Shropshire v. Toney et al

Filing 106

Order re: Bench Trial. The Court finds in favor of the Plaintiff and awards compensatory damages in the amount of $1,000 plus punitive damages in the amount of $1,000. As the prevailing party, the Plaintiff may be entitled to "a rea sonable attorney's fees as part of the costs." Plaintiff shall file a motion for attorney's fee and costs by 2/13/2015. Response to Motion due by 2/27/2015. Signed by Senior Judge Charles R. Butler, Jr on 1/21/2015. copies to parties. (sdb)

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IN  THE  UNITED  STATES  DISTRICT  COURT  FOR  THE   SOUTHERN  DISTRICT  OF  ALABAMA   SOUTHERN  DIVISION       DONNIE  SHROPSHIRE,     Plaintiff     v.     CHANDRA  JOHNSON,     Defendants,   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )           CIVIL  ACTION  NO.   10-­‐00470-­‐CB-­‐N         ORDER     On  January  12,  2015,  this  matter  came  before  the  Court  for  a  bench  trial  on   the  Plaintiff’s  claim  that  Defendant  used  excessive  force  in  violation  of  the  Eighth   Amendment  and  42  U.S.C.  §  1983.    After  due  consideration  of  the  witnesses  and   evidence  presented  the  Court  enters  the  following  findings  of  fact  and  conclusions  of   law.     Findings  of  Fact     On  July  4,  2010,  Plaintiff  Donnie  Shropshire,  an  Alabama  prison  inmate,  was   incarcerated  at  the  Atmore  Work  Release  Center,  a  correctional  facility  operated  by   the  Alabama  Department  of  Corrections  (ADOC).    Shropshire  was  working  as  a   runner  for  the  defendant,  Sgt.  Chandra  Johnson,  an  ADOC  correctional  officer.    Early   that  morning  Shropshire  carried  a  computer  to  the  dining  hall  to  be  used  for   visitation.    As  Shropshire  approached  the  entrance,  another  inmate  opened  the  door   and  squeezed  liquid  from  a  squeegee  outside  the  door,  soaking  Shropshire’s  right   foot.    Immediately,  his  foot  began  to  burn  and  itch.    Shropshire  went  to  Johnson  and   told  her  that  his  foot  was  burning  and  itching.    Johnson  replied,  “Bull  [Shropshire’s   nickname],  I  need  you.”    Shropshire  took  off  his  sock  but  put  his  wet  shoe  back  on   and  continued  with  his  duties.    When  his  duties  ended  around  2:00  p.m.,  Shropshire   took  a  shower.    At  that  point  the  top  of  his  right  foot  was  very  red  and  continued  to   itch  and  burn.     The  following  morning,  Monday,  July  5th,    Shropshire’s  foot  was  in  pain  and  a   large  blister  “bigger  than  a  50-­‐cent  piece”  had  developed  on  the  top  of  his  foot.    At   this  point,  Shropshire  categorized  his  pain  as  an  “8  or  9  out  of  10.”    The  foot  was  so   swollen  that  Shropshire  could  not  get  his  shoes  on.    Shropshire  described  his  big  toe   as  being  the  “size  of  two  thumbs.”    Two  blisters  had  developed  on  the  top  of  his  foot,   each  the  size  of  a  50-­‐cent  piece,  about  half  an  inch  high,  and  filled  with  fluid.     Shropshire  could  not  work  that  day  because  of  the  pain,  which  he  described  as   “pulsating”  and  as  an  “8  or  9”  out  of  10.    He  put  in  a  “sick  call  slip”  requesting   medical  treatment  for  his  foot.         The  primary  factual  dispute  in  this  case  centers  on  the  events  of  July  6th.     That  morning    Shropshire  was  called  to  the  kitchen.    At  this  point,  his  foot  was  even   more  swollen  than  the  day  before.    He  had  to  drag  his  foot  when  he  walked  because   could  not  bend  it.    He  was  wearing  shower  slides,  and  had  cut  the  top  so  that  he   could  get  it  on  his  swollen  foot.    Shropshire  went  to  the  kitchen  and  reported  to   Steward  Stonewall,  who  was  in  charge.    He  told  her  he  could  not  work  and  showed   her  his  foot.    