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Crandle v. Sims

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

February 22, 2019

TA'ERIC SIMS, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff, an Alabama prison inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] 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 Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 35). After careful review of the pleadings, and for the reasons set out below, it is recommended that the motion be GRANTED, in part, and DENIED, in part, and an evidentiary hearing be scheduled on the excessive force and failure to intervene claims asserted against Defendants Sims and Thompson.

         In his complaint, Plaintiff James Crandle alleges constitutional violations occurred while he was incarcerated at Mobile County Metro Jail (“Mobile Metro Jail” or “the jail”) awaiting trial for felony murder.[2] (Doc. 1 at 6). Crandle alleges that on September 6, 2016, at approximately 6:00 a.m., Officers Sims and Thompson entered his cell and used unnecessary force against him and left him bleeding with a bad headache. He further claims he had to wait 36 hours to see a doctor. Crandle is suing Correctional Officer Ta'Eric Sims for “assault and access[sic] force without cause”, Correctional Officer La'Tre Thompson for “assault and accessory to access[sic] force without a reason”, and Lieutenant Tunglia Hawkins for being an “accessory to assault and unnecessary force and leaving [him] in pain and suffering.”[3] (Doc. 1 at 5-6). The Court interprets these allegations as claims of excessive force, failure to intervene, and delay of medical care, respectively.

         The defendants have answered the suit, denying Crandle's allegations, and have submitted a special report in support their position. (Docs. 13, 14, 33, 34). The Court has converted these pleadings into a motion for summary judgment (doc. 35), to which Crandle has not responded. After a thorough review of the record, the court determines that this motion is now ripe for consideration.

         I. Summary Judgment Standard.

         In analyzing the propriety of a motion for summary judgment, the Court begins with these basic principles. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure grant this Court authority under Rule 56 to render "judgment as a matter of law" to a party who moves for summary judgment. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that "[t]he 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 bears the "initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for [their] motion, and identifying those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which [they] believe[] demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991) (bracketed text added) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)). If the moving party does not have the burden of proof at trial, they may show that "there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." United States v. Four Parcels of Real Property, 941 F.2d 1428, 1437 (11th Cir. 1991) (citations omitted). Alternatively, the moving party may support its "motion for summary judgment with affirmative evidence demonstrating that the nonmoving party will be unable to prove its case at trial." Id. If the moving party meets this burden, the non-movant, as the party bearing the burden of proof at trial, must set forth specific facts, supported by citation to the evidence, to support the elements of the case at trial, and therefore, establish that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

         Overall, the Court must "resolve all issues of material fact in favor of the [non-movant], and then determine the legal question of whether the [movant] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law under that version of the facts." McDowell v. Brown, 392 F.3d 1283, 1288 (11th Cir. 2004) citing Durruthy v. Pastor, 351 F.3d 1080, 1084 (11th Cir. 2003). "[A]ll reasonable doubts about the facts and all justifiable inferences are resolved in favor of the non-movant." Citizens Trust Bank v. Lett, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90849, 2015 WL 4254561, at *1 (N.D.Ala. 2015). The Court is obligated to construe the record, including all evidence and factual inferences, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Skop v. City of Atlanta, 485 F.3d 1130, 1136 (11th Cir. 2007).

         However, the mere existence of any factual dispute will not automatically necessitate denial of a motion for summary judgment; rather, only factual disputes that are material preclude entry of summary judgment. Lofton v. Secretary of Dept. of Children and Family Services, 358 F.3d 804, 809 (11th Cir. 2004). "An issue of fact is material if it is a legal element of the claim under the applicable substantive law which might affect the outcome of the case. It is genuine if the record taken as a whole could lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party." Reeves v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., 594 F.3d 798, 807 (11th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). A genuine dispute of material fact exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Allen v. Bd. of Public Education for Bibb County, 495 F.3d 1306, 1313 (11th Cir. 2007).

         II. Immunity Defenses.

         In response to the allegations of this suit, Defendants have asserted all available immunity defenses. (Doc. 14 at 1).

         To the extent Crandle's claims are against the correctional officers in their official capacities, Defendants Sims, Thompson and Hawkins are immune from suit, as the liability imposed, in reality, is on the entity the individuals represent versus the individuals themselves. Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464, 471-72, 105 S.Ct. 873, 83 L.Ed.2d 878 (1985). The determination of the entity represented by the defendants for purposes of determining immunity from suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is determined by reference to state law. Carr v. City of Florence, 916 F.2d 1521, 1525 (11th Cir. 1990). Alabama law holds that a sheriff is a state, rather than a county, official for purposes of immunity from suit. Parker v. Amerson, 519 So.2d 442 (Ala. 1987); Ala. Const. Art. V § 112 (listing county sheriffs as members of the state's executive department); see also Taylor v. Adams, 221 F.3d 1254, 1256 (11th Cir. 2000) ("Alabama sheriffs operating jails are state officers protected by Eleventh Amendment immunity."). Similarly, "employees of the sheriff, deputies [and officers] in their official capacities, are [] entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity." Scruggs v. Lee, 256 Fed.Appx. 229, 232 (11th Cir. 2007); Lancaster v.

         Monroe Cnty., 116 F.3d 1419, 1429 (11th Cir. 1997) ("[J]ailers are state officials for the purpose of Eleventh Amendment immunity."). There is no dispute that Defendants Sims, Thomson, and Hawkins, in their official capacities as county jail correctional officers, are arms of the state for Eleventh Amendment Immunity purposes and are therefore barred from suit for monetary damages in this action. Defendants further assert the defense of qualified immunity as a bar from suit against them in their individual capacities. Qualified immunity offers complete protection for individual government officials performing discretionary functions "insofar as their 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, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2738, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982). "Qualified 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, 129 S.Ct. 808, 815, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009). A party is eligible to claim qualified immunity if he was acting within the line and scope of his employment. Holloman ex rel. Holloman v. Harland, 370 F.3d 1252, 1264 (11th Cir. 2004). Based on Plaintiff's complaint allegations and the record, clearly the defendants were acting within their discretionary authority at the time the complaint arose. Thus, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to establish that qualified immunity is inappropriate. Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1194 (11th Cir. 2002).

         The Supreme Court has mandated a two-step analysis for resolving qualified immunity claims. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 2156, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001). First, a court must decide whether the facts that a plaintiff has alleged "show the [defendant's] conduct violated a constitutional right." Id. Second, the court must decide "whether the right was clearly established." Id. The determination of these elements may be conducted in any order. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009). Therefore, the Court will proceed with its analysis of whether or not Plaintiff has successfully alleged a constitutional violation.

         III. Discussion.

         Plaintiff, James Delester Crandle, at the time relevant to the instant action, was a pretrial detainee at the Mobile County Metro Jail. Crandle does not articulate under which constitutional right he is suing; however, where the use of force is challenged by a pretrial detainee, rather than a convicted prisoner, “the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, not the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, governs our analysis." Jacoby v. Mack, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 31702, *12, __ Fed.Appx. (11th Cir. 2018) (citation omitted); see Kingsley v. Hendrickson, U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 2466, 2475, 192 L.Ed.2d 416 (2015) (noting “pretrial detainees (unlike convicted prisoners) cannot be punished at all . . .”).

         A. Excessive Force.

         The Supreme Court in Kinsley identified two separate state-of-mind questions to consider when evaluating excessive force claims of pretrial detainees.

         “The first concerns the defendant's state of mind with respect to his physical acts - i.e., his state of mind with respect to the bringing about of certain physical consequences in the world.” Kingsley, 135 S.Ct. at 2472. That is, a defendant must possess a purposeful, knowing, or reckless state of mind - negligent conduct will not suffice. In the current action, Defendants do not dispute that Defendant officers intentionally punched Crandle with closed fists. “The second question concerns the defendant's state of mind with respect to whether his use of force was ‘excessive'.” Id. at 2473. This requires showing “that the force . . . used against him was objectively unreasonable.” Id. at 2473.

[O]bjective reasonableness turns on the “facts and circumstances of each particular case.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989). A court must make this determination from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, including what the officer knew at the time, not with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. See ibid. A court must also account for the “legitimate interests that stem from [the government's] need to manage the facility in which the individual is detained, ” appropriately deferring to “policies and practices that in th[e] judgment” of jail officials “are needed to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security.” Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 540, 547, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979).
Considerations such as the following may bear on the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the force used: the relationship between the need for the use of force and the amount of force used; the extent of the plaintiff's injury; any effort made by the officer to temper or to limit the amount of force; the severity of the security problem at issue; the threat reasonably perceived by the officer; and whether the plaintiff was actively resisting. See, e.g., Graham, supra, at 396, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443. We do not consider this list to be exclusive. We mention these factors only to illustrate the types of objective circumstances potentially relevant to a determination of excessive force.

Id.. In evaluating the objective reasonableness of Defendants' actions, the court will assess the totality of the situation, including the factors ...

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