on a regular basis.i” The inmate Foster alleged that he was denied 16 meals over the course of a 21 day period by Correctional Officer Cole. “Corrections Officer Sandra Cole was frequently responsible for distributing meals to the inmates while Facility C was on lockdown. On July 21, July 28, and one other occasion in July or August, Cole did not provide Foster with either breakfast or lunch. Foster maintains that Cole also denied him breakfast and lunch on July 22, July 29, August 4, August 5, August 11, and August 12.
Cole maintains that on each occasion, the windows of Foster’s cell were covered with paper. She maintains that she instructed Foster to remove the paper from the windows, but that Foster refused to comply. Cole claims that she was unable to see into Foster’s cell well enough to safely open the food/cuff port. Foster, however, maintains that there was only paper in the back window of his cell. Foster alleges that Cole could see into his cell and that she could have safely fed him. No other guard required Foster to remove the paper from his window nor refused to feed him on account of its presence.”
The court observed: “The deprivation that Foster alleges is the repeated denial of meals over a 23-day period in July and August, 2001. It is undisputed that between July 21 and August 12, Cole did not serve Foster breakfast or lunch on three occasions and Foster alleges that he was denied breakfast and lunch on at least five other days. In total, Foster claims that he was denied 16 meals in 23 days. This is a sufficiently serious deprivation because food is one of life’s basic necessities.”
The sustained deprivation of food can be cruel and unusual punishment when it results in pain without any penological purpose. In the same way that an inmate relies on prison officials to provide appropriate medical care, and protection from assaults by other inmates, inmates rely on prison officials to provide them with adequate sustenance on a daily basis. The repeated and unjustified failure to do so amounts to a serious depravation. [cites omitted].
The court concluded: “On the basis of the evidence presented, a jury could find that Foster suffered a sufficiently serious deprivation and that Cole was deliberately indifferent to the obvious risk of harm. In addition, it is clearly established under the Eighth Amendment that prison officials are obligated to provide inmates with nutritionally adequate meals on a regular basis.”
i Foster v. Runnels, 554 F.3d 807 (9th Cir. 2008).