Stonewall  asked,  “What’s  wrong  with  your  foot?    You  got  gout?”    Also     2   present  in  the  kitchen,  according  to  Shropshire,  were  Steward  English,  Inmate   Jerome  Fletcher,  and  Sgt.  Johnson.    Shropshire  was  standing  just  a  few  feet  from   Stonewall  as  he  was  talking  with  her  and  showing  her  his  foot.    Stonewall  told   Johnson  to  go  back  to  his  bunk.     According  to  Shropshire’s  testimony,  when  he  started  to  leave,  Sgt.  Johnson,   who  had  been  standing  a  couple  of  feet  behind  Stonewall,  took  a  squeegee  from   Inmate  Fletcher,  who  was  mopping  the  floor.    Johnson  took  the  squeegee  in  both   hands  and  intentionally  “bammed”  it  down  on  Shropshire’s  injured  foot.    The  impact   caused  the  blisters  to  burst,  oozing  blood  and  fluid.    Shropshire  described  the  pain   he  felt  at  that  time  as  “excruciating.”    The  pain  was  so  bad  that  it  made  him  cry,  and   he  hurried  out  the  door  so  that  he  would  not  react  in  front  of  Johnson.    After  the   blow,  Shropshire’s  foot  hurt  worse  than  before.    According  to  Shropshire  his  pain   level  was  “at  least”  10  out  of  10.    Shropshire  further  testified  that  when  Johnson   struck  his  foot,  she  had  a  look  on  her  fact  that  said  “Obey.”         Johnson  testified  that  that  she  did  not  remember  how  Shropshire’s  foot  was   injured,  that  she  never  had  a  conversation  with  Shropshire  on  July  4th  about  his   burning  foot  and  his  wet  shoe,  and  denied  ever  striking  Shropshire  with  a  squeegee.     She  did  admit  to  being  in  the  kitchen  in  the  course  of  her  duties  on  July  6th.   According  to  Johnson,  the  first  time  Shropshire’s  injury  came  to  her  attention  was   on  the  morning  of  July  7th  when  Shropshire  was  brought  to  the  duty  office  in  a   wheelchair  by  Inmate  McGaster.      Johnson  called  the  medical  office  at  nearby   Fountain  Correctional  and  spoke  with  a  nurse  about  Shropshire,  then  had  another   officer  take  Shropshire  to  the  infirmary  at  Fountain.         3     Shropshire’s  injury  was  a  serious  one.    He  was  admitted  to  the  infirmary   ward  at  Fountain,  where  he  stayed  for  approximately  two  to  three  weeks.    He  was   diagnosed  with  a  chemical  burn  and  a  penicillin-­‐resistant  strain  of  staph  infection   known  as  MRSA.    After  a  month  of  treatment  consisting  of  intravenous  and/or   intramuscular  antibiotics,  pain  medication,  and  wound  care,  Shropshire’s  foot  was   healed,  according  to  his  medical  records  and  the  testimony  of  his  health  care   providers.1    There  is  no  medical  evidence  that  the  single  blow  to  Shropshire’s  foot   caused  either  the  staph  infection  or  any  other  injury  that  necessitated  the  treatment   Shropshire  received  or  his  stay  in  the  infirmary.         Ultimately,  the  Court  finds  Shropshire’s  testimony  regarding  the  incident  to   be  more  credible.    First,  Johnson’s  memory  was  very  selective.    She  clearly   remembered  events  that  showed  her  in  a  favorable  light,  such  as  helping  Shropshire     earn  him  extra  benefits  because  he  had  no  family  support  and  moving  him  to  a   bottom  bunk  when  one  became  available.2    Yet,  she  did  not  recall  anything  about   Shropshire’s  injury,  even  though  she  admitted  (and  others  similarly  testified)  that   Shropshire  was  not  one  to  remain  quiet  when  he  had  a  problem.    In  addition,   Johnson  was  less  than  forthcoming  when  her  attitude  about  Shropshire’s   homosexuality  was  questioned.    From  Shropshire’s  testimony,  it  appeared  that   Johnson  was  morally  opposed  to  homosexuality  and  that  her  opposition  affected  her                                                                                                                   1  Dr.  Oscar  Lopez  and  Nurse  Practitioner  Barry  Gaston  testified  by   deposition.   2  Johnson  also  insisted  that  she  called  a  nurse  “every  time”  a  prisoner   complained  to  her  about  a  medical  problem.    Yet  when  questioned  further  by  the   Court,  Johnson  admitted  that  she  called  a  nurse  “every  time  “  if  something  serious  is   involved,  like  shortness  of  breath  or  bleeding.     4   attitude  toward  Shropshire.3    Johnson,  who  is  a  lay  minister,  insisted  that  she  had  no   religious  problem  with  homosexuality,  but  when  questioned  further  she  admitted   that  her  church  “believe[s]  that  sin  is  morally  wrong”  and  that  “homosexuality  is  a   sin.”    Finally,  Johnson  was  unduly  evasive  when  it  came  to  admitting  knowledge  of   Shropshire’s  injury.    First,  she  said  that  when  he  was  brought  to  the  duty  office  of   July  7th  he  was  wearing  a  sock,  that  she  did  not  see  his  foot,  and  that  she  was  told   that  there  was  “blood  and  stuff.”    On  cross  examination,  Johnson  admitted  that   Shropshire’s  foot  was  not  in  a  sock  but  was  wrapped  (which  was  consistent  with  the   makeshift  bandage  Shropshire  described).     The  Court  also  finds  Shropshire’s  version  more  credible  for  other  reasons.     Shropshire,  who  is  a  57-­‐year-­‐old  inmate  serving  life,  testified  that  he  had  never   before  filed  a  lawsuit  and  thus  has  no  history  of  frivolous  actions.    Furthermore,   there  is  little  motivation  to  lie  about  the  incident,  which  was  never  the  primary   focus  of  this  lawsuit.4    Moreover,  defense  counsel’s  attempts  to  discredit  Shropshire   were  not  successful.    Shropshire  was  disciplined  once  by  Johnson,  but  he  admitted   to  the  infraction,  which  was  minor,  and  the  discipline  imposed  had  little  effect  on   Shropshire.    Shropshire  may  not  have  told  medical  staff  that  Johnson  hit  him   (although  he  claimed  to  have  secretly  told  Dr.  Lopez).    However,  as  he  explained,                                                                                                                   3  Shropshire  testified  Johnson  did  not  like  other  inmates  calling  him  “Mama   Bull”  in  reference  to  his  homosexuality,  that  she  once  put  holy  oil  on  his  head  and   said  “The  devil  is  alive,”  that  she  “got  on  him”  about  his  voice  (because  it  was  not   manly  enough),  and  told  him  to  be  a  man  because  God  did  not  put  him  on  the  earth   to  be  like  he  was.    Furthermore,  both  Johnson  and  J.  C.  McGaster  testified  that   Johnson  put  the  homosexual  prisoners  in  a  separate  dormitory  during  the  time  they   were  at  Atmore  Work  Release  Center.         4  Shropshire’s  predominant  complaint  was  the  delay  in  medical  care.     Summary  judgment  was  granted  in  favor  of  the  defendants  on  that  claim.     5   there  are  guards  in  the  infirmary.    Therefore,  is  understandable  that  Shropshire   would  not  have  publicly  accused  a  guard  of  misconduct.    Finally,  why  would   Shropshire  fabricate  an  incident  with  two  prison  employees  (Steward  Stonewall  and   Steward  English)  as  witnesses?     Conclusions  of  Law     Based  on  the  foregoing  facts,  the  Court  finds  by  a  preponderance  of  evidence   that  Johnson  has  violated  Shropshire’s  constitutional  right,  guaranteed  by  the  Eighth   Amendment,  to  be  free  from  cruel  and  unusual  punishment  and  is  liable  for   damages  under  42  U.S.C.  §  1983.         To  establish  an  Eighth  Amendment  violation  a  prisoner  must  prove   that  his  injury  was  caused  by  an  “unnecessary  and  wanton  infliction  of   pain.”  