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Riggins v. Stewart

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

September 26, 2019

CYNTHIA STEWART, et al ., Defendants.



         This Section 1983 action, brought by Plaintiff Darryl Riggins, an Alabama prison inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, is now before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Docs. 26, 27, 28, 33, 34, 40, 43). As set out more fully below, Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is due to be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. Summary of Plaintiff’s Allegations

         Plaintiff Riggins brings this suit against Warden Cynthia Stewart, Warden Terry Raybon, Warden Phillip Mitchell, Captain Jeff Emberton, Captain Regina Bolar, Lieutenant Michael Banks, Sergeant Kelvin Lang[1] Classification Specialist William DeSpain, Lieutenant Deveron Brown, Officer Harry Boudreaux, Officer Darious House, Officer Marquino Siler, Officer Johnnie Tait, and Officer Vencini Smith for various Eighth Amendment violations and negligence. His asserted claims are unclear and difficult to understand, in that they reference multiple incidents occurring upon his return to Holman Correctional Facility (“Holman”). However, the overriding theme of the complaint is that the defendants, with knowledge of a risk of harm, failed to protect him. The suit focuses primarily on an October 8, 2017 inmate attack, which Riggins asserts was caused by Defendants’ deliberate indifference to his safety, but Riggins also discusses additional incidents (occurring both before and after the October 8, 2017 attack), and appears to ask the Court to consider these incidents both as separate constitutional violations and as cumulative evidence in support of his supervisory claims, including failure of the supervisory defendants to protect him from both inmates and correctional staff at Holman. And, although Riggins asserts no claim of retaliation, he does insinuate in his complaint that the motive behind the defendants’ actions and violations stems from hostility regarding a prior lawsuit which he filed against Holman officials, including Regina Bolar (Defendant in this action).[2] Notably, Riggins was transferred from Holman following the previous incident, but returned to Holman during the litigation of the suit, which the parties’ settled in November 2017.[3]

         Riggins alleges in his Amended Complaint (“complaint”) that he was transferred back to Holman, from Kilby Correctional Facility, on March 3, 2017, and was placed in the segregation housing unit per order of Warden Terry Raybon. (Doc. 13 at 9). Riggins claims he feared for his safety at Holman after officers warned him not to go to the healthcare unit “because he might not live” or that the CERT team may harm him. (Doc. 41 at 3, 43).

         On March 14, 2017, during segregation rounds, Riggins handed an inmate request slip to Warden Terry Raybon, asking for extra clothing items, a washcloth and towel, laundry bag, and sheets. Warden Raybon told Riggins to write on the request slip, “May I go to General Population”. (Id. at 3, 45). Riggins complied; Terry Raybon took the request slip, and returned the slip to Riggins later that day with instructions to answer the following questions:

Do you fear for your life in Pop?
Do you have any enemies in Population?
Are you willing to be assigned to any Population Dorm?
Are you willing to sign a Living Agreement for Population?

(Id. at 45). Fearing for his life in general population, Riggins did not return the request slip to Warden Raybon. And, on March 21, 2017, Riggins verbally informed Terry Raybon that he feared for his safety at Holman. (Id.).

         On May 14, 2017, Riggins handwrote two administrative complaints.[4] The first complaint is addressed to Warden Cynthia Stewart and Classification Specialist William DeSpain, in which Riggins asserts that he and inmate Antonio Williams, who was also housed in the segregation unit, are enemies and that inmate Williams had made continuous threats to attack Riggins when Riggins was cuffed to the rear. (Id. at 53). Riggins further asserts in the letter that Inmate Williams informed him that unnamed prison officials are “willing to pay him (Inmate Williams) or any other inmate to do [Riggins] serious physical harm.”[5] (Id.). Subsequent to the submitted letter, Riggins claims that Captain DeSpain visited Riggins at his segregation cell and told Riggins that Warden “Stewart ordered him to do nothing to protect Riggins.” (Id. at 4).

