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Jones v. Myers

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

February 21, 2018

WALTER MYERS, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff De' Angelo Arnez Jones, an Alabama prison inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This action was referred to the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 72(a)(2)(R), and is now before the undersigned on Defendants' Motion For Summary Judgment. After careful review of the pleadings, and for the reasons set out below, it is recommended that Defendants' motion be granted in part and denied in part, as set out in this report.

         I. Summary of Allegations.

         Plaintiff De'Angelo Arnez Jones brings this action against Walter Myers, William DeSpain, Gary Scarbrough, John Wiley, and Michael Everette for acts of negligence and deliberate indifference in violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Doc. 1).

         From its review of the record, the Court summarizes the material factual allegations in this case in the light most favorable to Jones[1] . On June 29, 2014, while housed in Dorm C, at Holman Correctional Facility, Plaintiff Jones claims that inmate Shakil Gamble attacked him with a knife, causing injuries to his back, arms, and chest. (Doc. 1 at 4). According to Jones, Officer John Wiley was assigned to monitor Dorm C at the time of the attack, but Wiley left his post unattended and was “chatting with another officer outside the dorm when the assault occurred.” (Id.). Inmates Santonio Hicks and Bobby Shamburger assisted in stopping the attack by temporarily restraining inmate Gamble and allowing Jones the opportunity to seek help from an officer. (Id.). Jones alleges that while inmate Gamble was restrained, he ran to the front of the dormitory, shook on the bars and yelled to the cadet officer in the cubicle to let him out of the dorm, but Officer Wiley would not authorize or order the door to be opened. (Id.). Jones further alleges that Inmate Gamble broke loose from the inmates' hold and proceeded to chase Jones in circles around the dormitory with the knife, while Officers Gary Scarbrough and Wiley, “stared” and “pointed” at Jones from inside the cubical, and watched as inmate Gamble chased him with a weapon.[2] (Id. at 4, 8, 11; Doc. 31-1 at 2).

         According to Jones, the officers never intervened to assist him. Instead, inmate Gamble eventually “tired out” and voluntarily stopped chasing him. (Doc. 1 at 4, 8). Additionally, Jones claims he did not receive medical attention for his stabbing injuries until the next shift change, [3] approximately three hours later, when the evening shift supervisor, Sergeant Bettis, received a tip, questioned him (and inmate Gamble) about the attack, obtained medical attention for him (and inmate Gamble), and transferred both Jones and Gamble to administrative segregation pending an investigation of the incident.[4] (Id. at 8).

         Jones alleges that in the days following the incident, Warden Myers and Classification Specialist DeSpain spoke with him and assured him that “[his] attacker would not go unpunished” and that Jones would be returned to general population once his wounds healed. (Id.). The Segregation Board, which included Defendants Myers and DeSpain, released Jones to general population on August 5, 2014, and subsequently released Inmate Gamble to general population (unbeknownst to Jones) on August 12, 2014. (Id.).

         Jones asserts that on August 12, 2014, within an hour of Inmate Gamble's release to general population, Gamble attacked Jones with a knife in “the Masjid” near the S-4 gate, and caused injuries to Jones' left eye, arms, shoulders, and neck. (Id. at 9; Doc. 23-4 at 10). Jones also claims that while stabbing him in the chest, arms, shoulders, and back, Inmate Gamble shouted, “I told you I was coming”; “I bet you Die this time!” and “Shut up, ain't nobody here!” (Doc. 1 at 9; Doc. 31-1 at 4). According to Jones, no officers were posted in the area where the attack occurred, and although the attack was observable from the “Population Shift Office, ” no officers intervened in the fight. (Id. at 8-9). Jones asserts that inmate Antonio Nichols helped to restrain inmate Gamble, and while he was doing so, Jones was able to remove the knife from Gamble's hand. (Id. at 9). Jones further contends that he and inmate Nichols “wrestled with Inmate Gamble to hold him down on the floor” until the correctional officers arrived. (Id. at 9).

