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Brown v. Price

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

March 31, 2015

DEMARCUS MONDRE BROWN, as Administrator of the Estate of Philemon Coleman, Deceased Plaintiff,
WARDEN CHERYL PRICE, et al., Defendants.


JOHN H. ENGLAND, III, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Demarcus Mondre Brown brings this action as administrator of the Estate of Philemon Coleman against Defendants Warden Cheryl Price, Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Kim T. Thomas, Lieutenant Joel A. Gilbert, Captain Carl Sanders, and Correctional Officers Mark Lavine and Aaron Lewis, asserting Eighth Amendment constitutional claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 and Wrongful Death claims under Ala. Code § 6-5-410. (Doc. 25).[2] The remaining defendants move for partial summary judgment as to Brown's § 1983 claims. (Doc. 39).[3] The motion is fully briefed and ripe for review. (Docs. 40 & 42). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED.

I. Standard of Review

Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." "Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 447 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who is required to "go beyond the pleadings" to establish that there is a "genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). A dispute about a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

The court must construe the evidence and all reasonable inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (all justifiable inferences must be drawn in the non-moving party's favor). Any factual disputes will be resolved in Plaintiff's favor when sufficient competent evidence supports Plaintiff's version of the disputed facts. See Pace v. Capobianco, 283 F.3d 1275, 1276-78 (11th Cir. 2002) (a court is not required to resolve disputes in the non-moving party's favor when that party's version of the events is supported by insufficient evidence). However, "mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion." Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald Mtn. Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 836 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)). Moreover, "[a] mere scintilla' of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the jury could reasonably find for that party." Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).

II. Factual Background

At the time of his death on February 6, 2012, Coleman was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for murder at Donaldson Correctional Facility. (Doc. 34-1 at 3).[4] Coleman was incarcerated in the segregation unit from December 29, 2009, until his death. (Doc. 49-3 at 51). The evidence indicates Coleman was offered all of the medications and routine tests he required for his hypertension and diabetes while in segregation. (Doc. 49-3 at 50-55). After Coleman's death, the Jefferson County Coroner's Medical Examiner Office performed an autopsy on the body and concluded he died a natural death from atherosclerotic coronary artery disease with contributing hypertensive cardiovascular disease. (Doc. 34-2 at 2).

On the night of Coleman's death, Defendant Gilbert was the shift supervisor, (doc. 49-2 at 5 (19)); non-party E. Mitchell was the cubical officer, ( id. at 10 (17)); and Defendants Lavine and Lewis were assigned to the segregation unit as "rovers, " ( id. at 45-46). According to the duty post log, Lewis and Lavine conducted safety and security checks throughout the evening of February 5, 2012, with each resulting in an "all secure." (Doc. 49-2 at 46-47). At 9:05 p.m., Lavine left the disciplinary segregation unit (I and J) for units P and Q, his primary assignment. (Doc. 49-2 at 8 (30) & 47). At 10:00 p.m., Lewis was reassigned to units A and B due to a shortage of staff.[5] (Doc. 49-2 at 8 (30) & 47). At 11:15 p.m., Lavine returns to I and J to conduct a "bed roster, " resulting in all "16 [inmates] accounted for." (Doc. 49-2 at 8 (29) & 47). Between 12:05 a.m. and 2:15 a.m. on February 6, 2012, the duty post log records no safety and security checks or any other events. ( Id. at 47). At 2:15 a.m., Lewis returned from A and B to begin distributing food trays. ( Id. ). Around 2:30 a.m., Lewis discovered Coleman unresponsive in his cell and called for assistance. ( Id. at 48). Sanders arrived and called for a stretcher. ( Id. ). He also called Lieutenant Gilbert, who arrived shortly thereafter. ( Id. at 15 (59) & 48). Nurses Wix and Smith arrived to assist Coleman, (doc. 49-2 at 48), unsuccessfully attempting defibrillation, ( Id. at 15 (59)). Gilbert and the nurses then began CPR. ( Id. at 15 (59-60)). Coleman was pronounced dead at 3:08 am. (Doc. 34-2 at 2).

Brown asserts there was an attempted cover up of the events of that night. (Doc. 42 at 2). After Coleman's death, Gilbert told Lavine "to make sure that the schedules that were being kept... reflected that he made rounds which he did not make" on the night Coleman died. (Doc. 49-2 at 4 (13)). Gilbert testifies later in the same deposition he had not asked Lavine "to write down in [the duty post] log that he had done checks in the particular unit I and J" but that he had told Lavine "the logs better reflect that he made his rounds." ( Id. at 8 (31-32)). It is unclear what exactly Gilbert is testifying he did, but, in any event, he was disciplined for conduct "unbecoming of an officer either on or off duty." ( Id. at 4 (13)). Under the Rule 56 standard, the Court construes Gilbert's ambiguous testimony in favor of the plaintiff, as evidence of an attempt to cover up the undisputed fact of Lavine's failure to do all of his rounds.[6]

III. Analysis

A. Count I - § 1983

Count I of Brown's amended complaint asserts a § 1983 claim based on alleged violations of Coleman's Eighth Amendment rights, made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. (Doc. 25 at 6-7).

Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 authorizes private parties to enforce federal constitutional rights (and some federal statutory rights) against defendants who act under color of state law. Section 1983 states as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia [i.e., law], subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was ...

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