United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
case is before the court on (1) Defendant DeWayne Estes's
Second Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 37), and (2)
Defendants Samuel Snelson and Cordaro Melton's Motion for
Summary Judgment (Doc. # 39). The motions have been fully
briefed and are under submission. (Docs. # 38, 40, 43-45,
48). After careful review, and for the reasons explained
below, Defendant Estes is due to be granted summary judgment,
and Defendants Snelson and Melton are due to be granted
summary judgment in part and denied summary judgment in part.
April 2015, Plaintiff was a convicted prisoner housed in high
medium security custody at St. Clair Correctional Facility
(“St. Clair”). (Doc. # 44-2 at 17-18). He was housed
in the P- 2 dorm at St. Clair. (Id. at 42-43). At
approximately 5:43 a.m. on April 17, 2015, Lieutenant Ronald
Carter of the Alabama Department of Corrections was assaulted
and stabbed at St. Clair. (Doc. # 39-2 at 20). (See
also Doc. # 44-2 at 21-22 (identifying the injured
lieutenant as “Lieutenant Carter”); 15-2 at 14
(stating that the assault on Lieutenant Ronald Carter
occurred at 5:43 a.m. on April 17, 2015)). Lieutenant Carter
was transported to UAB Hospital. (Doc. # 39-2 at 20).
Plaintiff has recalled “an unusual hush” in the
dining area on the morning of April 17th when he observed
Lieutenant Carter walk out of a kitchen. (Doc. # 44-2 at
44-45). Plaintiff left the dining area and returned to his
dorm block before the lieutenant's assault occurred.
(Id. at 45-46).
Clair's warden, Defendant Estes, requested that a
Correctional Emergency Response Team (“CERT”) be
dispatched to St. Clair following the stabbing. (Doc. # 15-4
at 4) (page 15 of Estes's deposition). The CERT teams
handle disturbances in Alabama state prisons and search
inmates' property for contraband on an as-needed basis.
(Doc. # 39-2 at 12-13). Defendants Snelson and Melton were
members of the CERT team that entered St. Clair on April 17,
2015. (Id. at 18-19; Doc. # 39-3 at 9-10). Officials
at St. Clair told the CERT team that a lieutenant had been
stabbed, and the CERT team entered St. Clair to “lock
the cell blocks down” so that the inmates' property
could be searched. (Doc. # 39-2 at 20-21). (See also
Doc. # 15-4 at 9) (page 30 of Estes's deposition).
Defendant Estes suspected that an individual assigned to cell
block P or Q stabbed the lieutenant because those blocks were
eating breakfast when the stabbing occurred. (Doc. # 15-4 at
9) (page 30 of Estes's deposition).
recalls hearing a commotion between inmates in the P-2 dorm
and corrections officers, including a warden, before the CERT
team entered the P-2 dorm. (Doc. # 44-2 at 62-63). According
to Plaintiff's deposition testimony, “Warden
Evans” was the warden involved in the verbal dispute.
(Id. at 63). And, prison records indicate that
“Warden Eric Evans” worked at St.
Clair. (Doc. # 15-2 at 12) (mentioning Evans in
an incident report about the use of force drafted in April
2015). After hearing the commotion, Plaintiff walked out of
his cell and escorted another inmate, OC, out of the dorm.
(Doc. # 44-2 at 65-67). When he returned to P-2 dorm, other
inmates were nervous because Evans had indicated that a riot
team would be sent into the dorm. (Id. at 67-68).
Plaintiff told them that the riot team would not bother
anyone if they locked down as ordered. (Id. at 68).
Plaintiff heard the CERT officers travelling down other
hallways, but he was downstairs making a cup of coffee when
the CERT officers entered P-2 dorm. (Id. at 68-69).
CERT team entered the P-2 dorm from the upper floor at
approximately 10:10 a.m. (Docs. # 15-2 at 12; 39-2 at 23).
According to Plaintiff, the CERT team blocked him from
travelling from the downstairs area to his upstairs cell
because they walked down the stairs two abreast. (Doc. # 44-2
at 69). Plaintiff attempted to appear non-threatening, placed
his hands behind his head, and walked towards the staircase
so that he could enter his cell. (Id. at 69). An
unidentified corrections officer grabbed his head and
squeezed his eye. (Id.). Plaintiff reacted by
punching the officer. (Id. at 69-70). The
corrections officer -- later identified as Defendant Melton
-- tackled Plaintiff, placed him in a headlock, and tilted
his head upwards. (Id. at 70, 73). Then, Defendant
Snelson arrived with a stick (described by the parties as a
baton). (Id. at 71). Plaintiff wrestled with Melton
to loosen his arms so that he could protect his head.
(Id.). Snelson hit Plaintiff in the head two or
three times with the baton. (Id. at 71-72).
Plaintiff blocked one blow with his right hand and one blow
with his left hand. (Id. at 72-73). After
Plaintiff's head had split open, Defendant Melton
released Plaintiff from the lock, grabbed him by the throat,
and punched him in the chin. (Id. at 71). Plaintiff
lost consciousness thereafter, but recalled that other
officers hit him in the legs and body with batons before he
lost consciousness. (Id. at 71, 73).
Plaintiff lost consciousness, a melee broke out between the
inmates in the P-2 dorm and the CERT officers. (See
Doc. # 39-2 at 28). The inmates attacked the officers with
broomsticks and locks tied to belts and socks.
