United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
case, pro se Plaintiff Christopher Lamont Lewis
claims that Defendant Clarence Thomas Johnson violated his
constitutional rights. Plaintiff asserts 28 U.S.C. §
1983 claims against Defendant for excessive force and denial
of medical care.
magistrate judge filed a report on May 25, 2018, recommending
that the court deny Defendant’s motion for summary
judgment. (Doc. 28). Defendant filed objections to the report
and recommendation on June 8, 2018. (Doc. 29). The case
currently is before the court for a review of
Defendant’s objections to the report and
report and recommendation, with respect to Plaintiff’s
excessive force claim, the magistrate judge found that a
reasonable jury could conclude that Defendant’s actions
were objectively unreasonable. (Doc. 28 at 10-11).
objects to this finding and argues that the facts establish
that he did not violate Plaintiff’s right to be free
from excessive force, and that even if he did, Defendant
still enjoys qualified immunity because he did not violate a
clearly established right. (Doc. 29).
immunity shields government officials acting within their
discretionary authority from liability unless the officials
‘violate clearly established statutory or
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.’” Franklin v. Curry, 738 F.3d
1246, 1249 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting Harlow v.
Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). “An
official who asserts entitlement to qualified immunity must
first establish that she or he was acting within the scope of
his discretionary authority.” Alcocer v.
Mills, 906 F.3d 944, 951 (11th Cir. 2018). “Once
the official makes that showing, the burden shifts to the
plaintiff to demonstrate that qualified immunity is
there is no dispute that Defendant was carrying out duties
associated with his employment as a Correctional Officer at
the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office. Therefore, to
overcome Defendant’s qualified immunity defense,
Plaintiff must “establish both that the officer’s
conduct violated a constitutionally protected right and that
the right was clearly established at the time of the
misconduct.” Alcocer, 906 F.3d at 951. The
court may consider in any order whether Plaintiff has
satisfied his burden. Id.; see Pearson v. Callahan,
555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009) (“The judges of the district
courts and the courts of appeals should be permitted to
exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two
prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed
first in light of the circumstances in the particular case at
without deciding that the magistrate judge properly concluded
that questions of fact exist regarding whether Defendant
violated Plaintiff’s constitutional right to be free
from excessive force, the court concludes that Defendant is
entitled to qualified immunity because the right was not
clearly established such that “it would [have been]
clear to a reasonably officer that his conduct was unlawful
in the situated he confronted.” Saucier v.
Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 202 (2001).
excessive force claim arises out of an incident the Etowah
County Jail on January 26, 2016. Defendant brought
Plaintiff’s food tray to his cell, opened the cell door
flap, and left the food tray on the flap. (Doc. 16-2 at
¶¶ 15-16). According to jail policy, correctional
officers are not to leave any inmate cell door flaps open.
(Doc. 16-2 at ¶ 17). Therefore, Defendant instructed
Plaintiff to remove the tray from the door flap so that
Defendant could shut and secure the flap. (Doc. 16-2 at
¶ 18). Plaintiff advised Defendant that he would not
remove the tray until Defendant radioed a Sergeant to bring
Plaintiff his asthma inhaler that Plaintiff had requested
from Defendant earlier in the day. (Id.; Doc. 27 at
4, ¶ 20).
Plaintiff continued to refuse to remove the lunch tray from
the flap, Defendant grabbed the tray, placed it on the floor
outside the cell, and returned to secure the cell door flap.
(Doc. 16-2 at ¶¶ 21-24). Defendant could not close
the cell door flap because Plaintiff had extended his arms
out on the flap and refused to move them until Defendant
radioed the Sergeant regarding the inhaler. (Doc. 16-2 at
continued to ignore Defendant’s orders, so Defendant
told Plaintiff that he was “going to attempt to force
[the hatch] closed by kicking it.” (Doc. 16-4 at 2).
Plaintiff responded, “go ahead and try.” (Doc.
16-2 at ¶ 27; Doc. 16-4 at 2). Defendant “took the
toe of [his] left foot and tried to force the hatch closed
from the underside position of the flap,” but he could
not close the flap due to the pressure of Plaintiff’s
arms. (Doc. 16-2 at ¶ 6). According to Plaintiff,
Defendant “kicked and stomped” his hands and
fingers and “viciously kicked the bottom of the . . .
tray flap with the plaintiff’s hands still attached,
repeatedly attempting to force the hatch close[d], causing
serious skin lacerations and swelling of the hands and
wrists.” (Doc. 11 at 3-4). Plaintiff claims that
Defendant was “using all his might in attempt to either
break [his] arms and wrists or make him hurt bad enough to
remove his extremities” from the tray flap. (Doc. 27 at
4). When Defendant could not get the flap to close, he told
Plaintiff that he would leave the cell flap open temporarily
because no other inmate was to be out of his cell at the
time. (Doc. 16-2 at ¶ 28). The record does not indicate
whether or how Defendant was able to ultimately close
Plaintiff’s cell flap door.
facts, construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, do
not demonstrate a violation of a clearly established
constitutional right sufficient to overcome summary judgment.
A right is clearly established when its contours are
“sufficiently definite that any reasonable official in
the defendant’s shoes would have understood that he was
violating it.” Singletary v. Vargas, 804 F.3d
1174, 1184 (11th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and
citation omitted). “A right may be clearly established
for qualified immunity purposes in one of three ways: (1)
case law with indistinguishable facts clearly establishing
the constitutional right . . . ; (2) a broad statement of
principle within the Constitution, statute, or case law that
clearly establishes a constitutional right . . . ; or (3)
conduct so egregious that a constitutional right was clearly
violated, even in the total absence of case law.”
Lewis v. City of West Palm Beach, Fla., 561 F.3d
1288, 1291-92 (11th Cir. 2009). For purposes of the first and
second methods, “[i]n this circuit, the law can be
‘clearly established’ for qualified immunity
purposes only by decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court,
Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, or the highest court of
the state where the case arose.” Jenkins by Hall v.
Talladega City Bd. of Educ., 115 F.3d 821, 826 n.4 (11th
has not cited, and the court has not located, case law with
indistinguishable facts clearly establishing a constitutional
right, and the court finds that Defendant’s actions are
not so egregious that a constitutional right was clearly
violated in the absence of analogous case law. ...