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Reid v. Streit

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

August 15, 2018

BILLY W. REID, Plaintiff,
v.
SERGEANT BRIAN STREIT and DEPUTY WEBBER, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ABDUL K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Billy Reid filed this lawsuit against Sergeant Brian Streit and Deputy Jonathan Webber of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, alleging that they acted with deliberate indifference to his medical needs after arresting him. Doc. 1. The magistrate judge ordered Webber and Streit to file a Special Report, doc. 24, and the court adopted the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation denying the parties' respective motions for summary judgment, docs. 34; 39. Streit and Webber filed an interlocutory appeal, and the Eleventh Circuit dismissed Reid's equitable claims, but affirmed the court's finding denying Streit and Webber qualified immunity as to Reid's damages claims. See Reid v. Streit, 697 Fed.Appx. 968 (11th Cir. 2017). Reid has now filed a motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability, doc. 65, which is due to be granted.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. “Rule 56[] mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, 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. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (alteration in original). The moving party bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who is required to “go beyond the pleadings” to establish that there is a “genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (internal quotations omitted). A dispute about a material fact is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         At summary judgment, the court must construe the evidence and all reasonable inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Any factual disputes will be resolved in the non-moving party's favor when sufficient competent evidence supports the non-moving party's version of the disputed facts. See Pace v. Capobianco, 283 F.3d 1275, 1276, 1278 (11th Cir. 2002). However, “mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald Mountain Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The events here started when Streit received a complaint from a woman that her boyfriend had punched a wall during an argument and subsequently beat and raped her. Docs. 68-1 at 10; 68-2 at 10-11. A few days later, Streit and other officers went to Reid's home to question him about the allegations, and, upon their arrival, Reid fled on foot. Docs. 68-1 at 10; 68-2 at 10-11. Webber gave chase and ultimately subdued Reid with a taser gun, causing Reid to fall. Docs. 68-1 at 10; 68-2 at 11; 68-3 at 10. Streit and Webber both acknowledge that Reid's right hand was visibly swollen and that he told the officers he believed his hand was broken. Docs. 68-1 at 10; 68-2 at 12. Reid maintains that Webber's taser shot caused him to fall on his right hand, severely aggravating the injury he sustained when he punched the wall. Docs. 1 at 2; 68-3 at 10.

         Streit executed a search warrant on Reid's home, while Webber transported Reid to the Sheriff's substation, where Reid continued to complain about his pain. Doc. 68-1 at 10-14. Webber called Streit to notify him that Reid was still in a great deal of pain. Consistent with Streit's instruction, Webber called the paramedics. Docs. 68-1 at 10-11; 68-2 at 11-12. The parties disagree as to the paramedics' assessment of Reid. Specifically, Reid claims that the paramedics told him “that looks like a broken bone, and it looks like it's really crushed.” Doc. 68-3. Streit, who was not present, also testifies that the paramedics diagnosed Reid with a broken hand. Doc. 68-1 at 11-12 (“The paramedics indicated that his hand was broken. I went with what they said.”). Webber, on the other hand, claims that the paramedics merely said Reid's hand was “possibly broken.” Doc. 68-2 at 12. The parties also disagree on whether the paramedics said that the injury was an emergency. Reid asserts that the paramedics told him that he needed to go to the hospital “immediately.” Doc. 68-3 at 19-20. Webber, on the other hand, claims that the paramedics did not describe the injury as an emergency and stated only that there was nothing that they could do for Reid because he “need[ed] to see an orthopedic doctor.” Doc. 68-2 at 12. As for Streit, when asked why he did not order Webber to transport Reid to the hospital or do so himself when he returned to the substation, he replied that “if [Reid's injury] would have been an emergency, . . . the paramedics would have said it was an emergency.” Doc. 68-1 at 9-11.

         Whatever the paramedics' assessment, Webber again called Streit to relay it, and Streit directed Webber to keep Reid at the substation so that Streit could interview Reid. Id.; doc. 68-2 at 12. Streit completed the search of Reid's home and arrived at the substation approximately four hours later to interview Reid. Doc. 68-1 at 14. During the course of the interview, Reid rocked back in forth, cradled his right hand with his left, and complained many times to Streit about the intensity of his pain. See doc. 72-2. Streit explained to Reid that he would arrange for treatment after completing his interview. Id. After the interview, Reid somehow left the substation without permission. Doc. 68-6 at 4. Following his arrest about two weeks later, he received medical treatment, was diagnosed with a boxer's fracture, and eventually received orthopedic surgery to reset the bone and stabilize the hand with a titanium plate and screws. Docs. 68-3 at 28; 72-4 at 4.

