Williams et al v. Slack et al, No. 1:2008cv02920 - Document 100 (N.D. Ga. 2010)

Court Description: ORDER AND OPINION GRANTING the Defendants' respective 87 , 88 , and 89 Motions for Summary Judgment; GRANTING Defendants Slack, McCard, and Jackson's 86 Motion for Leave to File Excess Pages; and DENYING AS MOOT Plaintiff's 93 Request for Pretrial Settlement Conference. The Clerk is directed to close this case. Signed by Judge Timothy C. Batten, Sr. on 6/21/2010. (alc)
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elUh' :?, IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COUR lOIO FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORG"-""....L~-:::::::::::. ATLANTA DIVISION ERlC RAYMOND WILLIAMS, GDC NO. 438229, Plaintiff, PRlSONER CIVIL 42 llJ.S.C. § 1983 v. A. SLACK, Correctional Officer II; et aI., Defendants. CIVIL ACTION NO. 1 :O~-CV -2920-TCB ORDER AND OPINION Plaintiff, presently confined in the ValdostaState Prison in Valdosta, Georgia, filed this pro se civil rights action. This matter is before the Court for consideration ofDefendants Arzialous Slack, Joseph McCard!, and Eric Jackson's motion to exceed page limit (Doc. 86), Defendants' motions for summary judgment (Docs. 87-89), and Plaintiffs request for a pretrial settlement confere~ce (Doc. 93). As an initial matter, Defendants Slack, McCard, and Jackson's motion,to exceed page limit (Doc. 86) is GRANTED. 1 A072A (Rev.8/82) Plaintiff incorrectly identifies Officer McCard as "McCord." I. FACTUAL SUMMARY Defendants have submitted Statements of Material Facts supported by affidavits, Plaintiff s deposition testimony, and other documentary evidence, including Plaintiffs medical records. (Docs. 87-89, Statemepts ofMaterial Facts; Doc. 90, Exs. A-M; Doc. 92, Attach. 1 to Ex. J). Plaintiff, however, has failed to file a response to Defendants' Statements of Material Fact, as re¢)uired by Local Rule 56.lB.(2)a. Accordingly, the Court deems Defendants' undisJPuted facts to be admitted. See LR , 56.1 B.(2)a.(2), NDGa; Reese v. Herbert, 527 F.3d 1253, 1268 (lIth Cir. 2008) (stating, "The proper course in applying Local ~ule 56.1 at the summary judgment stage is for a district court to disregard or ignore e"1idence relied on by the respondentbut not cited in its response to the movant's statement ofundisputed facts-that yields facts contrary to those listed in the movant's statement"). On July 31,2007, Officer Slack was assigned to the A-Dorm, units A-I and A­ 2, for the second shift at Phillips State Prison ("PSP"). (Ex. A ~ 4). Officers Jones, Carr, and McCard were assigned to other areas o~PSP. (Exs. B ~ 3, C ~~ 4-6, D ~ 3). Officer Jackson, however, was not on duty at PSP on July 31, 2007. (Ex. G ~~ 3-5). In accordance with standard prison procedure, Officer Slack conducted a random search of Plaintiffs cell at approximate~y 9:40 p.m. (Ex. A ~~ 7, 9). Such 2 A072A (Rev.8/82) searches are designed to, among other things, uncdver contraband, (Id.,-r 9). At that time, there were roughly 56 inmates housed in the A-2 unit, where Plaintiff's cell was located. (Id.,-r,-r 5, 7). When Officer Slack began to search Plaintiff's cell, the other inmates in A-2 were not restricted to their cells, but, were out "in various places on the range." (Id.,-r 8). On entering Plaintiff's cell, Officer Slack saw Plaintiff, who was sitting up in his bed, "make a sudden movement with his left h~nd," but did not place anything on the table. (Ex. A ,-r 10). This action caused Officetr Slack to suspect that Plaintiff was i hiding something, and thus, Officer Slack told Plaiptiffthat he was going to search the cell. (Id.,-r 11). While standing just inside the door to the cell, Officer Slack ordered Plaintiff"to get up and walk towards the (inmate's) left side ofthe cell." (Id.). When Plaintiff stood up, Officer Slack noticed a cell phone on Plaintiff's bunk and went towards the bunk to secure the