         Lieutenant Everette, Lieutenant Watson, and Sergeant Kidd arrived to the scene of the altercation (after unnamed inmates informed the officers of the assault). According to Jones, the responding officers remained approximately four to five feet away from the fighting inmates. (Id.). Jones asserts that he approached the officers, with the weapon in hand, to seek medical attention, but instead of walking towards him, the officers backed away and ordered him to “drop the weapon”, to which he complied. (Id., Doc. 31-1 at 5). Jones promptly received treatment following the incident, including sutures to his left eyelid and orbital scans. (Doc. 23-4 at 8, 10, 14, 20).

         Jones alleges that while he was in the healthcare unit, Warden Myers stood alongside the doctor and questioned him about the incident and remarked “how ‘dumb' inmate Gamble was for blowing his ‘second chance'” and “admonish[ed] [Jones] for ‘not telling [Warden Myers] that Inmate Gamble still had a problem with [Jones.]'”[5] (Doc. 1 at 9). Jones further asserts that

Defendant Myers . . . appeared to be disappointed. He shook his head, and asked the whereabouts inmate Gamble; whom [sic] was in the next room, receiving medical treatment; whereof, it is my opinion, that there may have been some kind of “verbal agreement” between inmate Gamble and Defendant Myers, following the week after I had been released from segregation, that Gamble would ‘not attack me again', wherefore, my opinion was drawn after hearing Defendant Myers ask inmate Gamble, in the next room, quote on[sic] quote, “Now why you went right back and bother that boy!?”

(Doc. 31-1 at 5). Following the attack and medical treatment, both inmates were placed in administrative segregation, both received disciplinary charges, were officially validated as enemies, and inmate Gamble was subsequently transferred to another correctional facility. (Id.; Doc. 23-4 at 8, 10, 17, 20; Doc. 23-8 at 4-15; Doc 26; Doc. 30 at 17, 29, 32).

         Jones brings this § 1983 action against the defendants asserting claims related to the June 29 and August 12, 2014 attacks and seeks monetary damages from Defendants in their official and individual capacities. (Doc. 1 at 7). As to the June incident, Jones brings three specific claims. Jones' first claim is against Defendant Wiley. Jones alleges that the lack of security in Dorm C caused the attack. (Id. at 11). Jones' second claim is against Defendants Wiley and Scarbrough. He alleges that his right under the Eighth Amendment to protection from other prisoners was violated. (Id.). Jones' third claim is that Defendants Wiley and Scarbrough were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs pursuant to the Eighth Amendment. (Id.).

         In relation to the August 12 attack, Jones alleges four claims. Jones' first claim is against Defendants Myers and DeSpain for acting negligently and in violation of the Eighth Amendment by releasing Gamble, a known enemy of Jones, into general population. (Id. at 5). Jones' last three claims are against Defendant Everett for negligently or with deliberate indifference[6] failing to provide adequate security outside the S-4 gate which would have prevented the attack, failing to provide a “living agreement” between Jones and Gamble before releasing them into general population together, and failing to protect or properly respond to the assault incident. (Id. at 6).

         Defendants filed Answers and Special Reports and argue that Jones has failed to establish that Defendants had sufficient knowledge of and appreciated the risk of harm, that Defendants acted unreasonably or that their actions or inactions actually caused harm. Thus, Jones cannot establish deliberate indifference. (Docs. 22, 23, 26, 27, 28). Defendants also argue that they are immune from suit in their official capacities, and they assert state-agent immunity from Plaintiff's negligence claims. (Id.). After providing notice to the parties, the Court converted Defendants' Answers (Doc. 22, 27) and Special Reports (Docs. 23, 28, 26) into a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 33), and provided the parties with an opportunity to submit briefs and materials in support or opposition to the motion. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion. (Doc. 34).

         The Court has thoroughly reviewed the parties' pleadings and other submissions. The Motion for Summary Judgment is ripe for consideration.

         II. Applicable Law.

         Summary Judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Garczynski v. Bradshaw, 573 F.3d 1158, 1165 (2009) ("[S]ummary judgment is appropriate even if 'some alleged factual dispute' between the parties remains, so long as there is 'no genuine issue of material fact.'"(emphasis omitted)).

