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Thomas v. Betts

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

May 3, 2019

QUARTEZ THOMAS, AIS #291355, Plaintiff,
JESSE M. BETTS, et al., Defendants.


          Susan Russ Walker United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION [1]

         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is pending before the court on a complaint, Doc. 1, and an amendment to the complaint, Doc. 11, filed by Quartez Thomas, a state inmate, against correctional officers Jesse M. Betts and Robin Young. In this case, Thomas challenges the use of mace against him on June 1, 2016 at the Kilby Correctional Facility. Specifically, Thomas alleges that, after he refused orders to relinquish his handcuffs, defendant Betts “sprayed mace in [his] cell” in violation of his constitutional rights and internal administrative regulations. Doc. 1 at 3; Doc. 11 at 3-6. He also alleges that Betts violated his right to equal protection. Doc. 11 at 5. Thomas further complains that defendant Young failed to protect him from the use of mace by defendant Betts. Doc. 11 at 5. Finally, Thomas appears to complain that the defendants acted with deliberate indifference to his medical needs because they delayed his transfer to the health care until he complied with their orders regarding his handcuffs. Doc. 11 at 4. Thomas seeks monetary damages from defendants Betts and Young in their individual capacities and criminal prosecution of the defendants. Doc. 1 at 4; Doc. 11 at 3-6.

         The defendants filed a special report, supplement, and supporting evidentiary materials addressing the claims for relief presented by Thomas. In these documents, the defendants deny violating Thomas' constitutional rights. The court issued an order directing Thomas to file responses to the defendants' reports, to include affidavits, sworn statements or other evidentiary materials. Doc. 24 at 2. This order specifically cautioned Thomas that unless “sufficient legal cause” is shown within fifteen days of entry of this order “why such action should not be undertaken, … the court may at any time [after expiration of the time for his filing a response to this order] and without further notice to the parties (1) treat the special report[s] and any supporting evidentiary materials as a motion for summary judgment and (2) after considering any response as allowed by this order, rule on the motion for summary judgment in accordance with the law.” Doc. 24 at 3. Thomas filed an unsworn response/special report, Doc. 44, and an affidavit, Doc. 44-1, in response to the defendants' reports.[2]

         Pursuant to the above-described order, the court deems it appropriate to treat the defendants' reports as a motion for summary judgment. Upon consideration of this motion, the evidentiary materials filed in support thereof, the complaint, as amended, and the affidavit filed in response by Thomas, the court concludes that the defendants' motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.


         “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) (internal quotation marks omitted); Rule 56(a), Fed.R.Civ.P. (“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); Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 64 F.3d 590, 593 (11th Cir. 1995) (holding that moving party has initial burden of showing there is no genuine dispute of material fact for trial). The movant may meet this burden by presenting evidence indicating there is no dispute of material fact or by showing that the nonmoving party has failed to present appropriate evidence in support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-24; Moton v. Cowart, 631 F.3d 1337, 1341 (11th Cir. 2011) (holding that moving party discharges his burden by showing the record lacks evidence to support the nonmoving party's case or the nonmoving party would be unable to prove his case at trial).

         When the defendants meet their evidentiary burden, as they have in this case, the burden shifts to the plaintiff 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, 64 F.3d at 593-94 (holding that, once a moving party meets its burden, “the non-moving party must then go beyond the pleadings, and by its own affidavits [or statements made under penalty of perjury], or by depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ” demonstrate that there is a genuine dispute of material fact). In civil actions filed by inmates, federal courts “must distinguish between evidence of disputed facts and disputed matters of professional judgment. In respect to the latter, our inferences must accord deference to the views of prison authorities. Unless a prisoner can point to sufficient evidence regarding such issues of judgment to allow him to prevail on the merits, he cannot prevail at the summary judgment stage.” Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 530 (2006) (internal citation 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). 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).

         A genuine dispute of material fact exists when the nonmoving party produces evidence that would allow a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict in its favor such that summary judgment is not warranted. Greenberg, 498 F.3d at 1263; Allen v. Bd. of Pub. Educ. for Bibb Cnty., 495 F.3d 1306, 1313 (11th Cir. 2007). “The mere existence of some factual dispute will not defeat summary judgment unless that factual dispute is material to an issue affecting the outcome of the case.” McCormick v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 333 F.3d 1234, 1243 (11th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). “[T]here must exist a conflict in substantial evidence to pose a jury question.” Hall v. Sunjoy Indus. Group, Inc., 764 F.Supp.2d 1297, 1301 (M.D. Fla. 2011) (citation omitted). “When 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 (2007); Feliciano v. City of Miami Beach, 707 F.3d 1244, 1253-54 (11th Cir. 2013) (same).