         The second complaint, dated May 14, 2017, is addressed to Warden Stewart and Captain Emberton, in which Riggins complains of excessive force used against him on May 13, 2017 by the CERT team (during their search for a cell phone) and requests an investigation be conducted by the Internal Investigation Unit. Riggins claims that on May 13, 2017, between 3:00 p.m. and 3:45 p.m., he was using the toilet in his cell when he was ordered to “cuff up” by the CERT team through the cell tray door. (Id. at 51). Riggins responded, “Yes, let me wipe my ass”, and was sprayed with a chemical spray. (Id.). Riggins screamed, “I’m coming”, but was sprayed again as he stood at the cell door with his hands to the rear. (Id.). Riggins again “loudly beg[ged]” and said “I’m ready” when he alleges he was sprayed again with the chemical agent and told by the CERT team officer, “No you will be ready when we say you’re ready” and was sprayed a fourth time before the officer closed the tray door. (Id.). Riggins contends he was forced to stay in the contaminated cell for approximately 15 minutes “choking, coughing, burning, and struggling to breathe”, while repeatedly begging for help and to be removed. (Id.). Riggins alleges that for the entire 15 minutes he remained in the cell, the CERT team officers mocked him with insults and stated, “suffer mother fucker we got til 5:00 p.m. to get your ass out of that cell”. (Id. at 53). Once removed from the cell and decontaminated, Riggins was replaced in his cell and denied products with which to clean it. (Id.).

         On June 14, 2017, Riggins claims he suffered a seizure in his cell and was found unresponsive on the floor by three ADOC officers (Officers House, Jones, and Bennett) and one nurse (Nurse Gary) during the 1:30 a.m. pill call. (Doc. 41 at 56-59). According to Riggins, the nurse advised of the need for medical treatment, and the three officers stated, “he will be alright just leave him”. (Id. at 5, 54).

         Riggins further claims that a few hours later, Lieutenant Brown, Captain Smith, Officer Bennett, Officer Tait, Officer House, Officer Siler, Officer Stewart, and Lieutenant Banks came to his cell, saw that he was still seizing, unresponsive, and threw objects at him and poked him with a stick. (Id. at 54). More specifically, he claims that Vencini Smith beat his legs and feet with a push broom and “water squeezy” causing pain and swelling to his legs and feet. (Doc. 13 at 10). Riggins alleges that these defendants made statements including, “We don’t care about Darryl Riggins”; “We are not opening that cell door to go get him out”; and “If he die[, ] Oh well.” (Doc. 13 at 9 (capitalization alterations)).

         When Riggins regained consciousness around 7:00 a.m., he claims he was lying in a pool of urine, feces, and blood from biting his tongue. (Doc. 41 at 5). Then, at approximately 10:00 a.m., four CERT team officers came to his cell while he was asleep and screamed, “they would beat the shit out of [him]” if he moved. (Id. at 55). Riggins was handcuffed, thrown to the floor, and questioned about possession of a cell phone. His cell and person were searched, while Riggins repeatedly requested medical treatment for his tongue but was told he “wasn’t going anywhere until [he gave] them a cell phone.” (Id. at 5). When no cell phone was produced or found, the CERT team officers left and refused Riggins medical treatment for his tongue. (Id. at 5-6).

         Riggins alleges he again requested a body chart and medical attention for “his chewed tongue” during the Segregation Review Board’s rounds on June 16, 2017, but was refused treatment by Jeff Emberton and Terry Raybon, who responded, “I Don’t Need to See Your Tongue, and no you cannot have a medical body chart done.” (Doc. 13 at 10).

         On October 8, 2017, Riggins was released from the segregated housing unit to general population. He was assigned to Alpha Dormitory (A-Dorm) bed 11-A but asserts that another inmate was occupying bed 11-A and refused to move from the bed. Riggins reported the inmate’s refusal to move from bed 11-A to Captain Regina Bolar. Riggins claims that Captain Bolar and Lieutenant Banks checked the computer for A-Dorm bed assignments, and no inmate was formally assigned to bed 11-A. Riggins alleges that Captain Bolar and Lieutenant Banks went to A-Dorm and the inmate on bed 11-A again refused to move to his assigned bed. (Doc. 41 at 7). Captain Bolar then ordered Riggins to go to Bravo Dormitory (also “B-Dorm” or “Bravo Dorm”). When Riggins entered Bravo Dorm, he claims the B-Dorm inmates approached him and threatened to stab him for being labeled a snitch or informant. Riggins further claims he left B-Dorm and informed Captain Bolar and Lieutenant Banks “that the inmates in Bravo Dormitory were threatening to stab and beat plaintiff for being labeled a snitch if plaintiff did not get out of Bravo Dormitory”, and Captain Bolar responded, “Man get out of my face.” (Doc. 13 at 4). Riggins alleges that because he feared for his safety in B-Dorm, he sneaked into Delta Dormitory (“D-Dorm”) and hid.

