Mucherson v. Hobbs et al

Filing 28

ORDER that deft Perry's 22 Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART; pltf's claims for money damages against deft Perry in his official capacity are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE; the motion is DENIED as to the remaining claims. Signed by Magistrate Judge Beth Deere on 10/5/10. (vjt)

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Mucherson v. Hobbs et al Doc. 28 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT E A S T E R N DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS P I N E BLUFF DIVISION J O S E P H MUCHERSON A D C # 129908 V. R A Y HOBBS, et al. ORDER I. B ackground: O n December 19, 2009, Plaintiff, an inmate at the Varner Supermax Unit of the A rk a n sa s Department of Correction ("ADC"), filed this lawsuit pro se under 42 U.S.C. 1983. (Docket entry #2) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Perry used excessive force a g a in s t him by attacking him with a steel bar. As a result of the incident, Plaintiff s u s ta in e d abrasions and bruises to his arms.1 D e f e n d a n t Perry now has filed a motion for summary judgment. (#22) In the m o tio n , Defendant Perry argues that: (1) Plaintiff's claims against him for monetary C A S E NO. 5:09CV00385-BD DEFENDANTS P L A IN T IF F The Court notes that Plaintiff does not specifically state whether he names D e f e n d a n t Perry in both his individual and official capacities. "[A]bsent a clear statement th a t officials are being sued in their personal capacities, we interpret the complaint as in c lu d in g only official-capacity claims." Murphy v. Arkansas, 127 F.3d 750, 754-55 (8th C ir. 1997) (citation omitted). However, a pro se complaint is to be construed liberally, H a in e s v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), and examination of the body of the c o m p la in t shows that Plaintiff intended to sue Defendant Perry in both his official and in d iv id u a l capacities. Further, in Plaintiff's deposition, Defendant Perry's attorney m e n tio n e d that Plaintiff had sued Defendant Perry in his official capacity. Plaintiff, h o w e v e r, never explained in what capacity he was suing Defendant Perry. (#23-1 at p.13) 1 damages in his official capacity are barred by sovereign immunity; (2) Plaintiff has failed to state an excessive force claim as a matter of law; and (3) he is entitled to qualified im m u n ity.2 (#22) Plaintiff has responded to Defendant Perry's motion. (#27) D e f e n d a n t Perry's motion (#22) is GRANTED in part, and DENIED in part. II. A n a ly sis : A. S u m m a ry Judgment Standard S u m m a ry judgment is appropriate when the evidence, viewed in the light most f a v o ra b le to the nonmoving party, presents no genuine issue of material fact. FED. R. C IV. P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty L o b b y , Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 246 (1986). Once the moving party has successfully carried its b u rd e n under Rule 56(c), the nonmoving party has an affirmative burden to go beyond the p le a d in g s and by depositions, affidavits, or otherwise, designate "specific facts showing th a t there is a genuine issue for trial." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); Mosley v. City of N o r th w o o d s , 415 F.3d 908, 910-11 (8th Cir. 2005) ("The nonmoving party may not `rest o n mere allegations or denials, but must demonstrate on the record the existence of s p e c if ic facts which create a genuine issue for trial.'" (quoting Krenik v. County of Le S u e u r , 47 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1995))). If the opposing party fails to carry that burden In the motion for summary judgment, Defendant Perry also argues that although P la in tif f requests that the Court order that his employment with the ADC be terminated, s u c h a request is not a proper request for relief. The Court agrees. If this matter goes to tria l and Plaintiff proves that his constitutional rights were violated, the Court will d e te rm in e the appropriate form of relief. 2 2 or fails to establish the existence of an essential element of its case on which that party w ill bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment should be granted. See Celotex, 4 7 7 U.S. at 322. "Although it is to be construed liberally, a pro se complaint must c o n ta in specific facts supporting its conclusions." Martin v. Sargent, 780 F.2d 1334, 1 3 3 7 (8th Cir. 1985). B. S o v e re ig n Immunity In his motion for summary judgment, Defendant Perry correctly argues that P la in tif f 's official capacity claims for money damages are barred by sovereign immunity. A person sued in his or her official capacity is not a "person" for purposes of 42 U.S.C. 1983. The law is well established that a civil litigant cannot obtain