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Clark v. Price

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

January 4, 2018

DANIEL B. CLARK, Plaintiff,
v.
CODY PRICE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KARON OWEN BOWDRE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The magistrate judge filed a report on November 13, 2017, recommending the defendants' motion for summary judgment be granted in part and denied in part. (Doc. 38). Specifically, the magistrate judge recommended that the defendants' motion for summary judgment be granted on the plaintiff's Eighth Amendment excessive force claims against them in their official capacities for monetary relief. (Id.). The magistrate judge further recommended that the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's Eighth Amendment excessive force claims against them in their individual capacities be denied. (Id.). The defendants filed objections to the report and recommendation on November 27, 2017. (Doc. 40).

         A. Scott v. Harris

          The defendants first argue that the magistrate judge did not apply Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372 (2007), to the summary judgment facts. (Doc. 40 at 2-12). The defendants contend that the evidence blatantly contradicts the plaintiff's version of events and the court should not credit the plaintiff's version of events under Scott. (Id.).

         In Scott, a video recorded a high speed chase between a police officer and a §1983 plaintiff and contradicted the plaintiff's version of events. Id. at 374-75, 378-81. The Supreme Court held that the plaintiff's version of events was “so utterly discredited by the record, " it would view the “facts in the light depicted by the videotape." Id. at 380-81. The Court explained that “[w]hen opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment." Id. at 380.

         In contrast to Scott, the record here does not contain a video of the encounter between Mr. Clark and defendants on April 13, 2016. The Eleventh Circuit has since analyzed the holding in Scott in cases that do not involve video evidence. See Morton v. Kirkwood, 707 F.3d 1276, 1284-85 (11th Cir. 2013); Joassin v. Murphy, 661 Fed.App'x 558, 559-60 (11th Cir. 2016).

         Mr. Clark alleges that on April 13, 2016, he was handcuffed behind his back during a medical examination in the Health Care Unit. (Doc. 33 at 19, Clark Aff.). He claims that during the examination, Officer Nathan Johnson accused the plaintiff of looking at him. (Id.). Mr. Clark states that he looked away from Officer Nathan Johnson, but Johnson walked into his view and accused the plaintiff of Aeyeballing" him. (Id.). Mr. Clark responded that no rule prevented the plaintiff from looking at Nathan Johnson. (Id.).

         Mr. Clark alleges that Sergeant Cody Price placed his right hand on the plaintiff's left shoulder and told him to Astop smarting off at his [o]fficers." (Doc. 33 at 20, Clark Aff.). Thereafter, he claims Sergeant Price Aeased his thumb over my windpipe and was pressing them together." (Doc. 33 at 20, Clark Aff.). Mr. Clark alleges he could not move his head or neck and that Price pressed on his windpipe until he started Apassing out." (Id.). He states that Sergeant Clint Johnson threw him head first onto the floor. (Doc. 33 at 20, Clark Aff.). He contends Sergeant Clint Johnson, Sergeant Price, and Correctional Officer Nathan Johnson began to assault him while he was still handcuffed behind his back. (Doc. 7 at 4; Doc. 33 at 3). Specifically, Mr. Clark alleges Nathan Johnson Acame down" on his back and twisted his arm while Clint Johnson kneed him in the back and hit him on his thighs. (Doc. 33 at 20, Clark Aff.). He claims Sergeant Price had his left hand pressed on the right side of the plaintiff's face, pushing the plaintiff's face against the floor. (Id.). Mr. Clark alleges Sergeant Price took his right hand and continued to squeeze the plaintiff's windpipe, stating, “'Bitch[, ] I will kill you! Bitch[, ] this [is] how you choke a mutherfucker [sic]!'" (Id.).

         Mr. Clark contends that when the officers saw that he was not fighting back, they stopped assaulting him and told him to get into a seated position. (Doc. 33 at 20, Clark Aff.). He argues that he posed no threat to himself, security staff, or medical staff and did not exhibit any aggressive behavior before officers assaulted him. (Doc. 33 at 11, 15-16).

         Nurse Peoples conducted a “Post Use of Force" examination of the plaintiff. (Doc. 24-8 at 9-10). She noted that the plaintiff's eyes were red, but that he had no head or other injuries A[at] this time." (Id. at 9). Peoples advised the plaintiff that if he had any changes in his medical condition to notify medical staff as soon as possible. (Id. at 10).

         On April 19, 2016, Mr. Clark submitted a sick call request in which he stated that he sustained a severe concussion three to four weeks prior and that he was experiencing similar symptoms as a result of Sergeant Price, Sergeant Clint Johnson, and Officer Nathan Johnson “slamm[ing]" him on his head on April 13, 2016. (Doc. 24-8 at 11). On April 20, 2016, medical staff examined the plaintiff for complaints of headache, blurred vision, and dizziness and prescribed him pain medication. (Doc. 24-8 at 12-13). Mr. Clark states he was already prescribed medication for dizziness and “there was nothing more [medical staff] could do." (Doc. 33 at 12).

         The plaintiff and the defendants have submitted the photographs taken of him shortly after the use of force on April 13, 2016. (Doc. 24-1 at 4; Doc. 34 at 18). Both the plaintiff and the defendants argue that the photographs support their version of events. Mr. Clark contends the photographs show swelling to the left side of his face as a result of the defendants throwing him to the ground and Sergeant Price holding his head down on the floor. (Doc. 34 at 18). The defendants argue the photographs do not show any injury to the plaintiff and contradict his claims. (Doc. 40 at 6). However, the court cannot tell definitively from the black and white photographs whether Mr. Clark's face is swollen, the condition of his neck, or whether he incurred any bruising as a result of the defendants allegedly throwing him down, choking him, kneeing him in the back, and hitting him on his thighs. (Doc. 24-1 at 4; Doc. 34 at 18). Thus, viewing the photographs in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, they do not rule out his claims.

         The defendants also note that Mr. Clark was involved in an altercation at Staton Correctional Facility on May 9, 2016, and beaten severely. (Doc. 40 at 9; Doc. 24-1 at 10; Doc. 24-8 at 15-21). They argue that Mr. Clark made no mention of the injuries he sustained after the April 13, 2016 assault in the medical records compiled after his May 9, 2016 assault. (Doc. 40 at 9-12). However, Mr. Clark's failure to reference an injury he sustained nearly a month before in an unrelated incident at a different facility does not, by itself, discredit his claims in the present action.

         Based on the foregoing, this situation is not one where the record contains evidence that so blatantly contradicts the plaintiffs testimony as to render it utterly discredited and to preclude the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Joassin v. Murphy, 661 Fed.App'x 558, 559-60 (11th Cir. 2016) (finding prison investigator and prison nurse's declarations and records of the inmate's medical treatment did not blatantly contradict and utterly discredit the plaintiffs testimony under Scott where the prison investigator and prison nurse were merely interested witnesses) (citing Jackson v. West,787 F.3d 1345, 1357 n.6 (11th Cir. 2015) (“One cannot >refute' a witness's statements using another witness's statements at summary judgment; such a swearing contest is one for the jury to resolve.")); Pearson v. Taylor, 665 Fed.App'x 858, 865 (11th Cir. 2016) (finding that the medical records refuted the inmate's allegations only as to the severity or existence of his injuries and noting that “our inquiry is not whether [the plaintiff] met a certain arbitrary injury requirement, " but whether force was applied to maintain or restore discipline or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm) (citation omitted). Moreover, Mr. ...


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