         The party asking for summary judgment "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the 'pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The movant can meet this burden by presenting evidence showing there is no dispute of material fact, or by showing, or pointing out to, the district court that the nonmoving party has failed to present evidence in support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322-24.

Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56(e) "requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or by the 'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324. To avoid summary judgment, the nonmoving party "must do more than show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). On the other hand, the evidence of the nonmovant must be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in its favor. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

ThyssenKrupp Steel USA, LLC v. United Forming, Inc., 926 F.Supp.2d 1286, 1289-90 (S.D. Ala. Jan. 29, 2013) (citations omitted).

         The requirement to view the facts in the nonmoving party's favor extends only to "genuine" disputes over material facts. A genuine dispute requires more than "some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." Garczynski, 573 F.3d at 1165 (internal citations omitted). A "mere scintilla" of evidence is insufficient; the nonmoving party must produce substantial evidence in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Id. In addition, "[t]here is no burden upon the district court to distill every potential argument that could be made based upon the materials before it on summary judgment." Resolution Trust Corp. v. Dunmar Corp., 43 F.3d 587, 599 (11th Cir. 1995).

         More importantly, where "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." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 1776, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007); see also Logan v. Smith, 439 Fed.Appx. 798, 800 (11th Cir. Aug. 29, 2011) ("In cases where opposing parties tell different versions of the same events one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record-such that no reasonable jury could believe it-a court should not adopt the contradicted allegations." (citations omitted) (unpublished)).[7]

         Additionally, the undersigned recognizes that while the Court is required to liberally construe a pro se litigant's pleadings, the Court does not have “license to serve as de facto counsel for a party . . . or to rewrite an otherwise deficient pleading in order to sustain an action.” GJR Invs., Inc. v. Cnty. of Escambia, Fla., 132 F.3d 1359, 1369 (11th Cir. 1998) (citations omitted), overruled on other grounds by Randall v. Scott, 610 F.3d 701 (11th Cir. 2010); see also Giles v. Wal-Mart Distrib. Ctr., 359 F.App'x 91, 93 (11th Cir. 2009) (internal citations and quotations omitted) (“Although pro se pleadings are held to a less strict standard than pleadings filed by lawyers and thus are construed liberally, this liberal construction does not give a court license to serve as de facto counsel for a party, or to rewrite an otherwise deficient pleading in order to sustain an action.”).

         III. Discussion.

         A. Official Capacity Claims

         The Defendants named in this action are all correctional officers employed by the Alabama Department of Corrections. Jones has sued each defendant in his official and individual capacity. "Official-capacity suits ... generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent." Penley v. Eslinger, 605 F.3d 843, 854 (11th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted); see also Mann v. Taser Int'l, Inc., 588 F.3d 1291, 1309 (11th Cir. 2009) ("A claim asserted against an individual in his or her official capacity is, in reality, a suit against the entity that employs the individual.") (citation omitted). As a practical matter, then, Jones' § 1983 claims against Defendants in their official capacities functionally reduce to § 1983 claims against the State itself.

         The Eleventh Amendment protects Defendants in their official capacities from Jones' claims. See, e.g., Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100, 104 S.Ct. 900, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984) (With some exceptions, "a suit in which the State or one of its agencies or departments is named as the defendant is proscribed by the Eleventh Amendment. This jurisdictional bar applies regardless of the nature of the relief sought." (citations omitted)); Harbert Int'l, Inc. v. James, 157 F.3d 1271, 1277 (11th Cir. 1998) ("[S]tate officials sued in their official capacity are []protected by the [Eleventh A]mendment." (citing Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985)). In addition, "a state agency[] and a state official sued in his official capacity are not 'persons' within the meaning of § 1983, thus damages are unavailable..." Edwards v. Wallace Cmty. Coll., 49 F.3d 1517, 1524 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989)). Thus, Jones may not sue Defendants in their official capacities.

         B. Individual Capacity Claims

         Defendants, however, are not absolutely immune from suit in their individual capacities.

Qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages unless they violate a statutory or constitutional right that was clearly established at the time the alleged violation took place. See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009); Amnesty Int'l, USA v. Battle, 559 F.3d 1170, 1184 (11th Cir. 2009). "The purpose of [qualified] immunity is to allow government officials to carry out their discretionary duties without the fear of personal liability or harassing litigation, protecting from suit 'all but the plainly incompetent or one who is knowingly violating the federal law.'" Lee[ v. Ferraro], 284 F.3d [1188, ] 1194 [(11th Cir. 2002) ](citation omitted) (quoting Willingham v. Loughnan, 261 F.3d 1178, 1187 (11th Cir. 2001)). Qualified immunity is a defense not only from liability, but also from suit... See id.
"Under the well-defined qualified immunity framework, a 'public official must first prove that he was acting within the scope of his discretionary authority when the allegedly wrongful acts occurred.'" Terrell v. Smith, 668 F.3d 1244, 1250 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Lee, 284 F.3d at 1194). Once the official has done so, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to satisfy the following two-pronged inquiry: (1) whether the facts that a plaintiff has shown make out a violation of a constitutional right; and (2) whether the right at issue was clearly established at the time of the defendant's alleged misconduct. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232, 129 S.Ct. 808...The Supreme Court recently has made it clear that [courts] need not employ a rigid two-step procedure, but rather may exercise [their] discretion to decide "which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the particular case at hand." Id. at 236, 129 S.Ct. 808.

Gilmore v. Hodges, 738 F.3d 266, 272-73 (11th Cir. 2013). "Under controlling law, the plaintiff[] must carry [his] burden by looking to the law as interpreted at the time by the United States Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit, or [the highest court of the state from which the case arose]." Terrell v. Smith, 668 F.3d 1244, 1255-56 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188');">284 F.3d 1188, 1199 (11th Cir. 2002).

         The record evidence amply supports the determination that all Defendants were acting within the scope of their discretionary authority as prison officials at the time of the incidents at issue, and Jones offers no evidence or argument to the contrary. Accordingly, the burden now shifts to Jones to show why Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity.

         1. Deliberate Indifference Claims.

         The Eighth Amendment provides that, "[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." U.S. CONST. amend. VIII. The Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment prohibits prison officials from exhibiting deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 828, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994); see also Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660, 82 S.Ct. 1417, 8 L.Ed.2d 758 (1972) (Eighth Amendment is applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment). The Supreme Court summarized a state's constitutional responsibilities with regard to inmates stating:

[W]hen the State takes a person into its custody and holds him there against his will, the Constitution imposes upon it a corresponding duty to assume some responsibility for his safety and general well-being. . . . The rationale for this principle is simple enough: when the State by the affirmative exercise of its power so restrains an individual's liberty that it renders him unable to care for himself, and at the same time fails to provide for his basic human needs -- e.g., food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and reasonable safety -- it transgresses the substantive limits on state action set by the Eighth Amendment and the Due Process Clause.

DeShaney v. Winnebago Cnty. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 199-200, 109 S.Ct. 998, 103 L.Ed. 2D 249 (1989) (citations omitted).

         In order to prevail on an Eighth Amendment claim, an inmate must make both an objective and a subjective showing. In Sims v. Mashburn, 25 F.3d 980 (11th Cir. 1994), the court delineated the objective and subjective portions of an Eighth Amendment claim as follows:

An Eighth Amendment claim is said to have two components, an objective component, which inquires whether the alleged wrongdoing was objectively harmful enough to establish a constitutional violation, and a subjective component, which inquires whether the officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind.

25 F.3d at 983. To prevail on constitutional claims like the ones asserted by Jones, he must prove that there was "a substantial risk of serious harm, " that the defendant was subjectively deliberately indifferent to that risk, and causation. Hale, 50 F.3d at 1582; see also Farmer, 511 U.S. at 832-34.

         In defining "deliberate indifference, " the Supreme Court in Farmer stated:

With deliberate indifference lying somewhere between the poles of negligence at one end and purpose or knowledge at the other, the Courts of Appeals have routinely equated deliberate indifference with recklessness. See e.g., LaMarca v. Turner, 995 F.2d 1526, 1535 (CA111993).... It is, indeed, fair to say that acting or failing to act with deliberate indifference to a substantial ...

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