monetary damages o n a claim brought against state actors in their official capacities. Will v. Michigan Dep't o f State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 109 S.Ct. 2304 (1989). Accordingly, Plaintiff's claim a g a in s t Defendant Perry for money damages in his official capacity fails, as a matter of la w . C. E x c e s s iv e Force Claim " T o prove an Eighth Amendment violation, a prisoner must satisfy two re q u ire m e n ts , one objective and one subjective. The first requirement tests whether, v ie w e d objectively, the deprivation of rights was sufficiently serious. The second re q u ire m e n t is subjective and requires that the inmate prove that the prison officials had a s u f f ic ie n tly culpable state of mind." Irving v. Dormire, 519 F.3d 441, 446 (8th Cir. 2008) 3 (internal citations and quotations omitted). "It is . . . clearly established that force may be ju s tif ie d to make an inmate comply with a lawful prison regulation or order, but only if th e inmate's noncompliance also poses a threat to other persons or to prison security." Treats v. Morgan, 308 F.3d 868, 875 (8th Cir. 2002) (citing Lawrence v. Bowersox, 297 F .3 d 727, 732 (8th Cir. 2002)); Jones v. Shields, 207 F.3d 491, 496-497 (8th Cir. 2000); H ic k e y v. Reeder, 12 F.3d 754, 759 (8th Cir.1993); Stenzel v. Ellis, 916 F.2d 423, 426-427 (8 th Cir. 1990)). O f f ic e rs do not violate the Eighth Amendment when they use force reasonably "in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline." Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9 (1 9 9 2 ). Factors for consideration in deciding whether a particular use of force was re a s o n a b le are whether there was an objective need for force, the relationship between the n e e d and the degree of force used, the threat reasonably perceived by the correctional o f f ic e rs , efforts by the officers to temper the severity of their forceful response, and the e x te n t of the inmate's injury. Hudson, 503 U.S. at 7. H e re , Plaintiff claims that Defendant Perry used excessive force against him when h e struck him several times with a steel bar. In his motion for summary judgment, D e f e n d a n t Perry argues that any force used during the incident in question was justified. Defendant Perry attaches to his motion for summary judgment the disciplinary papers c o n c e rn in g the incident. (#23-3 at p.4) 4 According to Defendant Perry's report, on May 15, 2009, Defendant Perry in s tru c te d Plaintiff to uncover the window of his cell door three times. When Defendant P e rry approached the cell, Plaintiff knocked down the trap. (#23-3 at p.4) While D e f e n d a n t Perry was attempting to close the trap, Plaintiff grabbed Defendant Perry's arm a n d "tried to pull [him] toward the trap." (#23-3 at p.4) At that time, Defendant Perry g a v e Plaintiff a "direct order to release [his] arm." (#23-3 at p.4) Defendant Perry e x p la in e d that "the only way [to] get [Plaintiff] to release [his] arm was to hit [Plaintiff] w ith [his] bar." (#23-3 at p.4) When Plaintiff released Defendant Perry, Plaintiff swung a t Defendant Perry, hitting him in his chest. (#23-3 at p.4) Defendant Perry then struck P la in tif f "2 or 3 more times." (#23-3 at p.4) P la in tif f 's version of events varies from Defendant Perry's. Although Plaintiff a d m its that he knocked down his trap door, he claims that after he did, Defendant Perry " s ta rte d attacking [him] with a steel bar." (#2 at p.4) Plaintiff states that after he was s tru c k several times, he tried to grab the bar to keep Defendant Perry from hitting [him], a n d grabbed Defendant Perry's name badge. (#23-1 at pp.6 and 11-12) Plaintiff s p e c if ic a lly states that he did not touch Defendant Perry's shirt or person while grabbing h is name badge. (#23-1 at p. 12) Plaintiff then pulled his arm inside of his cell and c lo s e d his trap. (#23-1 at p.6) In his response to the motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff states that D e f e n d a n t Perry "simply lied in the disciplinary report." (#27) He explains that it would 5 not have been possible for him to swing at Defendant Perry in the position that he was in. (#27) B a se d on the evidence presented, the Court finds that genuine issues of material f a c t exist precluding judgment as a matter of law. First, the Court cannot conclusively s ta te that the force was justified, given the situation, or that the force used during the in c id e n t was reasonable. Because it is disputed whether Plaintiff actually grabbed D e f e n d a n t Perry's arm or swung at Defendant Perry, the threat perceived by Defendant P e rry cannot be determined at this time. Further, although Defendant Perry is correct that in order to prevail on an e x c e s s iv e force claim the Plaintiff must have suffered actual