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Martin v. Harris

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

March 8, 2018

SILAS MARTIN, #145 609, Plaintiff,


          Susan Russ Walker United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Silas Martin, an inmate in the custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections, files this pro se civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He alleges a claim of excessive force in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights during his incarceration at the Kilby Correctional Facility in Mt. Meigs, Alabama. The complaint is filed against Officer Irvin Harris. Plaintiff requests compensatory and punitive damages. Doc. 1.

         Harris filed an answer, special report, supplemental special reports, and supporting evidentiary materials addressing Martin's claims for relief. Docs. 14, 37, 38. In these filings, Harris denies that he acted in violation of Martin's constitutional rights. Id. Upon receipt of Harris' special report, as supplemented, the court issued orders directing Martin to file a response, including sworn affidavits and other evidentiary materials, and specifically cautioned Martin that “the court may at any time thereafter and without notice to the parties (1) treat the special report, supplemental special reports, and any supporting evidentiary materials as a motion for summary judgment.” Doc. 15, 39. Martin responded to Harris' special report, see Doc. 21, but his response does not demonstrate that there is any genuine issue of material fact. See Doc. 15 at 2. The court will treat Harris' report, as supplemented, as a motion for summary judgment, and will recommend resolution of this motion in his favor.


         “Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine [dispute] as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomm., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) (“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.”). The party moving 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 [record, including pleadings, discovery materials and affidavits], which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine [dispute] of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant may meet this burden by presenting evidence indicating there is no dispute of material fact or by showing the non-moving party has failed to present evidence to support some element on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322-324.

         Harris has met his evidentiary burden. Thus, the burden shifts to Martin to establish, with appropriate evidence beyond the pleadings, that a genuine dispute material to his case exists. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(3); Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 64 F.3d 590, 593-594 (11th Cir. 1995) (holding that, once the moving party meets its burden, “the non-moving party must then go beyond the pleadings, and by its own affidavits [or sworn statements], or by depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ” demonstrate there is a genuine dispute of material fact) (internal quotations omitted). This court will also consider “specific facts” pled in a plaintiff's sworn complaint when considering his opposition to summary judgment. Caldwell v. Warden, FCI Talladega, 748 F.3d 1090, 1098 (11th Cir. 2014). A genuine dispute of material fact exists when the non-moving party produces evidence that would allow a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict in its favor. Greenberg, 498 F.3d at 1263; Allen v. Bd. of Public Educ., 495 F.3d 1306, 1313 (11th Cir. 2007).

         Although factual inferences must be viewed in a light most favorable to the non- moving party and pro se complaints are entitled to liberal interpretation by the courts, a pro se litigant does not escape the burden of establishing by sufficient evidence a genuine dispute of material fact. See Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 525 (2006); Brown v. Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 670 (11th Cir. 1990). Martin's pro se status alone does not compel this court to disregard elementary principles of production and proof in a civil case.


         A. Absolute Immunity

         Martin brings suit against Harris in his individual and official capacities. Regarding the constitutional violations which Martin alleges against Harris in his official capacity, he is entitled to absolute immunity from monetary damages. Official capacity lawsuits are “in all respects other than name, … treated as a suit against the entity.” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985). “A state official may not be sued in his official capacity unless the state has waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity, see Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984), or Congress has abrogated the state's immunity, see Seminole Tribe v. Florida, [517 U.S. 44');">517 U.S. 44, 59], 116 S.Ct. 1114, 1125 (1996). Alabama has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity, see Carr v. City of Florence, 916 F.2d 1521, 1525 (11th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted), and Congress has not abrogated Alabama's immunity. Therefore, Alabama state officials are immune from claims brought against them in their official capacities.” Lancaster v. Monroe County, 116 F.3d 1419, 1429 (11th Cir. 1997).

         In light of the foregoing, it is clear that Harris is a state actor entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment for claims seeking monetary damages from him in his official capacity. Lancaster, 116 F.3d at 1429; Jackson v. Georgia Department of Transportation, 16 F.3d 1573, 1575 (11th Cir. 1994).

         B. Excessive Force

         1. Qualified Immunity

         In response to Martin's allegation of excessive force, Harris argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity in his individual capacity. Qualified immunity offers complete protection for a government official from suit-provided that the official was performing discretionary functions and has been sued in his individual capacity-if the conduct “does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). The Supreme Court has held that the doctrine of “[q]ualified immunity balances two important interests-the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009). Qualified immunity protects public officials from broad-ranging discovery disruptive to effective government, see id. at 818, and operates as a shield against civil damages due to mistaken judgments. See Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 343 (1986); Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 507 (1978) (“[Public] officials will not be liable for mere mistakes in judgment, whether the mistake is one of fact or one of law.”).

         In order to receive qualified immunity, Harris must demonstrate that he was acting within his discretionary authority. Johnson v. Boyd, 701 Fed. App'x. 841, 847 (11th Cir. 2017). If Harris establishes that he was performing a discretionary function, the burden shifts to Martin to show qualified immunity should not apply. Id.; see also Bowden v. Stokely, 576 Fed. App'x. 951, 954 (11th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (assessing qualified immunity with respect to Bowden's allegation of excessive force). To meet his burden, Martin must demonstrate that Harris violated a constitutional right, and that the right was clearly established at the time of the violation. Johnson 701 Fed. ...

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