Mitchell v. Staley et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER granting Defendant Staley's 19 Motion for Summary Judgment; and dismissing with prejudice Plaintiff's 2 Complaint. An appropriate Judgment shall accompany this Memorandum and Order. Signed by Magistrate Judge Jerome T. Kearney on 6/24/2016. (ljb)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
JASON E. MITCHELL,
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Plaintiff Jason Mitchell is a state inmate incarcerated at the Tucker Unit of the Arkansas
Department of Correction (ADC). He filed this pro se action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging
excessive force while he was incarcerated at the Lonoke County Detention Center (Jail) in August,
2015 (Doc. No. 4). Plaintiff asks for injunctive relief (Id., p. 5).1
Defendants Lopez and Doe were dismissed from this action on October 16, 2015 (Doc. No.
13). Currently pending before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment, Brief in Support, and
Statement of Facts, filed by remaining Defendant John Staley (Doc. Nos. 19-21). Plaintiff did not
respond, and by Order dated May 25, 2016, this Court cautioned Plaintiff that his failure to respond
to the Motion within fifteen days of the date of the Order would result in either all the facts set forth
in the Motion being deemed admitted by him, or dismissal of the action, without prejudice, for
failure to prosecute (Doc. No. 22). As of this date, Plaintiff has not responded to the Motion and
has not otherwise corresponded with the Court.
Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Staley called him to the day room on August 13, 2015, and
In his Original Complaint (Doc. No. 2), Plaintiff also requested monetary relief; the
Court will construe the two complaints together with respect to his prayer for relief.
said he would be charged with a felony for introducing contraband into the Jail. (Doc. No. 4, p. 6)
Plaintiff denied knowledge of this and Staley ordered him back to his cell. (Id.) Staley then entered
Plaintiff’s cell, pushed him against the back wall, threw property everywhere, tore Plaintiff’s mail
and bent his pictures. (Id.) Staley also hit Plaintiff in his face three or four times before he walked
out of the cell and slammed the cell door. (Id.) Plaintiff was taken to the “hole” in a flooded cell
with no mat or blankets. (Id., p. 7)
Pursuant to FED.R.CIV.P. 56(a), summary judgment is appropriate if the record shows that
there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter
of law. See Dulany v. Carnahan, 132 F.3d 1234, 1237 (8th Cir. 1997). “The moving party bears
the initial burden of 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.’” Webb v. Lawrence County, 144 F.3d
1131, 1134 (8th Cir. 1998) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (other
citations omitted)). “Once the moving party has met this burden, the non-moving party cannot
simply rest on mere denials or allegations in the pleadings; rather, the non-movant ‘must set forth
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’” Id. at 1135. Although the facts are
viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, “in order to defeat a motion for summary
judgment, the non-movant cannot simply create a factual dispute; rather, there must be a genuine
dispute over those facts that could actually affect the outcome of the lawsuit.” Id.
In addition, “[a]ll material facts set forth in the statement (of undisputed material facts) filed
by the moving party...shall be deemed admitted unless controverted by the statement filed by the
non-moving party....” Local Rule 56.1, Rules of the United States District Court for the Eastern and
Western Districts of Arkansas. Failure to properly support or address the moving party’s assertion
of fact can result in the fact considered as undisputed for purposes of the motion. FED.R.CIV.P.
The Court agrees with Defendant that any monetary claim against him in his official capacity
should be dismissed, because Plaintiff did not allege that his actions were taken pursuant to an
unconstitutional policy, practice, or custom, or any widespread pattern of unconstitutional conduct.
A suit against a county official in his official capacity is the equivalent of a suit against the county
itself. Liebe v. Norton, 157 F.3d 574, 578-9 (8th Cir. 1998). In order for a county to be held liable
for the unconstitutional acts of its officials, Plaintiff must allege and prove that a written county policy
or pattern of widespread unconstitutional conduct was the moving force behind the unconstitutional
actions. Jane Doe A v. Special School District of St. Louis County, 901 F.2d 642, 646 (8th Cir. 1990).
Absent such an allegation, or a response from Plaintiff, the Court finds the monetary claim against
Defendant in his official capacity should be dismissed.
Defendant also asks the Court to dismiss Plaintiff’s excessive force claim against him in his
individual capacities, based on qualified immunity, which protects officials who act in an objectively
reasonable manner. It may shield a government official from liability when his or her conduct does
not violate “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would
have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Qualified immunity is a question of
law, not a question of fact. McClendon v. Story County Sheriff's Office, 403 F.3d 510, 515 (8th Cir.
2005). Thus, issues concerning qualified immunity are appropriately resolved on summary
judgment. See Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985) (the privilege is “an immunity from suit
rather than a mere defense to liability; and like an absolute immunity, it is effectively lost if a case
is erroneously permitted to go to trial.”).
To determine whether defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, the courts generally
consider two questions: (1) whether the facts alleged or shown, construed in the light most favorable
to the plaintiff, establish a violation of a constitutional or statutory right; and (2) whether that right
was so clearly established that a reasonable official would have known that his or her actions were
unlawful. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009).2 Defendants are entitled to qualified
immunity only if no reasonable fact finder could answer both questions in the affirmative. Nelson
v. Correctional Medical Services, 583 F.3d 522, 528 (8th Cir. 2009).