         Although factual inferences must be viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff and pro se complaints are entitled to liberal interpretation, a pro se litigant does not escape the burden of establishing by sufficient evidence a genuine dispute of material fact. See Beard, 548 U.S. at 525. Thus, the plaintiff's pro se status alone does not compel this court to disregard elementary principles of production and proof in a civil case.

         The court has undertaken a thorough review of all the evidence contained in the record. After this review, the court finds that Thomas has failed to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact in order to preclude entry of summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

         III. DISCUSSION[3]

         A. Relevant Facts

         Thomas provides the following recitation of facts relevant to his claims:

On June 1, 2016 at Kilby Correctional Facility in O-Dorm approximately around 10:30 am I was being escorted by correctional officer(s) Jesse M. Betts and Adrian Hardy to O-Block/Dorm [cell O-8A]. Correctional Officer Robin Young was working the Dorm [at this time]… . I was put in the cell and the door locked. When the tray flap/slot open[ed] [Betts] proceed[ed] to remove the handcuffs off me. He then removes one cuff off then reinsert[s] his key in the other [handcuff] but removal of the second cuff was futile because I snatched away not intentionally to cause harm but to have someone of higher authority to come see me. I'm assuming during that process [Betts] was allegedly hurt because his hand hit the door.[4]
I then take the key out the cuff with my lose hand and throw it out the tray flap/slot and state “This ain't nothing personal.” [Betts] then ask me to give him the cuff back where I said call Captain McClain. He asks multiple times [to allow him to remove the handcuffs] and got the same [negative] response as I was backing away from the door. I could tell he was getting ready to mace me because [of] what I said to him… . At the time of me reaching for the mat[] he was reaching for his mace (chemical) spray pulling it out in a swift motion. Halfway me picking the mat[] up he sprayed [the chemical agent] resulting in some of the mace (chemical) spray getting on me and [me] blocking the rest. I then move closer to the door to block out further connection with his spray… . As Lt. Bradford came he plainly ask me am I going to give the cuffs back where I stated “call Captain McClain.[”] [Bradford] then says as he's walking off … “I'm going to ask you one more time are you [going to] cuff up[?]” I then state “Call Captain McClain.” He leaves after what seems to be minutes of me burning [and I] hit the sprinkler system with my hand in dire need of water [to] satisfy the burn. After the water stop coming out I see Captain [McClain]. He asks me to cuff up where I complied and was [taken] to the medical ER Room. I then washed my face off in the[] Detox area [and thereafter underwent an evaluation and] assess[ment] [by a nurse].

Doc. 11 at 1-2 (footnote added). The body chart compiled by the attending nurse demonstrates that Thomas suffered only redness to his eyes as a result of his exposure to the chemical spray. The attending nurse further observed, “No Injuries. No. Bruises. Denies any injuries… . Is stable. No. Acute Distress noted.” Doc. 7-3 at 4.

         B. Use of Chemical Agent

         Thomas alleges that defendant Betts sprayed him with mace absent justification for use of a chemical agent. Doc. 1 at 3; Doc. 11 at 4. In response to the allegation of an improper use of mace, Betts avers that he deployed the chemical spray in an effort to gain control of the situation created by Thomas after Thomas refused several orders to relinquish his handcuffs and took physical actions which caused injuries to Betts. Doc. 22-1 at 1-2. Specifically, Betts maintains that, while attempting to secure Thomas in his cell and after Thomas failed to comply with orders directing him to allow the removal of each of his handcuffs, “inmate Thomas grasped my hand, after one of his hands [was] released from a cuff, and he would not release his grasp. I gave inmate Thomas a direct order to release his grasp, inmate Thomas physically resisted and did not comply. I [unholstered] my can of Sabre Red, yelled gas and administered a short burst to inmate Thomas facial area and the First Shift Supervisor Lieutenant Eric Bradford was notified of the incident. Once inmate Thomas was secured, he was promptly taken to the healthcare unit for medical evaluation and treatment. Inmate Thomas did not make any further requests to me for medical treatment after the initial evaluation by the medical staff.” Doc. ...

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