         At the 9:00 p.m. pill call, Riggins entered the main hall and was questioned by Lieutenant Devron Brown as to his dorm and bed assignment. Riggins answered that he was assigned to bed 11-A but was told by Captain Bolar to find a bed in B-Dorm. Riggins alleges that Lieutenant Brown ordered Defendant Officers Lang, Boudreaux, Tait, House and Siler to escort him to B-Dorm “and make sure he did not get back out.” (Id. at 8). Riggins then explained that the inmates in B-Dorm were threatening to stab and beat him if he came back to B-Dorm and requested to go to his assigned A-Dorm. Lieutenant Brown ordered Lang, Boudreaux, Tait, House, and Siler to make sure Riggins went to his “assigned dorm”. (Id.). “[M]oments later Defendants came and got Plaintiff to escort plaintiff to Bravo Dormitory and plaintiff stated loudly with a clear voice the inmates in Bravo Dormitory are threatening to stab and beat him if he came in Bravo Dormitory again.” (Id.). Sergeant Lang ordered Riggins “to go back where he was”, but “Brown pulled out her mace and threatened to spray plaintiff if plaintiff did not go in Bravo Dormitory as ordered.” (Id.). Riggins complied with the order and entered B-Dorm.

         Within 30 minutes of entering B-Dorm, Riggins was attacked by several inmates with prison-made knives, broken brooms, and mop sticks. Riggins alleges he was beaten and stabbed more than 15 minutes and that no officer was present inside B-Dorm at the time. Riggins claims he suffered serious stab wounds, “some life threatening to the head, neck, back and arm.” (Id.). Riggins further claims that when he made his way to the front gate of B-Dorm, the Cubical 1 Officer was asleep and had to be awakened by Riggins’ “screams, hollering, and shaking of the bars for 5 more minutes for help to respond to the code.” (Id.). Riggins was taken to the healthcare unit, where it was determined he needed further treatment from the local hospital. Riggins was transported to Atmore Community Hospital and then to Mobile Infirmary in Mobile, Alabama. Riggins returned to Holman on October 10, 2017, and was placed in the hospital ward. Riggins alleges that while in the hospital ward, Terry Raybon stated to him, “I told you so. This ain’t the same Holman prison.” (Id.) (capitalization altered). On or around October 13, 2017, Riggins was released from the hospital ward and reassigned to the segregation unit.

         Riggins alleges that on February 28, 2018, Officer Pacheco opened his tray door at approximately 1:30 p.m. and told him “to sign up for sick call because he and Officer C. Arthur were going to physically beat [his] ass.” (Doc. 41 at 67). Officer Pacheco then sprayed a burst of mace in Riggins’ face, closed the tray door, and “walked away laughing saying now go tell that you snitching mother-fucker.” (Id.). Riggins claims he was denied a body chart and decontamination by Officers Pacheco and Arthur and told to “burn and choke until you die black nigga we hate your kind you black motherfuckers ain’t shit but shit starter.” (Id). At 3:15 p.m., Riggins informed Lieutenant Banks of the situation and was provided a body chart but never decontaminated or given a shower. (Id.). Riggins notified Warden Stewart of this incident, on February 28, 2018, but Warden Stewart returned his letter, unopened. (Doc. 41 at 10). Warden Stewart further failed to allow Riggins to explain the incident to him on March 14, 2018, during Segregation Review Board rounds. (Id.).

         In February 2018, after refusing to return to general population, Riggins was informed by Captain Jeff Emberton that “he would be punished by not being considered for favorable classification considerations.” (Doc. 13 at 8-9). Captain Emberton then told Riggins, “It’s shoot or be shot, that’s the life at the Holman Prison”, and Emberton and a group of inmates (in agreement) laughed. (Id. at 9).

         Riggins filed this suit pursuant to § 1983 in March 2018 seeking to recover compensatory and punitive damages, as well as a declaratory judgment, equitable relief, costs of litigation, and affirmative action. (Doc. 13 at 7). Riggins was transferred from Holman in July 2018. (Doc. 16).

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) ("The mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment."); Garczynski v. Bradshaw, 573 F.3d 1158, 1165 (11th Cir. 2009) ("[S]ummary judgment is appropriate even if 'some alleged factual dispute' between the parties remains, so long as there is 'no genuine issue of material fact.'") (emphasis omitted)).

         The party asking 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 'pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The movant can meet this burden by presenting evidence showing there is no dispute of material fact, or by showing, or pointing out to, the district court that the nonmoving party has failed to present evidence in support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322-24.

Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56(e) "requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or by the 'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324. To avoid summary judgment, the nonmoving party "must do more than show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). On the other hand, the evidence of the nonmovant must be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in its favor. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

ThyssenKrupp Steel USA, LLC v. United Forming, Inc., 926 F.Supp.2d 1286, 1289-90 (S.D. Ala. Jan. 29, 2013) (citations omitted).

         The requirement to view the facts in the nonmoving party's favor extends only to "genuine" disputes over material facts. A genuine dispute requires more than "some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." Garczynski, 573 F.3d at 1165 (internal citations omitted). A "mere scintilla" of evidence is insufficient; the nonmoving party must produce substantial evidence in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Id. In addition, "[t]here is no burden upon the district court to distill every potential argument that could be made based upon the materials before it on summary judgment." Resolution Trust Corp. v. Dunmar Corp., 43 F.3d 587, 599 (11th Cir. 1995). More importantly, where "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, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 1776, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007); see also Logan v. Smith, 439 F.App'x 798, 800 (11th Cir. Aug. 29, 2011) ("In cases where opposing parties tell different versions of the same events, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record-such that no reasonable jury could believe it-a court should not adopt the contradicted allegations." (citations omitted) (unpublished)).

         III. Discussion and Analysis

          "In order for a plaintiff to establish a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, he must prove (1) a violation of a constitutional right, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law." Martinez v. Burns, 459 F.App'x 849, 850-51 (11th Cir. 2012) (citing Holmes v. Crosby, 418 F.3d 1256, 1258 (11th Cir. 2005)). The parties do not dispute that Defendants, employed as correctional officers for the State of Alabama, were acting under the color of state law at the time of the complained of incident. Thus, the Court must determine if Defendants have established that there are no genuine facts with respect to Riggins’ Eighth Amendment claims.[6]

         A. Official Capacity Claims.

         The Defendants named in this action are all correctional officers employed by the Alabama Department of Corrections. To the extent Riggins has sued each defendant in his or her official capacity, the defendants are immune from suit. "Official-capacity suits ... generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent." Penley v. Eslinger, 605 F.3d 843, 854 (11th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted); see also Mann v. Taser Int'l, Inc., 588 F.3d 1291, 1309 (11th Cir. 2009) ("A claim asserted against an individual in his or her official capacity is, in reality, a suit against the entity that employs the individual.") (citation omitted). As a practical matter, then, Riggins’ § 1983 claims against Defendants in their official capacities functionally reduce to § 1983 claims against the State itself.

         The Eleventh Amendment protects Defendants in their official capacities from Riggins' claims. See, e.g., Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100, 104 S.Ct. 900, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984) (With some exceptions, "a suit in which the State or one of its agencies or departments is named as the defendant is proscribed by the Eleventh Amendment. This jurisdictional bar applies regardless of the nature of the relief sought." (citations omitted)); Harbert Int'l, Inc. v. James, 157 F.3d 1271, 1277 (11th Cir. 1998) ("[S]tate officials sued in their official capacity are []protected by the [Eleventh A]mendment." (citing Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985)). In addition, "a state agency[] and a state official sued in his official capacity are not 'persons' within the meaning of § 1983, thus damages are unavailable..." Edwards v. Wallace Cmty. Coll., 49 F.3d 1517, 1524 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989)). Thus, Defendants, in their official capacities, are immune from suit for monetary damages.[7]

         B. Eighth Amendment Claims.

         The Eighth Amendment provides that, "[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." U.S. CONST. amend. VIII. The Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment prohibits prison officials from exhibiting deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 828, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994); see also Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660, 82 S.Ct. 1417, 8 L.Ed.2d 758 (1972) (Eighth Amendment is applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment).

         In order to prevail on an Eighth Amendment claim, an inmate must make both an objective and a subjective showing. In Sims v. Mashburn, 25 F.3d 980 (11th Cir. 1994), the court delineated the objective and subjective portions of an Eighth Amendment claim as follows:

An Eighth Amendment claim is said to have two components, an objective component, which inquires whether the alleged wrongdoing was objectively harmful enough to establish a constitutional violation, and a subjective component, which inquires whether the officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind.

