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Riggins v. Myers

United States District Court, Southern District of Alabama, Southern Division

July 21, 2017

DARRYL RIGGINS, AIS # 184051, Plaintiff,
WALTER MYERS, et al., Defendants.



         This action is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Warden Walter Myers, Sergeant Emily Whittle, Lieutenant Regina Bolar and Captain Daryl Fails and supporting affidavits and the response in opposition filed by Plaintiff Darryl Riggins and supporting evidence. (Docs. 26, 28) Upon consideration, and for the reasons set forth herein, Defendants' motion is GRANTED in part, and DENIED in part, as set forth herein.

         I. Factual History [1]

         In July 2014, Plaintiff Darryl Riggins was an inmate in the custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections. He was housed at Holman Correctional Facility. At all relevant times, Walter Myers was the Warden at Holman and Sgt. Whittle, [2] Lt. Bolar, and Capt. Fails were Correctional Officers employed at Holman. They were among the Correctional Officers charged with supervision of Riggins. (Doc. 1) Regina Hardy was a nurse at the Holman Health Care Unit.[3]

         Riggins alleges that in or around July of 2014, Sgt. Whittle gave him five cellular telephones. She instructed him to sell four phones to inmates on her behalf for five hundred dollars ($500) each. Riggins retained one phone for his personal use. (Doc. 1)

         On July 27, 2014, Riggins wrote Warden Myers, Assistant Warden Gwendolyn Givens, Capt. Fails, and Lt. Bolar, as follows:

Sgt. E. Whittle also gave me five (5) cell phones to sale (sic) for her … I'm suppose to keep one phone for myself and sale (sic) four (4) of them at the prison value of $500.00 a piece and bring Sgt. E. Whittle $2, 000.00 back.

(Doc. 28-3)

         Soon thereafter, in August 2014, Riggins was “disciplined for aiding Regina Hardy in violating the rules.” (Doc. 1, p. 4)[4] At his deposition, Riggins testified that Hardy was “caught” with contraband and accused of bringing the contraband to Riggins. (Doc. 28-1, Riggins Depo. p. 11-13) Riggins denied any knowledge of the type of contraband or participation. However, he was found guilty of aiding and abetting and placed in disciplinary segregation for 45 days. (Id.)

         In August, while Riggins was in segregation for this offense, prison officials confiscated the cell phones that Sgt. Whittle had given Riggins to sell. Riggins testified that another inmate had hidden the cell phones for Riggins while he was in segregation. (Doc. 1, p. 4; Doc. 38-1, p. 11-13; Doc. 28-4)

         At some time on or after September 23, 2014, [5] and after Riggins was released from segregation, Riggins wrote Warden Myers and the Investigations and Intelligence Division of the ADOC (I&I), as follows:

However, Sgt. Whittle also gave me 5 cell phones to sale (sic) for her at $500.00 each and I could keep one for myself but the cell phones were taken by the Riot Team in August and since I can't pay Sgt. Whittle, she has resulted to retaliation against me. I owe Sgt. Whittle $2, 000.00.

(Doc. 28-4)

         On or about October 31, 2014, Sgt. Whittle “accosted” him and demanded the payment for the cell phones. Since Riggins did not have the money, Whittle slapped him in the face, choked him and threatened him with further assaults if he did not get the money. (Doc. 1, p. 4) Sgt. Whittle scratched the back of Riggins' neck during the assault. (Doc. 28, p. 14)[6] Riggins reported Sgt. Whittle's conduct to Lt. Bolar but was not allowed to seek medical treatment. (Doc. 28-1, pp. 18, 20)

         That same day, October 31, 2014, Riggins sent a handwritten complaint to Warden Myers, Assistant Warden Givens, and Capt. Fails, as follows:

Greetings, on October 31, 2014, Sgt. E. Whittle did choke and physically slap me in my face with an open palm when I told her I wouldn't be paying her the $2, 000.00 I owed her for the five (5) cell phones she gave me in the month of July 2014 to sale four (4) and keep one for myself.
Sgt. E. Whittle has been physically abusing me by hitting, slapping and choking and even threatening to have spray me with her mace and threatening to have me physically beaten by others. I'm afraid of this officer and fear for my safety around this officer.
Would some please stop this officer from physically attacking /abusing me and threaten me with the same.