phone, but Plaintiff grabbed the phone and charged Officer Slack in an attempt to get to the door oflthe cell. (Id.,-r 12). Officer Slack , stood his ground and locked arms with Plaintiff when Plaintiff ran into him. (Id. ,-r 13). Officer Slack was trying to both stay upright and prevent Plaintiff from exiting his cell so that he could throw the contraband phone onto the range where other , inmates might take possession of it or hide it for him. (Id.,-r,-r 13, 15). Because no 3 A072A (Rev.8/82) other officers were present, it was important for Officer Slack's safety that he stay upright to prevent Plaintiff from being on top of him on the ground, which would create a situation where another inmate could potentially take advantage of his compromised position. (Id. ~ 14). During the struggle, Officer Slack and PlaintUf faced each other, chest to chest, and Officer Slack was able to use the radio mic on his shoulder to call for assistance. i (Ex. A ~ 16). As the struggle continued, Officet Slack and Plaintiff reached the i doorway ofthe cell, Plaintiffthrew the contraband phone out ofthe cell with his right hand, and Officer Slack did not see what happened to the phone, which was not , recovered when the range was later searched. (Id. t 17). On hearing another officer enter the unit in response to his radio cC}ll, Officer Sl~ck tripped Plaintiff to the ground in order to handcuff Plaintiff and regain control. (lib ~ 18). Plaintiff landed on his back and maintained his hold on Officer Slack, wQo landed on top facing Plaintiff. (Id.). Officer Jones was the first officer to arrive in! response to Officer Slack's call for assistance. (Ex. A ~ 19, Ex. B ~ 3, Ex. Hat 21). iOfficer Jones saw Officer Slack on the floor struggling with Plaintiff and immediat~ly ran to Plaintiff's cell. (Ex. B i i ~ 3). Officers Jones and Slack grabbed Plaintiff's a:tms and upper torso to hold him ;. l A072A (Rev.8/82) 4 still, rolled him over to his stomach, and handcuffed his wrists behind his back. (Ex. A ~~ 19-20, Ex. B ~~ 4, 7, Ex. H at 22). Neither Officer Slack nor Officer Jones punched, kicked, or hit Plaintiff; rather, they applie~ the force necessary to regain and maintain control of Plaintiff. (Ex. A ~~ 19, 22-23,Bx. B ~~ 4-6). By the time Plaintiff was handcuffed, Of:Qcers Carr, McCard, and Ronald Brown had arrived on the scene in response to Officer Slack's call for assistance. (Ex. A. ~ 21, Ex. B ~ 8, Ex. C ~~ 5-8, Ex. D ~~ 4-5, Ex. F ~~ 4-5). Believing that Officers Slack and Jones had Plaintiff under control, Officers McCard and Brown, as well as several other officers, began securing the A-2 unit. (Ex. D ~ 7, Ex. F ~ 10). Plaintiff continued to kick, thrash around, and generally act combative and, thus, was placed in leg restraints. (Ex. A ~ 21, Ex. B ~ 8, Ex. C ~~ 8-9). None of the responding officers dragged, stomped, punched, kicked, or hit Plaintiff, but they applied the force necessary to regain and maintain control over Plaintiff. (Ex. A. ~~ 22-23, Ex. B ~~ 13­ 14, Ex. C ~~ 20-21, Ex. D ~ 8, Ex. F ~ 11). After Plaintiff was secured in handcuffs and leg restraints, he had to be placed in administrative segregation to await a disciplinary hearing due to his violations of prison rules, namely his "assaultive and insubordinate behavior" towards Officer Slack and possession of a cell phone. (Ex. A 5 A072A (Rev.8/82) ~ 24, Ex. C ~ 18). During the altercation, the other inmates in the A-2 unit, who ~emained unrestrained and outside their cells, began screaming and threatening the ~fficers. (Ex. C , 11). Thus, the situation was quickly escalating and becoming increasingly volatile and dangerous. (Id.). Plaintiffs actions prevented the responding officers from focusing their full attention on other inmates, who could have attacked the officers or the fully restrained Plaintiff. (Ex. A" 26-27, Ex. C, 12, Ex. D, 6, Ex. F" 8-9). Accordingly, for the safety