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Cunningham v. Warden Dewayne Estes

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

May 15, 2017

ANTONIO CUNNINGHAM, Plaintiff,
v.
WARDEN DEWAYNE ESTES, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ABDUL K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Antonio Cunningham brings this action against Warden Dewayne Estes, Lieutenant Guy Noe, Sergeant Ray, Officer Randy Griffith, and Captain Smith, in their individual capacities, alleging violations of the Eighth Amendment based on their failure to protect him from another inmate. See generally docs. 1; 8. The court has for consideration Defendants' motion for summary judgment, doc. 37, which is fully briefed, docs. 37; 39, and ripe for review. For the reasons below, except for Warden Estes' motion, which is unopposed, doc. 39 at 1, the motion is due to be denied.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), 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.” To support a summary judgment motion, the parties must cite to “particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Moreover, “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, 477 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 the non-moving party's favor when sufficient competent evidence supports the non-moving party's version of the disputed facts. See Pace v. Capobianco, 283 F.3d 1275, 1276 (11th Cir. 2002) (a court is not required to resolve disputes in the non-moving party's favor when that party's version of 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) (citation omitted). Furthermore, “[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) (citation omitted).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         From 2011 to 2013, Cunningham shared a cell with Nakemah Grover at Limestone Correctional Facility in Harvest, Alabama. Doc. 1 at 1-3. During that time, Cunningham and Grover developed an “on-again, off-again” and “stormy” romantic relationship. Id. at 3; see also docs. 37-2 at 14; 39 at 2. Their relationship involved numerous disputes, some physical, and during which Grover openly threatened Cunningham's life. “Between September 6, 2012 and July 7, 2013, at least eight incidents involving physical violence, threats of physical violence, or both occurred between them.” Doc. 1 at 3; see doc. 32-7 at 24, 29; see also docs. 32-7 at 25 (sometimes Grover choked Cunningham); 39-1 at 1 (Inmate Xavier Johnson, states that “[he] witnessed at least two incidents in which . . . Grover and Cunningham had physical fights”); 39-1 at 3 (Inmate Roderick Hightower states that “[he] saw several physical fights, as well as arguments, between them”).

         The first incident relevant to this lawsuit occurred on September 6, 2012, when an argument between Cunningham and Grover escalated into a physical struggle that required other inmates to restrain Grover. Docs. 1 at 3; 37-2 at 23, 25. The scuffle landed both in Captain Smith's office, docs. 1 at 3; 37-2 at 23, 25, where they began arguing again, and in Captain Smith's presence, Grover threatened to “cut [Cunningham's] head off, ” doc. 37-2 at 25. Later that day, Cunningham asked Captain Smith to move him from the cell he shared with Grover. Doc. 37-2 at 25. Captain Smith refused and sent Cunningham instead to lockup (segregation), saying “Shut up, you fucking faggot, ” “[y]ou want to go to lockup?” and “[g]o pack your shit. Go to lockup.” Id. at 23, 25.

         After his release from segregation, the prison returned Cunningham to the cell he shared with Grover. Id. To no surprise, the friction between the two men continued, and a series of incidents between October 3 and December 11, 2012, led to Cunningham and Grover having to sign peace agreements, indicating that they could live together without incident. See docs. 37-3; 37-5; 37-6. Cunningham explains that he signed the agreements reluctantly because the only alternative the officers offered was the segregation “lockup.” Doc. 37-2 at 20.

         A conflict in January 2013 led Grover to hide a weight bar in the cell to use to “bust [Cunningham's] brains out” one night. Docs. 1 at 4; 37-2 at 10-11. The prison confiscated the weight bar when two other inmates reported Grover's plan to Lieutenant Noe.[1] Docs. 1 at 4; 37-2 at 10-13. As a result, officers took Grover and Cunningham to Lieutenant Noe, who instructed Sergeant Ray to “[s]eparate their ass” and “[m]ake sure they don't have [any] contact with each other.” Doc. 37-2 at 13; see also Id. at 10; doc. 1 at 4. However, Sergeant Ray disregarded the directive and returned Cunningham and Grover to their shared cell. Docs. 1 at 4; 37-2 at 10.

