Chestang v. Robinson et al
OPINION AND ORDER DECLINING TO ADOPT 49 Report and Recommendations; defts' 43 motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part; Robinson's motion for summary judgment on the claims against him in his individual capacit y is denied; pltf's claims against Robinson and Harmon in their official capacities are dismissed, as are pltf's claims against Harmon in his individual capacity; CASE IS REFERRED BACK to Magistrate Judge H. David Young. Signed by Judge J. Leon Holmes on 3/11/13. (vjt)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
KE’ONDRA M. CHESTANG,
NO. 2:12CV00055 JLH
RUBEN ROBINSON, Corporal,
East Arkansas Regional Unit,
Arkansas Department of Correction;
and GREG HARMON, Warden,
Arkansas Department of Correction
OPINION AND ORDER
Ke’Ondra M. Chestang, an inmate in Varner SuperMax unit of the Arkansas Department of
Correction, brings this action against Ruben Robinson, a prison guard, and Greg Harmon,1 the
Warden, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Robinson used excessive force against Chestang
in retaliation for Chestang having filed grievances against him. The defendants moved for summary
judgment, arguing that they are entitled to sovereign immunity in their official capacities, that the
complaint fails to state a claim for which relief may be granted,2 that plaintiff’s injuries were de
minimis, as against Harmon that respondeat superior is not a permissible theory under section 1983,
and that Harmon is entitled to qualified immunity. The magistrate judge submitted proposed findings
and recommended disposition in which he concluded that Chestang had not presented facts that
would tend to show a constitutional violation. Therefore, the magistrate judge recommended that
Chestang’s complaint be dismissed. For reasons that will be explained, the Court declines to adopt
Another defendant, Steven Decoursey, was previously dismissed.
It is not clear whether the defendants intend to argue this point under Fed. R. Civ. P.
12(b)(6) or 56.
the magistrate judge’s recommendation. The defendants’ motion for summary judgment will be
granted in part and denied in part.
The pleading standards, and the correlative standards for ruling on a motion to dismiss under
Rule 12(b)(6), are well known. A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). While Rule 8(a)(2) does not
require a complaint to contain detailed factual allegations, it does require a plaintiff to state the
grounds of his entitlement to relief, which requires more than labels and conclusions. Bell Atl. Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1964-65, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007). In ruling on
a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and review
the complaint to determine whether its allegations show that the pleader is entitled to relief. Schaaf
v. Residential Funding Corp., 517 F.3d 544, 549 (8th Cir. 2008). All reasonable inferences from the
complaint must be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. Crumpley-Patterson v. Trinity Lutheran
Hosp., 388 F.3d 588, 590 (8th Cir. 2004). The Court need not, however, accept as true legal
conclusions, even those stated as though they are factual allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949-50, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009).
A court should enter summary judgment if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable
to the nonmoving party, demonstrates that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that
the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986);
Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc). A genuine dispute
of material fact exists only if the evidence is sufficient to allow a jury to return a verdict for the
nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S. Ct. at 2511.
According to the complaint, on April 21, 2008, after he had showered, Chestang was shackled
and handcuffed by Robinson and escorted back to his cell without a second guard, though ADC
policy provides that two guards should have been present during the escort. Traveling from the
showers to Chestang’s cell required navigation of stairs. The complaint alleges:
During this transition from the shower towards Mr. Chestang’s cell on the third tier,
while on the first flight of stairs, Mr. Robinson snatched Mr. Chestang’s left arm
causing Mr. Chestang to inevitably lose balance and his helpless body to literally and
completely fall, tumble and roll backwards down a half a flight of stairs hitting his
head, neck, wrists and twisting his right ankle (or rather causing physical injuries to
such specified areas).
The fact . . . is that . . . Mr. Chestang had previously filed informal/grievance(s)
against Mr. Robinson and Mr. Robinson found an opportunity to disregard policy and
retaliate against Mr. Chestang . . . .
At the time of the incident (immediately prior thereto) when Mr. Robinson was
placing the shackles on Mr. Chestang, Mr. Robinson told Mr. Chestang, “I told you,
you’ll never know when . . . .” Mr. Chestang had been previously verbally
threaten[ed] by Mr. Robinson for the filed informal grievance(s), but Mr. Chestang
was only naive to believe that Mr. Robinson would not follow up/carry out his threat
to “get back” at him.
Document #2, at 6-7. There is no evidence that Chestang suffered serious injuries from this fall.
To prevail on a retaliation claim, Chestang must show (1) he engaged in a protected
expression, (2) he suffered an adverse action, and (3) the adverse action was causally related to the
protected expression. Nelson v. Shuffman, 603 F.3d 439, 450 (8th Cir. 2010). Access to the
grievance process is protected by the first amendment, so Chestang’s allegations meet the first
element. Id. That Robinson caused Chestang to fall down the stairs suffices to meet the second
element. Cf. Santiago v. Blair, __ F.3d __, 2013 WL 692772, at *6 (8th Cir. Feb. 27, 2013). Finally,
the allegations regarding Robinson’s comments immediately prior to the incident meet the third
element. See id. Thus, the complaint states a claim against Robinson for retaliating against Chestang
for exercising his first amendment rights, and, accepting Chestang’s statements as true, a genuine
dispute of fact exists as to each element of the retaliation claim.