of Plaintiff and the officers, they had to remove Plaintiff from the A-Dorm as quickly as possible and place the other inmates in their cells. (Id.). Because Plaintiff initially continued to struggle and refused to walk on his own, four officers, including Officers Slack, Jones and Carr, were forced to grab a limb and carry Plaintiff down the stairs. (Ex. A ~~ 25,28, Ex. B" 9-10, Ex. C, 13). Plaintiff continued "bucking" his body, kicking his legs, and generally resisting the officers' attempt to carry him. (Ex. A, 30, Ex. B, 10, Ex. C, 14). Plaintiff refused to comply with the officers' verbal instructions to stop bucking.i (Id. ). Due to Plaintiff s bucking and Officer Slack's pre-existing hand injury th~t was aggravated during this altercation, Officer Slack lost his grip on Plaintiff about three-quarters of the way down the stairs. (Ex. A ,,29-30, Ex. B, 10, Ex. C , J 4, Ex. L " 8-10). The officers lost their balance, and Plaintiff s chest and stomach $truck the last two to three steps A072A (Rev.8/82) ofthe stairs. (Ex. A ~ 31, Ex. B ~ 10, Ex. C ~ 14). ,Plaintiff was neither purposefully dropped nor thrown down the stairs. (Ex. A ~ 31, Ex. B ~ 10). As the situation in the A-Dorm continued to intensity, Officer Carr and another officer responding to Officer Slack's call for assistance picked Plaintiff up from the I bottom of the stairs and escorted him out of the dorm. (Ex. A ~ 32, Ex. B ~~ 11-12, Ex. C ~~ 15-16, Ex. E ~ 6, Ex. F ~ 7). Officer Slack then left the A-2 unit and locked down the A-I unit. (Ex. A ~ 33). At no time'did Officer Slack or any other responding officer hit, punch, kick, stomp, throw, or drag Plaintiff. (Id. ~ 34). On August 1,2007, Nurse Sarah Brown and a physician's assistant examined Plaintiff. (Ex. I ~ 7, Ex. J ~~ 7,9). There was no evidence of any injury to Plaintiffs head, neck, or face. (Ex. I ~ 9, Ex. J ~~ 8-9). Rather, Plaintiff suffered abrasions on his stomach, slight swelling of his left shoulder, ankle, and knee, and a contusion on his left side near his wrist. (Ex. I ~ 9, Ex. J ~ 9). A1tItough Nurse Brown believed that I Plaintiff exaggerated his pain level, s~y referred hitn to a physician's assistant who ordered x-rays, gave Plaintiff ibuprofen, and instructed him to return to the clinic if his condition worsened. (Ex. I ~~ 10-11, Ex. J ~ lQ). The x-ray of Plaintiffs chest revealed no sign of fracture or other injury; and al~hough the x-ray of his left ribs showed a possible non-displaced fracture, such a di~gnosis could not be confirmed. 7 A072A (Rev. 8/82) (Ex. J ~ 12). However, after reviewing a' third x~ray of Plaintiffs left rib area, a radiologist found no evidence of a recent fracture or other significant bony abnonnality to Plaintiffs ribs. (Id. ~~ 13-14, 16-18). By August 28,2007, nearly a month after the incident, there was no longer any sign ofinjury to Plaintiffs leg, back, or ribs, and Plaintiff had stopped taking the recorru::p.ended pain reliever. (Ex. J ~ 19). i II. ANALYSIS! Defendants argue that: (1) they did not viol~te Plaintiffs constitutional rights because the force used was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline; (2) Plaintiffs account ofthy ;jncident is $ot supported by the evidence; and (3) they are entitled to qualified immunity. (Doc. 87, brief at 8-20; Doc. 88, brief at 8-16; Doc. 89, brief at 12-31). Additionally, Officer Jackson argues that he is entitled to judgment as a matter oflaw because he was notion duty at the time of the incident and, thus, did not participate. (Doc. 89, brief at 14-15). Plaintiff responds that Officer Slack could have avoided the entire incident by locking Plaintiff s cell and calling his supervisor before beginning the search. (Doc. 96 at 4). Plaintiff maintains that Officer Slack violated prison procedure when he entered the cell of a "verbally or physic.ally :;lssaultive" inmate without prior J, .,). "l" , ; supervisor