injury, it is undisputed that P la in tif f was immediately taken to the infirmary after the incident. Plaintiff's medical re c o rd s indicate that he suffered bruises, swelling, and abrasions as a result of the in c id e n t. (#23-3 at pp.20-25) Moreover, Nurse Roe noted that Plaintiff should be seen im m e d ia te ly due to a "possible broke[n] arm." (#23-3 at p.22) While Plaintiff may not have suffered a serious injury, he apparently suffered an a c tu a l injury as a result of Defendant Perry's conduct. This is sufficient to support an e x c e s s iv e force claim. See e.g., United States v. Miller, 477 F.3d 644, 647 (8th Cir. 2007) (a c tu a l injury requirement satisfied when individual had a bruised and swollen left eye a n d a reddish-purple face) and Dawkins v. Graham, 50 F.3d 532, 535 (8th Cir. 1995) 6 (bruising, facial lacerations, and elevated blood pressure satisfied the actual injury re q u ire m e n t). D. Q u a lif ie d Immunity In his motion for summary judgment, Defendant Perry also argues that he is e n title d to qualified immunity. Qualified immunity shields public officials "from liability f o r civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or c o n s titu tio n a l rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. F itz g e ra ld , 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727 (1982). The purpose of qualified immunity is to ensure that officers are on notice that their conduct is unlawful before they can be s u e d . Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739, 122 S .Ct. 2508 (2002). C o u rts are no longer required to use a two-step sequential analysis when a d d re s s in g qualified immunity. Pearson v. Callahan, --- U.S. ----, 129 S.Ct. 808 (2009) (a b ro g a tin g the sequential analysis requirement in Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S .C t. 2151(2001)). The analysis still requires two steps, however. Id. Courts must d e te rm in e , in no particular sequence: (1) whether the offending conduct violated a c o n s titu tio n a l or statutory right; and (2) whether the right was clearly established at the tim e of the alleged conduct. Krout v. Goemmer, 583 F.3d 557, 2009 WL 3172180 (8th C ir. 2009) (citations omitted). In 2001, the Supreme Court significantly narrowed the meaning of "clearly e s ta b lis h e d constitutional or statutory rights" in the context of qualified immunity. The 7 Court directed lower courts to analyze a defendant's conduct "in light of the specific c o n te x t of the case, not as a broad general proposition." Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201, 121 S .C t. 2151. The Supreme Court has rejected, however, the argument that cases must have f u n d a m e n ta lly or materially similar facts to the case at hand in order to clearly establish a rig h t or proscribe certain conduct. Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 741, 122 S.Ct. 2508 (2 0 0 2 ). In determining whether a state actor is entitled to qualified immunity, the key q u e s tio n is whether the state of the law at the time of the incident gave the state actor fair w a rn in g that his conduct was unconstitutional. Id. "Officials are not liable for bad g u e s s e s in gray areas; they are liable for transgressing bright lines." Davis v. Hall, 375 F .3 d 703, 712 (8th Cir. 2004). "This standard `gives ample room for mistaken judgments b y protecting all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.'" Stufflebeam v. Harris, 521 F.3d 884, 888-889 (8th Cir. 2008) (quoting Hunter v. Bryant, 5 0 2 U.S. 224, 229, 112 S.Ct. 534 (1991)). T h e precise question for purposes of deciding whether excessive force was used in th is case is whether Defendant Perry violated Plaintiff's rights when he struck him several tim e s with a steel bar when, according to Plaintiff, there was no actual or perceived threat o f harm. If it was a violation, the Court must determine whether the law clearly e s ta b lis h e d at the time of the incident. 8 The Court concludes that if there was no threat of perceived harm, the law was w e ll established at the time of the incident that was a violation of Plaintiff's rights to s trik e Plaintiff with a steel bar numerous times. As a result, the Court cannot say that D e f e n d a n t Perry is entitled to qualified immunity at this time. III. C o n c lu s io n : D e f e n d a n t Perry's motion for summary judgment (#22) is GRANTED in part, and D E N IE D in part. Plaintiff's claims for money damages against Defendant Perry in his o f f ic ia l capacity are DISMISSED, with prejudice. The motion is DENIED as to the re m a in in g claims. IT IS SO ORDERED this 5th day of October, 2010. ___________________________________ U N IT E D STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 9

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