The  Supreme  Court  has  admonished  that  in  such  cases  “the  core   judicial  inquiry  is  ...  whether  force  was  applied  in  a  good-­‐faith  effort  to   maintain  or  restore  discipline,  or  maliciously  and  sadistically  to  cause   harm.”    The  absence  of  “serious  injury”  alone  is  insufficient  to  dismiss   a  prisoner's  Eight  Amendment  claim.  Id.  Instead,  analysis  of  an  Eighth   Amendment  excessive  force  claim  is  contextual  and  requires  that   many  factors  be  considered:  “the  need  for  the  application  of  force,  the   relationship  between  that  need  and  the  amount  of  force  used,  the   threat  reasonably  perceived  by  the  responsible  officials,  and  any   efforts  made  to  temper  the  severity  of  a  forceful  response.”     Harris  v.  Chapman,  97  F.3d  499,  505  (11th  Cir.  1996)  (quoting  Hudson  v.  McMillian,   503  U.S.  1,  5,  7  (1992)).    However,  “[not]  every  malevolent  touch  by  a  prison  guard   gives  rise  to  a  federal  cause  of  action.”    Hudson,  503  U.S.  at  9.        Thus,  “de  minimis     uses  of  physical  force”  are  not  prohibited  “’provided  that  the  use  of  force  is  not  of  a   sort  repugnant  to  the  conscience  of  mankind.’”    Id.  at  10  (quoting  Whitley  v.  Albers,     475  U.S.  312,  327  (1986)).     6     Viewed  in  context,  Johnson’s  use  of  force  was  excessive  because  striking   Shropshire’s  obviously  injured  and  painful  foot  was  malicious,  gratuitous,  and   without  justification  or  provocation.    As  the  Supreme  Court  stated  in  Hudson  v.   McMillian,  503  U.S.  at  9,  “[w]hen  prison  official  maliciously  and  sadistically  use  force   to  cause  harm,  contemporary  standards  of  decency  always  are  violated.    This  is  true   whether  or  not  significant  injury  is  evident.”    Even  if  the  force  used  to  strike   Shropshire  might  be  considered  minor  in  other  circumstances,  the  act  of   deliberately  striking  a  prisoner’s  injury  solely  for  the  purpose  of  inflicting  pain  is   nothing  short  of  malicious.    The  Court  has  no  doubt  Johnson  was  aware  of  the  injury   to  Shropshire’s  foot  when  she  hit  him.    Shropshire  complained  to  her  when  his  foot   was  first  injured,  and  she  overheard  the  conversation  between  Shropshire  and   Steward  Stonewall  immediately  before  she  struck  Shropshire.    Furthermore,   Johnson’s  blow  caused  significant  pain  and  contributed  to  the  severity  of  the  injury.   Shropshire  testified  that  the  pain  was  a  10  out  of  10  and  that  he  had  to  leave  the   area  so  that  he  would  not  react  against  Johnson.  The  blow  caused  an  open  wound,   and,  according  to  medical  testimony,  open  wounds  increase  the  risk  of  infection.  In   sum,  Johnson’s  wanton  and  unnecessary  infliction  of  pain  amounts  to  cruel  and   unusual  punishment.         Having  decided  the  issue  of  liability,  the  Court  must  determine  damages.    In  a   §  1983  lawsuit,  a  plaintiff  may  be  entitled  to  recover  both  compensatory  and   punitive  damages.    Compensatory  damages  include  “damages  based  on  monetary   loss,  physical  pain  and  suffering  or  demonstrable  mental  and  emotional  distress.”     Slicker  v.  Jackson,  215  F.3d  1225,  1233  (11th  Cir.  2000).      Shropshire  undoubtedly     7   suffered  mental  and  emotional  distress  due  to  the  chemical  burn,  MRSA  infection,   and  subsequent  treatment.    But  these  are  not  attributable  to  the  squeegee  incident   and,  therefore,  are  not  compensable.    Damages  will,  however,  be  awarded  for  the   increase  in  pain  and  suffering  and  emotional  distress  resulting  from  the  incident.   Shropshire  testified  that  the  pain  was  worse  after  the  blow,  was  “excruciating,”  and   was  “at  least”  a  10  out  of  10.    