To establish a claim of excessive force in violation of the eighth amendment, an inmate must
show that he was subjected to unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain. Hudson v. McMillian, 503
U.S. 1, 5, 112 S. Ct. 995, 998, 117 L. Ed. 2d 156 (1992). What suffices to establish an unnecessary
and wanton infliction of pain varies according to the circumstances. Id. When force is necessary to
control a prison disturbance, the question of whether unnecessary and wanton pain was inflicted turns
on whether the force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline or whether
it was applied maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm. Id. at 6, 112 S. Ct.
In determining whether the use of force was wanton and necessary, it may also be
proper to evaluate the need for 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. The
absence of serious injury is therefore relevant to the eighth amendment inquiry, but
does not end it.
Id. at 7, 112 S. Ct. at 999 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Because force is
sometimes necessary in the prison context, not every “malevolent touch by a prison guard gives rise
to a federal cause of action.” Id. at 9, 112 S. Ct. at 1000. Thus, “[a]n inmate who complains of a
‘push or shove’ that causes no discernable injury almost certainly fails to state a valid excessive force
claim.” Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 130 S. Ct. 1175, 1178, 175 L. Ed. 2d 995 (2010). Even so,
the fact that an inmate suffers only minor injuries does not necessarily preclude a valid eighth
amendment claim because “[i]njury and force . . . are only imperfectly correlated, and it is the latter
that ultimately counts. An inmate who is gratuitously beaten by guards does not lose his ability to
pursue an excessive force claim merely because he has the good fortune to escape without serious
injury.” Id. at 1178-79; see also Santiago, 2013 WL 692772, at *3; Williams v. Jackson, 600 F.3d
1007, 1012 (8th Cir. 2010). The “core judicial inquiry” is not the extent of the inmate’s injury but
the nature of the force applied: “To conclude . . . that the absence of ‘some arbitrary quantity of
injury’ requires automatic dismissal of an excessive force claim improperly bypasses this core
inquiry.” Wilkins, 130 S. Ct. at 1179.
Here, the only information in the record as to how the incident occurred is the complaint.
Accepting Chestang’s allegations as true for the purpose of ruling on the pending motion, Robinson
“slightly snatched”3 Chestang’s elbow while he was navigating stairs in handcuffs and shackles, which
caused him to lose balance and fall down the stairs. Though the force used was not great, because
Chestang was shackled and handcuffed, it was sufficient to cause him to lose his balance and fall
down the stairs. Although not every malevolent touch by a prison guard gives rise to an eighth
amendment violation, that point is irrelevant here because nothing in the record indicates that any type
of touch or any type of discipline was necessary. So far as can be determined from the record as it
currently stands, the only purpose for Robinson to “snatch” Chestang’s elbow was to cause him to
lose his balance and fall down the stairs, which would tend to prove that Robinson unnecessarily and
wantonly inflicted pain. In his motion for summary judgment, Robinson argues only that Chestang’s
Chestang used the phrase “slightly snatched” in a grievance though he only used the
words “snatched” in his complaint.
injuries lacked a necessary level of severity; Robinson makes no argument and provides no evidence
regarding the nature of the force applied.
For these reasons, the Court declines to accept the magistrate judge’s recommended
disposition as to Chestang’s individual claims against Robinson. Robinson’s motion for summary
judgment or to dismiss the claims against him individually is DENIED.
All of Robinson’s other claims must be dismissed. First, Chestang’s claims against Robinson
and Harmon in their official capacities are merely claims against the State of Arkansas, and neither
the State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Will v. Mich. Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71, 109 S. Ct. 2304, 2312, 105 L. Ed. 2d 45 (1989).
Second, Chestang’s individual capacity claims against Harmon must be dismissed because he
does not allege that Harmon participated in the retaliation or use of excessive force against him and
because “a warden’s general responsibility for supervising the operations of a prison is insufficient
to establish personal involvement.” Reynolds v. Dormire, 636 F.3d 976, 981 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting
Ouzts v. Cummins, 825 F.2d 1276, 1277 (8th Cir. 1987)). See also McDowell v. Jones, 990 F.2d
433, 435 (8th Cir. 1993) (to hold a superior liable under section 1983, a plaintiff must show that the
supervisor personally participated in, had direct responsibility for, or knew of and was deliberately
indifferent to the constitutional violations); Burgess v. Moore, 39 F.3d 216, 218 (8th Cir. 1994)
(warden cannot be liable under section 1983 based on respondeat superior). Harmon’s only personal
involvement was to rule upon Chestang’s grievance, which is insufficient to establish a claim against
Harmon. Bilal v. Lockhart, 5 F.3d 531 (8th Cir. 1993) (the grievance procedure is a procedural right
only and does not confer any substantive rights on an inmate).
For the reasons stated, the defendants’ motion for summary judgment is granted in part and
denied in part. Document #43. The Court declines to accept the magistrate judge’s recommendation.
Document #49. Ruben Robinson’s motion for summary judgment on the claims against him in his
individual capacity is denied. Chestang’s claims against Robinson and Greg Harmon in their official
capacities are dismissed, as are Chestang’s claims against Harmon in his individual capacity.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 11th day of March, 2013.
J. LEON HOLMES
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?