Dean v. Jones, No. 18-7227 (4th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff, a prison inmate, filed suit against two correctional officers, alleging that they used excessive force under the Eighth Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment to the officers, reasoning that even if plaintiff was handcuffed and prone when he was pepper-sprayed or beaten, a reasonable jury would have to conclude that both uses of force were necessary to protect officer safety and proportionate to the threat posed by defendant.
The Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that a reasonable jury crediting plaintiff's account could find that the officers used force not to protect themselves but to retaliate against plaintiff in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The court explained that the excessive force inquiry turns on motive: whether the officers used force in good faith to protect officer safety, as they contend, or whether, as plaintiff avers, they used force maliciously to punish plaintiff for his head-butts. Viewing the record in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the court did not think this question can be answered in the officers' favor as a matter of law. The court concluded that the officers were on "fair notice" of plaintiff's right not to be subjected to force in the form of pepper spray or a beating if that force was deployed to retaliate against plaintiff after he was subdued, and not to protect officer safety. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings.