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Richards v. Glover

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

May 29, 2019

EDDIE JAMES RICHARDS, JR., AIS #233735, Plaintiff,
v.
KENDARIUS GLOVER, et al., Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          GRAY M. BORDEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is pending before the court on an amended complaint filed by Eddie James Richards, Jr., an indigent state inmate, challenging actions which occurred during his incarceration at the Bullock Correctional Facility. Richards names as defendants Officer Kendarius Glover, Officer Clarence Giles, and Nurse Martha Jackson. Richards complains that Glover and Giles acted with deliberate indifference to his safety when they failed to protect him from attack by other inmates on December 9, 2014. Doc. 12 at 2-3. He also alleges that nurse Jackson acted with deliberate indifference to his medical needs after this attack. Doc. 1 at 3. Richards seeks a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and monetary damages for the alleged violations of his constitutional rights. Doc. 1 at 4.

         The defendants filed special reports and relevant evidentiary materials in support of their reports-including affidavits, a prison report, and medical records-addressing Richards' claims. In these filings, the defendants deny they acted with deliberate indifference to Richards' safety or medical needs and also assert they did not violate any of his constitutional rights.

         The court issued orders directing Richards to file responses to the arguments set forth by the defendants in their special reports and advising him that his responses should be supported by affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury and other appropriate evidentiary materials. Docs. 35 at 2 & 38 at 3. These orders specifically cautioned the parties that “unless within fifteen (15) days from the date of this order a party files a response in opposition which presents sufficient legal cause why such action should not be undertaken . . . the court may at any time [after expiration of the time for the plaintiff filing a response to the 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[s] for summary judgment in accordance with the law.” Docs. 35 at 3 & 38 at 3-4. Richards filed sworn responses to these orders. Docs. 48 & 49.

         Pursuant to the directives of these orders, the court deems it appropriate to treat the special reports filed by the correctional and medical defendants as motions for summary judgment. Upon consideration of the defendants' motions for summary judgment, the evidentiary materials filed in support thereof, the sworn complaint and the plaintiff's responses in opposition, the court concludes that summary judgment is due to be granted in favor of the defendants.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         “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. (directing 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 “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 the moving party has the 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 the moving party discharges its 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).

         A genuine dispute of material fact exists when the nonmoving party produces evidence that would allow a reasonable factfinder 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).

         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; Brown v. Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 670 (11th Cir. 1990). Thus, Richards' 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 and exhaustive review of all the evidence contained in the record. After this review, the court finds that Richards 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

         A. Absolute Immunity

         To the extent Richards requests monetary damages from the correctional defendants in their official capacities, they are entitled to absolute immunity. Official capacity lawsuits against state employees are “in all respects other than name, . . . treated as a suit against the entity.” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985). As the Eleventh Circuit has held,

the Eleventh Amendment prohibits federal courts from entertaining suits by private parties against States and their agencies [or employees]. There are two exceptions to this prohibition: where the state has waived its immunity or where Congress has abrogated that immunity. A State's consent to suit must be unequivocally expressed in the text of [a] relevant statute. Waiver may not be implied. Likewise, Congress' intent to abrogate the States' immunity from suit must be obvious from a clear legislative statement.

Selensky v. Alabama, 619 Fed.Appx. 846, 848-49 (11th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Thus, a state official may not be sued in his or her official capacity unless the state has waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity, see Pennhurst State School and 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, 59 (1996).

Neither waiver nor abrogation applies here. The Alabama Constitution states that “the State of Alabama shall never be made a defendant in any court of law or equity.” Ala. Const. Art. I, § 14. The Supreme Court has recognized that this prohibits Alabama from waiving its immunity from suit.

Selensky, 619 Fed.Appx. at 849 (citing Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978)). “Alabama has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity in § 1983 cases, nor has Congress abated it.” Holmes v. Hale, 701 Fed.Appx. 751, 753 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Carr v. City of Florence, Ala., 916 F.2d 1521, 1525 (11th Cir. 1990)). In light of the foregoing, defendants Glover and Giles are entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment for claims seeking monetary damages from them in their official capacities. Selensky, 619 Fed.Appx. at 849; Harbert Int'l, Inc. v. James, 157 F.3d 1271, 1277 (11th Cir. 1998) (holding that state officials sued in their official capacities are protected under the Eleventh Amendment from suit for damages); Edwards v. Wallace Comm. College, 49 F.3d 1517, 1524 (11th Cir. 1995) (holding that damages are unavailable from a state official sued in his official capacity).