In  addition,  Shropshire  testified  that  blow  caused  an   emotional  reaction  strong  enough  to  make  him  cry.    Altogether,  the  Court  finds  that   $1,000  is  an  adequate  and  appropriate  award  for  physical  pain  and  suffering  and   mental  and  emotional  distress.     Next,  the  Court  turns  to  punitive  damages.    In  general,  punitive  damages  may   be  awarded  for  a  violation  of  §  1983  ”when  when  the  defendant's  conduct  is  shown   to  be  motivated  by  evil  motive  or  intent,”  i.e.,  is  malicious,  or  “when  it  involves   reckless  or  callous  indifference  to  the  federally  protected  rights  of  others.”    Smith  v.   Wade,  461  U.S.  30,  56  (1983).    Having  determined  that  Johnson’s  conduct  was   malicious,  the  Court  has  no  difficulty  concluding  that  Shropshire  has  met  the   threshold  necessary  for  an  award  of  punitive  damages.    However,  the  inquiry  is   more  complicated  here.        In  an  Eighth  Amendment  excessive  force  case,  an  award  of  punitive  damages   is  governed  by  the  Prison  Litigation  Reform  Act  (PLRA),  18  U.S.C.  §  3626(a)(1)(A).     Johnson  v.  Breeden,  280  F.3d  1308,  1323-­‐24.    The  PLRA  strictly  limits  the  availability   of  “prospective  relief”  which  it  defines  as  “’all  relief  other  than  compensatory  money   damages.’”    Id.  at  1324  (quoting  18  U.S.C.  §  3626(g)(7)).    Thus,  for  PLRA  purposes,   punitive  damages  are  considered  prospective  relief  and  must  be  “narrowly  drawn,     8   extend[  ]  no  further  than  necessary  to  correct  the  violation  of  the  Federal  right,  and   must  be  the  “least  intrusive  means  necessary  to  correct  the  violation.”    Id.    18  U.S.C.  §   3626(a)(1)(A).    Furthermore,  “[t]he  court  shall  give  substantial  weight  to  any   adverse  impact  on  public  safety  or  the  operation  of  a  criminal  justice  system  caused   by  the  relief.”    Id.    The  district  court  is  required  to  discuss  and  enter  findings  with   respect  to  these  factors,  even  though  “there  may  not  be  much  to  say  about  the[m].”     Johnson,  280  F.3d  at  1326.         The  Court  finds  that  a  punitive  damages  award  in  the  amount  of  $1,000  is   appropriate  and  satisfies  the  foregoing  criteria.    Punitive  damages  serve  the  dual   aims  of  punishment  and  deterrence.    State  Farm  Mut.  Auto  Ins.  Co.  v.  Campbell,  538   U.S.  408  (2003).    This  modest  award  goes  no  further  than  is  necessary  to  serve  those   goals  and  could  not  be  more  narrowly  drawn  or  less  intrusive.    Moreover  requiring   an  officer  who  intentionally  violated  a  prisoner’s  constitutional  rights  to  pay  a  small   punitive  damages  award  should  not  have  a  significant  adverse  impact  on  public   safety  or  the  operation  of  a  criminal  justice  system.         Conclusion     For  the  foregoing  reasons,  the  Court  finds  in  favor  of  the  Plaintiff  and  awards   compensatory  damages  in  the  amount  of  $1,000  plus  punitive  damages  in  the   amount  of  $1,000.    Judgment  will  be  entered  by  separate  order.       As  the  prevailing  party,  the  Plaintiff    may  be  entitled  to  “a  reasonable   attorney’s  fees  as  part  of  the  costs.”    42  U.S.C.  §  1988(b).    Plaintiff  shall  file  a   properly  supported  motion  for  attorney’s  fee  and  costs  on  or  before  February  13,     9   2015.    Defendant  must  file  its  opposition  to  the  motion  on  or  before  February  27,   2015.     DONE  and  ORDERED  this  the  21st  day  of  January,  2015.                                       s/Charles  R.  Butler,  Jr.       Senior  United  States  District  Judge                     10  

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