         To show his displeasure over the disclosure of his plan to bludgeon Cunningham, Grover physically confronted Cunningham and the two inmates he blamed for reporting him. Doc. 37-2 at 12. Relevant here, Grover argued with Cunningham in their cell, pushed Cunningham “against the wall, ” and struck Cunningham with his fist. Id. at 13. Cunningham pushed and hit Grover back, and then ran to the gym. Id. Ultimately, the four inmates signed a peace agreement, indicating that they could live together in B Dorm “without violence existing between [them].” Doc. 37-4.

         Sometime in the spring of 2013, Cunningham ended the relationship, telling Grover that he “wanted to separate from him, because . . . [Grover] was beginning to scare [Cunningham].” Doc. 37-2 at 14. As Cunningham describes it, he feared Grover, because “as [they] got into the relationship, [Grover] got violent.” Id. at 16. After ending the relationship, Cunningham “began the process of writing a request to be separated from [Grover].” Id. at 14. Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case with abusive partners, Grover's physical threats escalated after the break up. See Id. at 14-16, 26; doc. 39-1. One inmate recalls that “[a]fter the relationship between them ended, there developed hostility” between Cunningham and Grover. Doc. 39-1 at 4. In fact, soon thereafter, an altercation landed Cunningham and Grover in segregation. Doc. 39 at 2. When they returned to general population, Sergeant Ray placed them in separate cells, albeit in the B Dorm, which meant that “they [still] had daily access to each other.” Id. at 3; see also doc. 39-1 at 3. To ensure his safety, Cunningham told the dorm and shift officers that he was “tired of being bothered by Grover, ” and wanted to be in a different dorm. Doc. 39-1 at 3-4.

         On April 13, 2013, during an altercation in front of Captain Smith's office that required the intervention of other inmates, Grover threatened to kill Cunningham. Docs. 1 at 4; 37-2 at 26. In response, the officer on duty - Officer Moore - separated Cunningham and Grover for a period of time that day. Doc. 37-2 at 26. Sometime that day, Grover sent a request to Officer Moore for the prison to separate him from Grover. Id.; see also doc. 39-1 at 1. After discussing Cunningham's request with Captain Smith, Officer Moore told Cunningham that Captain Smith “couldn't move [Cunningham], and that he wasn't going to place [Cunningham] in C Dorm, because the C Dorm . . . was for . . . the elders, or the only dorm or something, and [Cunningham] had disciplinaries so [he] couldn't be placed over there.” Doc. 37-2 at 26. Officer Moore communicated with Captain Smith again about the transfer request,

but to no avail. Id.; see also doc. 39-1 at 1.

         Later that night, Grover attempted to attack Cunningham with a razor in the shower. Doc. 37-2 at 14-15, 17. As Cunningham showered, Grover tried to approach Cunningham twice. Id. at 17. After Cunningham informed Grover on both occasions that he did not want to speak to him, Grover returned a third time with a double-blade razor (broken in half), stating “Bitch, I'm fixing to cut your throat.” Id. at 14-15, 17. This incident ended when “the officer in the cube, ” located four feet from the shower, “beat on the glass” and “told [Grover] to get away from the shower.” Id. at 15. Cunningham later informed the officer, who had not seen the razor blade, that Grover had attempted to attack Cunningham with a razor. Id. at 15-17. The officer removed Grover from the shower area, and reported the incident to Lieutenant Noe, who instructed the officer to “lock [Grover's] ass” in his cell, which the officer did. Id. at 16-17.

         The following day, Lieutenant Noe discussed the previous night's events, including the Cunningham-Grover situation, with Officer Howard, Lieutenant Pickens, and Sergeant Bragg. Doc. 37-2 at 26. During that discussion, Lieutenant Pickens “suggested that one, or both, be locked up until one was released for fear that one or both would be injured or killed.” Id.; see also doc. 39-1 at 1 (“[Inmate Johnson] overheard Lt. Pickens tell Capt. Noe that, if [Cunningham and Grover] were not separated, one or both would be hurt or killed. Capt. Noe responded that he would not move them.”). Despite ...


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