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Weeks v. Ray

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

January 22, 2018

TIM RAY, et al, Defendants.



         The plaintiff filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his civil rights. (Doc. 1). The plaintiff names the following defendants in the complaint: Sergeant Tim Ray of the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department; Dr. Laura Lindsey and Nurse Myra Brown of the Lauderdale County Detention Center medical staff. (Id. at 3). The plaintiff seeks compensatory damages and injunctive relief. (Id. at 4). In accordance with the usual practices of this court and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the complaint was referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for a preliminary report and recommendation. See McCarthy v. Bronson, 500 U.S. 136 (1991).

         I. Procedural History

         On January 17, 2017, the undersigned entered an Order for Special Report, directing the Clerk to forward copies of the complaint to each of the named defendants and directing the defendants to file a special report addressing the plaintiff's factual allegations. (Doc. 8). The undersigned advised the defendants that the special report could be submitted under oath or accompanied by affidavits and, if appropriate, the court would consider it as a motion for summary judgment filed pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Id.).

         On March 14, 2017, defendant Tim Ray filed a special report, supplemented by affidavits, a video purporting to be of the incident made the basis of the plaintiff's claims, and other evidence. (Docs. 24 & 25). Defendants Dr. Lindsey and Nurse Brown (the “medical defendants”) filed their special report on May 1, 2017. (Doc. 32). In response to the medical defendants' special report, the plaintiff filed a pleading titled “Motion to Enter Evidence, ” wherein he sought to submit certain documents he contends “show proof of diabetes before [his] date of incarceration.” (Doc. 33). By order entered May 17, 2017, the undersigned allowed the plaintiff to submit the documents, but made no ruling as to the relevancy or admissibility of the documents. (Doc. 34).

         Also on May 17, 2017, the undersigned notified the parties that the court would construe the special reports collectively as a motion for summary judgment and notified the plaintiff that he had twenty-one days to respond to the motion by filing affidavits or other material. (Doc. 35). The undersigned also advised the plaintiff of the consequences of any default or failure to comply with Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. (Id.) (citing Griffith v. Wainwright, 772 F.2d 822, 825 (11th Cir. 1985)). On June 9, 2017, the plaintiff filed an unsworn response to the motion for summary judgment (doc. 41), and on October 2, 2017, he submitted a pleading titled “Motion for Summary Judgment.” (Doc. 42).

         II. Standard of Review

         Because the court has construed the defendants' special reports as a motion for summary judgment, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs the resolution of the motion. Under Rule 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.” In making that assessment, the court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and must draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1023 (11th Cir. 2000). The burden of proof is upon the moving party to establish his prima facie entitlement to summary judgment by showing the absence of genuine issues of material fact and that he is due to prevail as a matter of law. See Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). Unless the plaintiff, who carries the ultimate burden of proving his action, is able to show some evidence with respect to each element of his claim, all other issues of fact become immaterial, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Bennett v. Parker, 898 F.2d 1530, 1532-33 (11th Cir. 1990). As the Eleventh Circuit has explained:

Facts in dispute cease to be “material” facts when the plaintiff fails to establish a prima facie case. “In such a situation, there can be ‘no genuine issue as to any material fact, ' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the non-moving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” [citations omitted]. Thus, under such circumstances, the public official is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, because the plaintiff has failed to carry the burden of proof. This rule facilitates the dismissal of factually unsupported claims prior to trial.

Bennett, 898 F.2d at 1532.

         However, any “specific facts” pled in a pro se plaintiff's sworn complaint must be considered in opposition to summary judgment. See Caldwell v. Warden, FCI Talladega, 748 F.3d 1090, 1098 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing Perry v. Thompson, 786 F.2d 1093, 1095 (11th Cir. 1986)).

         Additionally, because the plaintiff is pro se, the court must construe the complaint more liberally than it would pleadings drafted by lawyers. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980). “Pro se pleading are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys and will, therefore, be liberally construed.” Boxer X v. Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1110 (11th Cir. 2006).

         III. Summary Judgment Facts

         On the evening of February 17, 2016, the plaintiff led law enforcement officers on a highspeed chase through Alabama and Tennessee. (Doc. 24-2 at 2, ¶ 3). The chase began in Alabama, when the plaintiff failed to stop for Alabama State Troopers on Lauderdale County Road 8. (Id. at 3, ¶ 5). After being notified of the incident, defendant Sergeant Tim Ray of the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Office joined in the pursuit on County Roads 7 and 139, and continued to chase the plaintiff as he crossed into Tennessee. (Id. at 3, ¶¶ 6-7). The plaintiff eventually turned south onto the Natchez Trace Parkway and crossed back into Alabama, at which point spike strips were placed in his path, damaging his front tires. (Id. at 3, ¶¶ 8-10). The plaintiff rammed a State Trooper's vehicle “multiple times” until a “pit maneuver” by another State Trooper ended the chase. (Id. at 3, ¶ 11-12).

         The plaintiff's vehicle came to a stop with the back half hanging off the side of a hill, and when defendant Sergeant Ray and other officers went to arrest the plaintiff, they all (including the plaintiff) fell down the embankment. (Doc. 24-2 at 5, ¶¶ 13-14)[1] A video of the incident, although at times difficult to see, appears to confirm that the plaintiff and officers rolled down an embankment, and that the plaintiff complained immediately about having a broken leg. (Doc. 24-3). During the initial struggle to apprehend the plaintiff the video is too dark to see the events taking place, but there is no audio evidence of the plaintiff being “assaulted” by the officers. Instead, it appears they are attempting to gain control of the plaintiff's arms to apply handcuffs, and all physical force ceases within approximately one-hundred and fifteen seconds. (Id. at 2:45 to 4:40 (video minutes)).[2]

         The plaintiff was taken by ambulance to the Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital Emergency Room, accompanied by a State Trooper, where it was observed he had “multiple facial abrasions and contusions, ” swelling and tenderness to his nose and forehead, and where x-rays revealed he had suffered a “minimally displaced tibial plateau fracture of his left knee.” (Docs. 32-1 at 5, ¶ 13; 32-4 at 53).[3] The hospital provided him pain medication, a brace, and crutches. (Doc. 32-1 at 5, ΒΆ 13). The plaintiff was taken to North Alabama Bone and Joint on February 19, 2016, where he was examined by Dr. Jonathan Wright, who, after reviewing the emergency room x-rays, determined the fracture was ...

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