         B. Deliberate Indifference to Safety-Failure to Protect from Attack

         “A prison official's duty under the Eighth Amendment is to ensure reasonable safety, a standard that incorporates due regard for prison officials' unenviable task of keeping dangerous men in safe custody under humane conditions.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 844-45 (1994) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Officials responsible for prison inmates may be held liable under the Eighth Amendment for acting with “deliberate indifference” to an inmate's safety when the official knows the inmate faces “a substantial risk of serious harm” and with this knowledge disregards the risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it. Id. at 828. A constitutional violation occurs only “when a substantial risk of serious harm, of which the official is subjectively aware, exists and the official does not respond reasonably to the risk.” Cottone v. Jean, 326 F.3d 1352, 1358 (11th Cir. 2003). “It is not, however, every injury suffered by one prisoner at the hands of another that translates into constitutional liability for prison officials responsible for the victim's safety.” Farmer, 511 at 834. “Within [a prison's] volatile ‘community,' prison administrators are to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of . . . the prison staff and administrative personnel. . . . They are under an obligation to take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates themselves.” Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27 (1984). The Eleventh Circuit has, however, consistently “stress[ed] that a ‘prison custodian is not the guarantor of a prisoner's safety.” Purcell ex rel. Estate of Morgan v. Toombs Cnty., Ga., 400 F.3d 1313 (11th Cir. 2005) (citing Popham v. City of Talladega, 908 F.2d 1561, 1564 (11th Cir. 1990)). “Only ‘[a] prison official's deliberate indifference to a known, substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate violates the Eighth Amendment.'” Harrison v. Culliver, 746 F.3d 1288, 1298 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing Marsh v. Butler Cnty., Ala., 268 F.3d 1014, 1028 (11th Cir. 2001), abrogated on other grounds by Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)). “In order to state a § 1983 cause of action against prison officials based on a constitutional deprivation resulting from cruel and unusual punishment, there must be at least some allegation of a conscious or callous indifference to a prisoner's rights, thus raising the tort to a constitutional stature.” Williams v. Bennett, 689 F.2d 1370, 1380 (11th Cir. 1982).

         The law requires proof of both objective and subjective elements to demonstrate an Eighth Amendment violation. Caldwell v. Warden, FCI Talladega, 748 F.3d 1090, 1099 (11th Cir. 2014). With respect to the requisite objective elements of a deliberate indifference claim, an inmate must first show “an objectively substantial risk of serious harm . . . exist[ed]. Second, once it is established that the official is aware of this substantial risk, the official must react to this risk in an objectively unreasonable manner.” Marsh, 268 F.3d at 1028-29. As to the subjective elements, “the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference. . . . The Eighth Amendment does not outlaw cruel and unusual ‘conditions'; it outlaws cruel and unusual ‘punishments.' . . . [A]n official's failure to alleviate a significant risk that he should have perceived but did not, while no cause for commendation, cannot under our cases be condemned as the infliction of punishment.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837-38; Campbell v. Sikes, 169 F.3d 1353, 1364 (11th Cir. 1999) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 838) (“Proof that the defendant should have perceived the risk, but did not, is insufficient.”); Cottrell v. Caldwell, 85 F.3d 1480, 1491 (11th Cir. 1996) (same). The conduct at issue “must involve more than ordinary lack of due care for the prisoner's interests or safety. . . . It is obduracy and wantonness, not inadvertence or error in good faith, that characterize the conduct prohibited by the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause[.]” Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986).

To be deliberately indifferent, Defendants must have been subjectively aware of the substantial risk of serious harm in order to have had a sufficiently culpable state of mind. . . . Even assuming the existence of a serious risk of harm and legal causation, the prison official must be aware of specific facts from which an inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists-and the prison official must also draw that inference.

Carter v. Galloway, 352 F.3d 1346, 1349 (11th Cir. 2003) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). A defendant's subjective knowledge of the risk must be specific to that defendant because “imputed or collective knowledge cannot serve as the basis for a claim of deliberate indifference. . . . Each individual Defendant must be judged separately and on the basis of what that person knew at the time of the incident.” Burnette v. Taylor, 533 F.3d 1325, 1331 (11th Cir. 2008). “The known risk of injury must be a strong likelihood, rather than a mere possibility before a [state official's] failure to act can constitute deliberate indifference.” Brown v. Hughes, 894 F.2d 1533, 1537 (11th Cir. 1990) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover, “[m]erely negligent failure to protect an inmate from attack does not justify liability under section 1983.” Id.

         “Prison correctional officers may be held directly liable under § 1983 if they fail or refuse to intervene when a constitutional violation occurs in their presence. . . . However, in order for liability to attach, the officer must have been in a position to intervene.” Terry v. Bailey, 376 Fed.Appx. 894, 896 (11th Cir.2010) (citing Ensley v. Soper, 142 F.3d 1402, 1407 (11th Cir. 1998)). The plaintiff has the burden of showing that the defendant was in a position to intervene but failed to do so. Ledlow v. Givens, 500 Fed.Appx. 910, 914 (11th Cir. 2012) (citing Hadley v. Gutierrez, 526 F.3d 1324, 1330-31 (11th Cir. 2008)).

         Consequently, to survive the properly supported motion for summary judgment filed by the correctional defendants, Richards must first demonstrate an objectively substantial risk of serious harm existed to him prior to the altercation with the other inmates and “that the defendant[s] disregarded that known risk by failing to respond to it in an objectively reasonable manner.” Johnson v. Boyd, 568 Fed.Appx. 719, 721 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing Caldwell, 748 F.3d at 1100). If he establishes these objective elements, Richards must then satisfy the subjective component. To do so, Richards “must [show] that the defendant[s] subjectively knew that [Richards] faced a substantial risk of serious harm. The defendant[s] must ...


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