According to Defendant Staley’s affidavit, he was in charge of the Jail on August 13, 2015,
when Plaintiff was incarcerated as a pretrial detainee. (Doc. No. 21, p. 1) Jail rules prohibit the
possession, use, and distribution of tobacco in the Jail, and Staley learned from a reliable source that
Plaintiff was working with others to get tobacco into the Jail. (Id.) On August 13, 2015, Staley went
to Plaintiff’s cell to confront him with these allegations, and used forceful language, tone and
demeanor in order to emphasize the seriousness of the allegations. (Id.) Staley’s search of Plaintiff’s
cell did not yield any contraband. (Id., p. 2) Staley denies striking Plaintiff or causing him to suffer
cuts, bruises, or any other physical injury. (Id.)
In light of the Plaintiff’s failure to respond to the Motion and to offer a dispute of the facts
asserted by Defendant, the Court hereby finds that the facts set forth by Defendant (Doc. No. 21)
are undisputed for purposes of the Motion, and finds that summary judgment should be granted as
Courts are “permitted to exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two
prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances
in the particular case at hand.” Nelson, 583 F.3d at 528 (quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S.
a matter of law. See FED.R.CIV.P. 56(e)(2), (3). Since Plaintiff was a pretrial detainee at the time
of his incarceration, the due process standard of the Fourteenth Amendment applies to determine the
constitutionality of his conditions of confinement. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 (1979). And,
Plaintiff’s excessive force allegation should be analyzed under “the objective reasonableness
standard” applied in Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment excessive force cases. Andrews v.
Neer, 253 F.3d 1052, 1060 (8th Cir. 2001) . In Andrews, the Court noted with approval an Eighth
Circuit Model Instruction for use in pretrial detainee excessive force cases, which instructs the jury
to consider “the need for the application of force, the relationship between the need and the amount
of forced that was used, the extent of the injury inflicted, and whether it was used for
punishment...and whether a reasonable officer on the scene would have used such force under
similar circumstances. (Id., 253 F.3d at 1061, n. 7, quoting Eighth Circuit Model Instruction 4.20
on Excessive Use of Force - Pretrial Detainees - Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Manual of
Model Civil Jury Instructions 4.20 (1999)).
In this case, Defendant Staley denies using physical force of any kind during his
confrontation with Plaintiff. He admits talking forcefully and sternly to Plaintiff, but verbal abuse
does not support a constitutional claim for relief. McDowell v. Jones, 990 F.2d 433, 434 (8th Cir.
1993). Although Plaintiff alleged in his Amended Complaint that Defendant used force against
him, he provides no evidence or facts in response to Defendant’s affidavit to contradict or dispute
those facts and statements. As noted above, “the non-moving party cannot simply rest on mere
denials or allegations in the pleadings; rather, the non-movant ‘must set forth specific facts showing
that there is a genuine issue for trial.’” Webb v. Lawrence County, 144 F.3d at 1135. Therefore,
absent a dispute of facts by the Plaintiff, the Court finds that Defendant acted reasonably under the
circumstances, and that no reasonable fact finder could find that the facts as alleged or shown,
construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, establish a violation of a constitutional or statutory
In addition, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s allegation that Defendant placed him in a flooded
cell with no mat or blankets does not by itself support a constitutional claim for relief. In the Eighth
Circuit, the standard applied to pretrial detainee claims of unconstitutional conditions is the same
as those applied to Eighth Amendment claims. Whitnack v. Douglas County, 16 F.3d 954, 957 (8th
Cir. 1994). Therefore, in order to support an Eighth Amendment claim for relief, plaintiff must
allege that Defendant was deliberately indifferent, that is, that he knew of, and yet disregarded, an
excessive risk of harm to Plaintiff’s health and safety. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 827
(1994). However, Plaintiff does not allege how long he was placed in the cell or other facts which
would support a finding that Defendant acted with deliberate indifference to a risk of harm to
Plaintiff’s health and safety. “Conditions of confinement, however, constitute cruel and unusual
punishment ‘only when they have a mutually enforcing effect that produces the deprivation of a
single, identifiable human need such as food, warmth, or exercise....Nothing so amorphous as
‘overall conditions’ can rise to the level of cruel and unusual punishment when no specific
deprivation of a single human need exists.” Whitnack, supra, 16 F.3d at 957 (quoting Wilson v.
Seiter, 511 U.S. 294, 305 (1991)). In this case, absent allegations how he was personally harmed
or affected by the conditions, or other facts concerning the extent of the conditions, the Court finds
that this allegation fails to support a constitutional claim for relief.
IT IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED that Defendant Staley’s Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. No. 19) is GRANTED, and Plaintiff’s Complaint is DISMISSED with prejudice.
An appropriate Judgment shall accompany this Memorandum and Order.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 24th day of June, 2016.
JEROME T. KEARNEY
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE 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?