approvaL (Id. at 7). Plaintiff contends that because "cell phones have 8 A072A (Rev.8/82) become the new fashion in the jails and prisons ~ .. Officer Slack had to bring an additional demeanor in his approach to Plaintiff,'1 and his failure to do so provoked Plaintiffs resentment. (Id. at 10). Plaintiff also faults (1) Officer Jones for not immediately handcuffing Plaintiff s ankles and (20 all of the officers, who allegedly knew about Officer Slack's preexisting hand injurY, for not using a medical stretcher to transport him to administrative segregation. (I!L. at 4-6). Finally, Plaintiff asserts that, had he been examined by an orthopedic specialist, that doctor would have found the injury to his rib-cage2 ¢ (Id. at 8). Plaintiff also has filed a request for a pretrial settlement conference. (Doc. 93). Defendants respond that Plaintiff s request is premature due to the pending summary judgment motions. (Doc. 94). It appears that Plaintiff is attempting to raise a new claim that prison medical staff were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs when they failed to send him to an orthopedic specialist. (Doc. 96 at 9). While Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2) provides that leave to amend should be freely given when justice so requires, "[a] district court need not ... allow ani amendment ... where amendment would be futile." Bryant v. Dupree, 252 F.3d 1161, 1163 (11 th Cir. 2001). In this case, such an amendment would be futile because Plaintiff s new claim is purely speculative, and "the question ofwhether governmental actors should have employed additional diagnostic techniques or forms oftreatment is a classic example ofa matter for medical judgment and therefore not an appropriate basis for grounding liability" I for a § 1983 deliberate indifference claim. Adamsiv. Poag, 61 F.3d 1537, 1545 (11 th Cir. 1995). 2 9 A072A (Rev.8182) A. Summary Judgment Standard, Summary judgment is appropriate "if th¢ pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitleq to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P.56(c)(2). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating that no dispute as to any material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The moving party's burden may be discharged by "'showing' - that is, pointing out to the district court - that there is an absence of evidence to support [an essential element of] the nO'nmovingparty's case." Id. at 325. '·f '- ; In determining whether the moving party has met ~his burden, the district court must "view the evidence and all factual inferences ... 'in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Burton v. City ofBelht, Glade, 178 F.3d 1175, 1187 (11 th Cir. 1999) (internal quotation omitted). Once the moving party has adequately supported its motion, the nonmovant then has the burden of showing that summary judgment is improper by coming forward with specific facts showing a genuine dispute. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). :The nonmovant may not rest upon mere allegations or denials contained in his pleadJings. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 10 A072A (Rev.8/82) Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). Additionally, "[t]he mere existence ofa scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmovant's] position~' is insufficient to defeat summary judgment. Id. at 252. Rather, the court must determine "whether reasonable jurors could find by a preponderance of the evidence that the plaintiff is entitled to a verdict." Id. B. Officer Jackson Officer Jackson states that he was not on duty at PSP on July 31, 2007, when the events at issue occurred. (Ex. G ~~ 3-5). Plai~tiff does not dispute this fact and admitted during his deposition that he may have confused Officer Jackson with Officer Brown. (Ex. H at 163-64). Accordingly, Officer Jackson is entitled to summary judgment because he was not involved in the incident giving rise to this lawsuit. C. Excessive Force "The eighth amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment is triggered when a prisoner is subjected to a[n] 'ull1tecessary and wanton infliction of pain.'" Bennett v. Parker, 898 F.2d 1530, 1532 (11th Cir. 1990). In determining whether the use ofphysical force was cruel and unusual, the core inquiry is "whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or 11 A072A (Rev. 8/82) maliciously and sadistically to cause harm." Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7 (1992). Factors to be considered in this inquiry are: "a) the need for the application of force; b) the relationship between the need and the amount of force that was used; c) the extent ofthe injury inflicted upon the prisoner; d) the extent of the threat to the safety ofstaff and inmates; and e) any efforts made to temper the severity ofa forceful response." Fennell v. Gilstrap, 559 F.3d 1212, 12.17 (11 th Cir. 2009). Courts "give a wide range ofdeference to prison officials acting to preserve discipline and security, including when considering decisions made at the, scene of a disturbance." Id. 1. The Need for Application of Force The use of force is necessary when an inmate creates a disturbance or becomes insubordinate. Bennett, F.2d at 1533. In this ca$e, Plaintiff had a contraband cell phone and acted aggressively and insubordinately When Officer Slack moved to secure the phone. (Ex. A ~~ 12-18). Officer Slack used force to confiscate the cell phone, protect himself, and restrain Plaintiff. (Id.). Seeing Officer Slack struggling on the ground with Plaintiff, Officer Jones used force to help obtain control of and handcuff Plaintiff. (Ex. A ~~ 19-20, Ex. B ~~ 3-4, 7). Once restrained, Plaintiff continued his insubordinate and uncooperative conduct and had to be carried out of the building. (Ex. A ~~ 21,25,28,30, Ex. B ~~ 8-10, Ex. C ~~ 8~9, 13-14 ). Plaintiffs actions and 12 A072A (Rev.8/82) Officer Slack's pre-existing hand injury caused the officers to inadvertently drop Plaintiff. (Ex. A ,-r,-r 29-30, Ex. B,-r 10, Ex. C,-r 14~ Ex. L,-r,-r 8-10). The officers' use of force was necessary to maintain order and restore discipline during a volatile and dangerous situation in the A-Dorm. (Ex. A,-r,-r 26-27,32, Ex. C,-r,-r 11-12, 15-16, Ex. D ,-r 6, Ex. E. ,-r 7, Ex. F ,-r,-r 7-9). Plaintiff does not dispute that some force was necessary in this situation. (See generally Doc. 96). 2. The Relationship Between the NeeeJ and Amount of Force Used The use of restraints is proper when responding officers are "faced with a volatile situation which require [s] them to act promptly and effectively to prevent any further spreading ofthe disturbance." Williams v. Burton, 943 F.2d 1572, 1575 (lIth Cir. 1991) (holding that the use of four-point restr~ints was necessary to prevent an inmate from injuring himself or the responding offi<rers). Defendants contend that the ¢ ! amount of force used by the responding officers was necessary to regain and maintain control over Plaintiff. (Ex. A. ,-r,-r 19,22-23, Ex. B 1,-r 4-6, 13-14, Ex. C,-r,-r 20-21, Ex. D ,-r 8, Ex. F,-r 11). In his response to Defendants' motions, Plaintiff does not answer ! this contention. (See Doc. 96). Rather, Plaiptiff faults Defendants for not (1) obtaining a supervisor's permission before entering his cell, (2) immediately handcuffing his ankles, or (3) using a medical stretcher to transport him to 13 A072A (Rev.8/82) administrative segregation. (Id. at 4-7, 10). This Court, however, cannot substitute its judgment "for that of officials who have made a considered choice," but "must determine whether the evidence goes beyond a mere dispute over the reasonableness ofa particular use offorce or the existence ofargua'ijly superior alternatives." Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 322 (1986). 