(Doc. 28-5)

         Riggins alleges that the next day, November 1, 2014, Sgt. Whittle again confronted him about payment for the cell phones. (Doc. 28-1, p. 29-30) Riggins states that Sgt. Whittle only threatened him on this occasion and did not “do anything” or “beat” him that day. (Id.)

         Concurrent with the events related to the five cell phones, Riggins alleges that Sgt. Whittle called him to the health care unit on three separate occasions during July 2014, for the purpose of having non-consensual sexual intercourse with Nurse Regina Hardy. (Doc. 1) The last of the three incidents occurred on July 25, 2014. Riggins testified that he “saw the money being transferred” from Hardy to Sgt. Whittle; “$100.00 each time.” (Doc. 1; Doc. 28-1, p. 14)

         On July 27, 2014, Riggins wrote to Warden Myers, Assistant Warden Givens, Capt. Fails, and Lt. Bolar about the incidents, stating that “[t]his is my third complaint and nothing has been done to stop this sexual abuse. Would someone please stop this abuse and get me the proper medical treatment and allow me to talk to I&I Investigator[.]” (Doc. 28-3) Riggins did not provide any letters or documents to support his first two complaints. Riggins also wrote that Hardy had given him her panties on July 25, 2014. (Id.)

         On August 19, 2014, Riggins reported the sexual assault to I&I and gave the panties to the Investigator. (Doc. 28-4) At some time after September 23, 2014, Riggins wrote to Warden Myers and I&I, to complain about the sexual assault of July 25, 2014 and the sexual assaults “on two other occasions before that.” (Doc. 28-4) He also wrote that the mental health counselor he spoke with on September 23, 2014, “seems to think it's something to play about.” (Doc. 28-4).He alleges that the Investigator found that the sexual contact was substantiated. (Doc. 1, p. 4)[7]

         II. Procedural History

         On July 20, 2016, Riggins filed the instant complaint against Warden Myers, Sgt. Whittle, Capt. Fails, Lt. Bolar and Nurse Hardy. (Doc. 1) Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Riggins brings five counts wherein he alleges violations of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

         In Count 1, Riggins alleges that Sgt. Whittle subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Specifically, Riggins alleges that Sgt. Whittle acted with deliberate indifference to his constitutional rights by forcing him to have sex with Nurse Hardy and by assaulting and threatening him regarding payment for the cell phones.

         In Count II, Riggins alleges that Capt. Fails and Lt. Bolar violated their “Eighth Amendment duty to make safe[.]” (Doc. 1) Riggins alleges that these Defendants, with supervisory authority over Sgt. Whittle, had knowledge of the sexual assaults and physical assaults, i.e., an excessive risk to Riggins' health and safety, but disregarded the known risk, and did not take any action to protect him. He alleges that they acted with deliberate indifference to a known risk, and therefore, subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment.

         In Count III, Riggins alleges “supervisory liability” as to Capt. Fails and Lt. Bolar based on their supervision of Sgt. Whittle. He alleges that they knew of the sexual assaults and physical assaults regarding the cell phones, but breached their duty to intervene and stop the assaults. Riggins alleges that these Defendants acted with deliberate indifference to a known risk, and violated his Eighth Amendment right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.

         In Count IV, Riggins alleges that Warden Myers, Capt. Fails, and Lt. Bolar failed to provide protective measures. He alleges that these defendants had supervisory authority over Sgt. Whittle and knew of the sexual assaults and physical assaults and threats regarding the cell phones because of his “written complaints of July 25, 2014 and October 31, 2014, among others[.]” (Doc. 1) Riggins alleges that these Defendants failed to implement any procedures to protect him from Whittle; and therefore, they acted with deliberate indifference to a known risk, and subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment.

         In Count V, Riggins alleges that Warden Myers and Capt. Fails, in their official capacities, failed to provide protective measures. He alleges that they knew of the risk of harm created by the trade in contraband cell phones because of a 2011 riot at Holman that occurred when contraband cell phones were confiscated. He also alleges that they knew that cell phones were being brought into Holman as early as 2011, but disregarded this known risk to inmate safety by failing to implement any procedures to protect the inmates. Riggins alleges that this lack of protective measures resulted in the physical assault by Whittle, i.e. cruel and unusual punishment.