(Id.). One inmate struck Defendant Melton's head
with a broomstick. (Doc. # 39-3 at 14). After using force
against several rioting inmates, the CERT officers handcuffed
them and transferred them to St. Clair employees for
treatment at the infirmary. (Doc. # 15-2 at 12).
has testified that, after being handcuffed, he stumbled out
of the cell block and was lined up against a wall. (Doc. #
44-2 at 92). An unidentified St. Clair employee
“[slung] him head first into the wall in [his]
handcuffs.” (Id.). Another St. Clair officer
picked Plaintiff up and assisted him to the prison's
infirmary. (Id. at 93). After an examination in the
infirmary, paramedics transported Plaintiff and two other
prisoners to UAB Hospital. (Doc. # 15-2 at 12). Plaintiff
left the infirmary at approximately 11:10 a.m. and exited St.
Clair in an ambulance at approximately 11:20 a.m.
(Id.). UAB Hospital admitted Vann that evening for
further care. (Id.).
received a large gash on the back of his head that required
39 staples to close. (Id. at 72, 114). He suffered
from sore ribs due to a kick or a hit in his ribs.
(Id. at 115). Employees at UAB Hospital told him
that he had bruised lungs and ribs following the incident.
(Id.). His right elbow and right hand swelled up,
and he had scars on his right elbow and right hand.
(Id. at 116-18). He suffered no broken bones.
(Id. at 118). Prison medical records state that
Plaintiff had hematomas on his face and head, along with a
small laceration on his knee and injuries on his right
hand. (Doc. # 44-3 at 46). Plaintiff was
transported to UAB Hospital and admitted for one or two days.
(Doc. # 44-2 at 116).
Standard of Review
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is
proper “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the
affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party asking for
summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of
informing the court of the basis for its motion and
identifying those portions of the pleadings or filings which
it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact. Id. at 323. Once the moving party has
met its burden, Rule 56 requires the non-moving party to go
beyond the pleadings and -- by pointing to affidavits, or
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and/or admissions on
file -- designate specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.
substantive law will identify which facts are material and
which are irrelevant. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)
(“Anderson”). All reasonable doubts
about the facts and all justifiable inferences are resolved
in favor of the non-movant. See Allen v. Bd. of Pub.
Educ. for Bibb Cty., 495 F.3d 1306, 1314 (11th Cir.
2007); Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112,
1115 (11th Cir. 1993). A dispute is genuine “if the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson,
477 U.S. at 248. If the evidence is merely colorable, or is
not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.
See Id. at 249.
faced with a “properly supported motion for summary
judgment, [the non-moving party] must come forward with
specific factual evidence, presenting more than mere
allegations.” Gargiulo v. G.M. Sales, Inc.,
131 F.3d 995, 999 (11th Cir. 1997). As Anderson
teaches, under Rule 56(c) a plaintiff may not simply rest on
her allegations made in the complaint; instead, as the party
bearing the burden of proof at trial, she must come forward
with at least some evidence to support each element essential
to her case at trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.
“[A] party opposing a properly supported motion for
summary judgment ‘may not rest upon the mere
allegations or denials of his pleading, but . . . must set
forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue
for trial.'” Id. at 248 (citations
judgment is mandated “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., 477 U.S. at 322. “Summary judgment may be
granted if the non-moving party's evidence is merely
colorable or is not significantly probative.”
Sawyer v. Sw. Airlines Co., 243 F.Supp.2d 1257, 1262
(D. Kan. 2003) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at
the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not
himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the
matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for
trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.
“Essentially, the inquiry is ‘whether the
evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require
submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one
party must prevail as a matter of law.”
Sawyer, 243 F.Supp.2d at 1262 (quoting
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52); see also LaRoche
v. Denny's, Inc., 62 F.Supp.2d 1366, 1371 (S.D. Fla.
1999) (“The law is clear . . . that suspicion,
perception, opinion, and belief cannot be used to defeat a
motion for summary judgment.”).
careful review, the court concludes that Plaintiff's
excessive force claim against Defendants Snelson and Melton
presents a genuine issue of whether they maliciously used
deadly force against him in violation of the Eighth
Amendment. In all other respects, however, Defendants are
entitled to summary judgment.
Plaintiff Has Presented a Triable § 1983 Excessive Force
Claim Against Defendants Snelson and
has asserted a § 1983 claim against Snelson and Melton
for the beating he alleges to have occurred. (Doc. # 25 at
¶¶ 25-30). Claims of excessive force against prison
officials fall under the Eighth Amendment's proscription
against cruel and unusual punishment. To establish an Eighth
Amendment excessive force claim against a prison official, a
plaintiff prisoner must show that the official's actions
amounted to an “unnecessary and wanton infliction of
pain.” Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319
(1986). “[F]orce is deemed legitimate in a custodial
setting as long as it is applied ‘in a good faith
effort to maintain or restore discipline [and not]
maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.'”
Skrtich v. Thornton, 280 F.3d 1295, 1300 (11th Cir.
2002) (quoting Whitley, 475 U.S. at 320-21). In
determining whether an application of force was applied
maliciously and sadistically to cause harm, the court
considers five factors: “(1) the extent of injury; (2)
the need for application of force; (3) the relationship
between that need and the amount of force used; (4) any
efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response;
and (5) the extent of the threat to the safety of staff and
inmates, as reasonably perceived by the responsible officials
on the basis of facts known to them.” Campbell v.
Sikes, 169 F.3d 1353, 1375 (11th Cir. 1999) (internal
quotation marks omitted) (quoting Whitley, 475 U.S.
at 321). The court also may consider an officer's
compliance with established prison policies as evidence of
the official's good faith. Id. at 1376. Upon
consideration of such factors, “inferences may be drawn
as to whether the use of force could plausibly have been
thought necessary, or instead evinced such wantonness with
respect to the unjustified infliction of harm as is
tantamount to a knowing willingness that it ...