25 F.3d at 983. To prevail on constitutional claims like the ones asserted by Riggins, he must prove that there was "a substantial risk of serious harm, " that the defendant was subjectively deliberately indifferent to that risk, and causation. Hale, 50 F.3d at 1582; see also Farmer, 511 U.S. at 832-34. In defining "deliberate indifference, " the Supreme Court has stated:

With deliberate indifference lying somewhere between the poles of negligence at one end and purpose or knowledge at the other, the Courts of Appeals have routinely equated deliberate indifference with recklessness. See e.g., LaMarca v. Turner, 995 F.2d 1526, 1535 (CA111993). . . .It is, indeed, fair to say that acting or failing to act with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to a prisoner is the equivalent of recklessly disregarding that risk.

Farmer, 511 U.S. at 836. Thus, the Court concluded that the "subjective recklessness" standard of criminal law is the test for "deliberate indifference" under the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 839-40. Under this test, there is no liability for "an official's failure to alleviate a significant risk that he should have perceived but did not . . . ." Id. at 838. It is not enough that an inmate proves that the defendant should have known of the risk, but did not, as actual knowledge is the key. See, e.g., Cottrell v. Caldwell, 85 F.3d 1480, 1491 (11th Cir. 1996).

         Furthermore, “[i]t is well established in this Circuit that supervisory officials are not liable under § 1983 for the unconstitutional acts of their subordinates on the basis of respondeat superior or vicarious liability." Hartley v. Parnell, 193 F.3d 1263, 1269 (11th Cir. 1999) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). If a supervisor’s liability cannot be established based on the supervisor’s personal participation in the complained acts, a plaintiff must show a causal connection between the supervisor’s actions and the alleged constitutional deprivation. Brown v. Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 671 (11th Cir. 1990).

A causal connection may be established when: 1) a "history of widespread abuse” puts the responsible supervisor on notice of the need to correct the alleged deprivation, and he fails to do so; 2) a supervisor's custom or policy results in deliberate indifference to constitutional rights; or 3) facts support an inference that the supervisor directed the subordinates to act unlawfully or knew that the subordinates would act unlawfully and failed to stop them from doing so.

Valdes v. Crosby, 450 F.3d 1231, 1237 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing Cottone v. Jenne, 326 F.3d 1352, 1360 (11th Cir. 2003)). A custom is established by showing "a longstanding and widespread practice [such that it] is deemed authorized by the policymaking officials because they must have known about it but failed to stop it." Brown v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 923 F.2d 1474, 1481 (11th Cir. 1991) (A custom requires showing a practice so settled and permanent that it takes on the force of law). “The deprivations that constitute widespread abuse sufficient to notify the supervising official must be obvious, flagrant, rampant and of continued duration, rather than isolated occurrences.” West v. Tillman, 496 F.3d 1321, 1329 (11th Cir. 2007) (quotation marks and citations omitted).

         It is against these legal standards that the Court will analyze Riggins’ claims.

         i. May 13, 2017 Incident.

         Riggins alleges that on May 13, 2017, five CERT team officers sprayed him with a chemical agent (no less than four times) and laughed and mocked him as he begged and pleaded for help from the burning, coughing, and difficulties breathing. Defendants contend that the force used against Riggins on May 13, 2017 was necessary after Riggins failed to comply with direct orders. In support, Defendants rely on the Incident Report and Duty Officer Report from May 13, 2017, which states that at approximately 5:00 p.m., the Southern CERT team approached Riggins’ cell to conduct a search for contraband, and Riggins refused several direct orders to submit to restraints. Officer Jermaine Bullard observed Riggins throw a cell phone and cell phone charger into his toilet in attempt to destroy evidence. Sgt. Jesse Wilson administered a one second burst of “Sabre Red” to the facial area of Riggins in attempt to preserve evidence. Riggins, however, flushed the phone and charger before submitting to the restraints. Riggins was then taken to the health care unit and received a medical assessment and decontamination from the chemical spray. Defendants contend Riggins was then returned to the segregation unit pending disciplinary action. (Doc. 27-13 at 1, 4). The body chart received indicates that Riggins was examined at approximately 4:40 p.m. and noted only a few small scratches observed on his left hand. (Doc. 27-13 at 2). The use of force was investigated by Warden Terry Raybon and found to be justified given Riggins’ failure to obey the orders of the CERT team. (Doc. 27-13 at 3).

         It is unclear from Riggins’ complaint whether or not he asserts a claim for excessive force used on May 13, 2017. To the extent he does, his claim fails. Review of the pleadings reveals Riggins has failed to connect liability to any named defendant who personally participated in the May 13, 2017 incident. Accordingly, it is unnecessary for the Court to determine whether or not excessive force was used against Riggins. Likewise, Riggins has failed to connect the CERT team’s alleged excessive force to a policy or custom of a named supervisory ...

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