         Riggins also brings two counts under state law. In Count VI, Riggins claims negligence against Warden Myers, Capt. Fails, Sgt. Whittle.[8] He alleges that Warden Myers, Capt. Fails and Sgt. Whittle had a duty to maintain a safe and secure environment and a duty to promptly report or investigate complaints of sexual misconduct or physical abuse by the correctional staff, but breached that duty. He also alleges that Sgt. Whittle had a duty not to subject him to sexual and physical abuse, but breached that duty. In Count VII, Riggins claims assault and battery against Sgt. Whittle for slapping and choking him on October 31, 2014 and November 1, 2014.

         III. Conclusions of Law

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Pursuant to Rule “The court shall grant summary judgment 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The party moving for summary judgment bears the “initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for [their] motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which [they] believe[] demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991) (bracketed text added) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). If the moving party does not have the burden of proof at trial, they may show that “there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” United States v. Four Parcels of Real Property, 941 F.2d 1428, 1437 (11th Cir. 1991) (citations omitted). Alternatively, the moving party may support its “motion for summary judgment with affirmative evidence demonstrating that the nonmoving party will be unable to prove its case at trial.” Id. If the moving party meets this burden, the non-movant, as the party bearing the burden of proof at trial, must set forth specific facts, supported by citation to the evidence, to support the elements of the case at trial, and therefore, establish that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 252 (1986).

         Overall, the Court must “resolve all issues of material fact in favor of the [non-movant], and then determine the legal question of whether the [movant] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law under that version of the facts.” McDowell v. Brown, 392 F.3d 1283, 1288 (11th Cir. 2004) citing Durruthy v. Pastor, 351 F.3d 1080, 1084 (11th Cir. 2003). “[A]ll reasonable doubts about the facts and all justifiable inferences are resolved in favor of the non-movant.” Citizens Trust Bank v. Lett, 2015 WL 4254561, at *1 (N.D.Ala. 2015). The Court is obligated to construe the record, including all evidence and factual inferences, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Skop v. City of Atlanta, 485 F.3d 1130, 1136 (11th Cir. 2007).

         However, the mere existence of any factual dispute will not automatically necessitate denial of a motion for summary judgment; rather, only factual disputes that are material preclude entry of summary judgment. Lofton v. Secretary of Dept. of Children and Family Services, 358 F.3d 804, 809 (11th Cir. 2004). “An issue of fact is material if it is a legal element of the claim under the applicable substantive law which might affect the outcome of the case. It is genuine if the record taken as a whole could lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party.” Reeves v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., 594 F.3d 798, 807 (11th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). A genuine dispute of material fact exists “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Allen v. Bd. of Public Education for Bibb County, 495 F.3d 1306, 1313 (11th Cir. 2007).

         B. Eighth Amendment claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         “In order for a plaintiff to establish a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, he must prove (1) a violation of a constitutional right, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law.” Martinez v. Burns, 459 Fed.Appx. 849, 850-851 (11th Cir. 2012) (citing Holmes v. Crosby, 418 F.3d 1256, 1258 (11th Cir. 2005)). The parties do not dispute that Defendants, as correctional officers for the State of Alabama were acting under color of law.

         “The Eighth Amendment, applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, governs the conditions under which convicted prisoners are confined and the treatment they receive while in prison.” Id. (citing Farrow v. West, 320 F.3d 1235, 1242 (11th Cir. 2003); Bass v. Perrin, 170 F.3d 1312, 1316 (11th Cir. 1999)). The Amendment states that “[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” U.S. Const. amend. VIII. “ ‘[T]he unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain ... constitutes cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Eighth Amendment.' ” Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319, 106 S.Ct. 1078 (1986) (some internal quotation marks omitted). “Among ‘unnecessary and wanton' inflictions of pain are those that are ‘totally without penological justification.'” Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 346, 101 S.Ct. 2392, 2399 (1981).

         For prisoners, “[t]he Eighth Amendment can give rise to claims challenging specific conditions of confinement, the excessive use of force, and the deliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious medical needs.” Thomas v. Bryant, 614 F.3d 1288, 1303 (11th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). Additionally, “[b]eyond just restraining prison officials from inflicting ‘cruel and unusual punishments' upon inmates, ‘[t]he Amendment also imposes duties on these officials, who must ... “take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.” ' ” Bowen v. Warden Baldwin State Prison, 826 F.3d 1312, 1319-20 (11th Cir. 2016 (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832, 114 S.Ct. 1970 (1994) (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27, 104 S.Ct. 3194 (1984)).

         C. Analysis

         1. Quali ...

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