         III. ANALYSIS

         To prevail on a claim of deliberate indifference, Reid must establish: “(1) a serious medical need;[1] (2) the defendants' deliberate indifference to that need;[2] and (3) causation between that indifference and the plaintiff's injury.” Mann v. Taser Int'l, Inc., 588 F.3d 1291, 1306-07 (11th Cir. 2009). Relevant here, intentionally delaying care by several hours for a serious and painful broken bone, without explanation, constitutes deliberate indifference as a matter of law. Brown v. Hughes, 894 F.2d 1533, 1538 (11th Cir. 1990) (“[A]n unexplained delay of hours in treating a serious injury states a prima facie case of deliberate indifference, ” and “a deliberate delay on the order of hours in providing care for a serious and painful broken foot is sufficient to state a constitutional claim.”); see also Melton v. Abston, 841 F.3d 1207, 1222 (11th Cir. 2016) (“[B]roken bones and bleeding cuts are serious medical needs that require attention within hours, ” and “[s]evere pain that is not promptly or adequately treated can also constitute a serious medical need depending on the circumstances.”). Reid argues that he is entitled to summary judgment on the issue of liability because Streit and Webber have failed to explain why they did not transport him to a hospital. Doc. 67.

         Streit and Webber do not dispute that Reid's broken hand constituted a serious medical need, but contend that the dispute as to whether the paramedics classified the injury as an emergency precludes summary judgment. This argument is foreclosed by case law. The record is undisputed that 1) Reid complained to Webber that his hand was broken; 2) Webber noticed that Reid's hand was significantly swollen and learned from the paramedics that it was “possibly broken;” and 3) Streit believed that the paramedics had, in fact, diagnosed Reid with a broken hand. See docs. 68-1 at 10-14; 68-2 at 12. At the very least, Streit and Webber knew that Reid was in a tremendous amount of pain and that his hand was possibly broken, but nevertheless kept him at the substation for questioning. Moreover, Streit, unlike Webber, actually believed that the paramedics had diagnosed Reid with a broken hand. Doc. 68-1 at 10-14. Still, Streit instructed Webber to keep Reid at the substation to wait for his return. Id. Even when Streit made it back to the substation four hours later, he still kept Reid there to interview him, despite knowing about the broken hand and Reid's pain. See id.

         Because “an unexplained delay of hours in treating a [broken bone] states a prima facie case of deliberate indifference, ” the only way for Streit and Webber to rebut Reid's prima facie case of deliberate indifference is to sufficiently explain the delay. See Brown, 894 F.2d at 1538; see also McElligott, 182 F.3d at 1255 (“[T]he reason for the delay and the nature of the medical need is relevant in determining what type of delay is constitutionally intolerable.”). In that respect, Streit and Webber offer two reasons for failing to transport Reid to a hospital, neither of which passes muster. First, Streit and Webber claim that the preexisting nature of the injury relieved them of any duty to provide medical care. Doc. 71 at 17-19. This argument has no merit because, as Reid explains, “government actors have a duty to provide medical care to detainees with serious medical conditions- regardless of when the injury itself occurred.” Doc. 74 at 3; see McElligott, 182 F.3d at 1251-52 (finding a duty to provide medical care where an inmate entered the prison system complaining that he had experienced severe abdominal pains for several months).

         Second, Streit and Webber cite their view of the non-“emergency” nature of the broken hand, in light of the paramedics' purported statement that there was nothing they could do for Reid that night and that Reid would need to see an orthopedic doctor instead. Doc. 71 at 15-19. This explanation is likewise unavailing. As an initial matter, the failure to take action based on the purported statement of a paramedic that there was nothing she could do for Reid does not carry the day where, as here, “even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.” See Mann, 588 F.3d at 1307. Moreover, Webber admits that the paramedics told him that Reid's hand was possibly broken and that he needed to see an ...


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