3. The Extent of Injury to Plaintiff Although de minimis injuries may form the basis of an Eighth Amendment excessive force claim, the extent ofa plaintiff's injury is relevant to determine whether the use of force was necessary and "may also provide some indication of the amount of force applied." Wilkins v. Gaddy, _ U.S. ~, 130 S. Ct. 1175, 1178 (2010). Plaintiff's injuries, which had completely resolved within a month of the incident, included some minor abrasions, swelling of his lef;t shoulder, ankle, and knee, and a contusion on his left side. (Ex. I ~ 9, Ex. J ~~ 9, 19). Plaintiff's contention that an orthopedic specialist would have found a more significant injury is entirely speculative and not supported by any evidence. S~e Cordoba v. Dillard's, Inc., 419 F.3d 1169, 1181 (lIth Cir. 2005) ("[sJI?e.culation does not create a genuine issue of fact") (emphasis in original). Accordingly, the COlfrt finds that Plaintiff's de minimis injuries indicate that the amount of force applied was minimal. 14 A072A (Rev. 8/82) 4. The Extent of the Threat to the Safdy of Staff and Inmates While Officer Slack was initially preoccupied with trying to regain control of and restrain Plaintiff, another inmate could have taken the opportunity to attack him. (Ex. A ~ 14). During the fight, the other inmate~ in the A-2 unit, who remained unrestrained and outside their cells, began screaming and threatening the officers. (Ex. C ~ 11). After Plaintiff was restrained, his continued insubordinate and uncooperative conduct prevented the responding officers from focusing their full attention on other inmates, who could have attacked the officers or the fully restrained Plaintiff. (Ex. A ~~ 26-27, Ex. C ~ 12, Ex. D ~ 6, iEx. F ~~ 8-9). Plaintiff does not dispute these facts. (See Doc. 96). Thus, the Court finds that Plaintiffs actions created a serious threat to his own safety, as well as the officers and inmates present. 5. The Efforts Made to Temper the Severity of a Forceful Response Defendants made several attempts to temp~r the severity of their response. When Officer Slack began the search of Plaintiff s: cell, he simply asked Plaintiff to step away from the area he intended to search. (Ex. A ~ 11). Once Plaintiff charged Officer Slack, he merely grabbed Plaintiff to prevent him from leaving the cell or throwing the phone. (Id.'~ 12-13). In order to regain control of Plaintiff without risking his own safety, Officer Slack only tripped Plaintiff when he knew another 15 , A072A (Rev.8f82) , , officer had arrived on the scene to help secure Plaintiff. (Id.,-r,-r 14, 18). The officers gave Plaintiff the opportunity to walk down the stairs, but he refused. (Ex. A ,-r,-r 25, 28, Ex. B ,-r,-r 9-10, Ex. C,-r 13). Moreover, whil~ going down the stairs, Plaintiff ignored the officers' verbal instructions to stop bucking. (Ex. A ,-r 30, Ex. B,-r 10, Ex. C ,-r 14). This undisputed evidence shows t~t Plaintiff simply resisted the opportunities that the officers provided him to prevent further use of force. Having carefully considered all five factors and the undisputed record evidence, the Court finds that Defendants did not violate Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights. Because this Court is granting summary judgment to Defendants, Plaintiff's request for a pretrial settlement conference (Doc. 93) is demied as moot. III. CONCLUSION For the reasons set forth above, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendants' motions for summary judgment (Docs. 87-89) are GRANTED. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff's request for a pretrial settlement conference (Doc. 93) is DENIED as moot. The Clerk of Court is HEREBY DIRECTE~ to close this case. 16 A072A (Rev.8/82) IT IS SO ORDERED this ). f r I day of J~"...,... , 2010. TIMO HY C. BATTEN, SR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 17 A072A (Rev.8/82)