Ramos v. LaJoie et al
RULING granting 49 Motion to Appoint Counsel; denying 51 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Dominic J. Squatrito on 6/16/14. (Glynn, T.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
MICHAEL LAJOIE, et al.
Case No. 3:11-cv-679 (DJS)
RULING ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
The plaintiff, currently incarcerated at the MacDougallWalker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Connecticut,
contends that the remaining defendant,1 K-9 Officer Trifone, used
excessive force on him when he permitted his dog to bite the
plaintiff after the plaintiff had ceased struggling.
defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment.
reasons that follow, the defendant’s motion is denied.
Standard of Review
A motion for summary judgment may be granted only where
there are no issues of material fact in dispute and the moving
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
See Fed. R.
Civ. P. 56(a); In re Dana Corp., 574 F.3d 129, 151 (2d Cir.
The moving party may satisfy his burden “by showing - -
that is pointing out to the district court - - that there is an
absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case.”
The plaintiff states in his opposition that the correctional dog Apollo continues to be a
defendant in this case. Although Apollo has not been terminated on the court docket, the court
dismissed all claims against the dog on October 18, 2011, in the Initial Review Order. See Doc.
#4 at 2.
PepsiCo, Inc. v. Coca-Cola Co., 315 F.3d 101, 105 (2d Cir. 2002)
(per curiam) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Once the moving
party meets this burden, the nonmoving party must set forth
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.
Wright v. Goord, 554 F.3d 255, 266 (2d Cir. 2009).
present such evidence as would allow a jury to find in his favor
in order to defeat the motion for summary judgment.
Long Island R.R., 230 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 2000).
verifying in an affidavit the conclusory allegations of the
complaint, however, is insufficient to oppose a motion for
Zigmund v. Foster, 106 F. Supp. 2d 352, 356
(D. Conn. 2000) (citing cases).
When reviewing the record, the court resolves all
ambiguities and draws all permissible factual inferences in favor
of the party against whom summary judgment is sought.
v. Staten Island Univ. Hosp., 582 F.3d 268, 274 (2d Cir. 2009).
If there is any evidence in the record on a material issue from
which a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the
nonmoving party, summary judgment is inappropriate.
Insurance Co. of Hartford v. Old Dominion Freight Line Inc., 391
F.3d 77, 83 (2d Cir. 2004).
However, the existence of a mere
“scintilla” of evidence supporting the plaintiff’s position is
insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment.
Homebound Mortgage, Inc., 547 F.3d 158, 163 (2d Cir. 2008).
On March 8, 2010, the plaintiff was confined at Northern
Correctional Institution, a facility intended to manage inmates
who pose a threat to institutional safety and security.
plaintiff has a history of disciplinary infractions including
threats, assaults, fighting, interfering with safety and
security, and escape.
In March 2010, the plaintiff was designated a member of the
Security Risk Group Los Solidos.
On the morning of March 8,
2010, the plaintiff entered the recreation yard with five other
All of the inmates were handcuffed with their hands
behind their back.
Inmate #1 slipped his handcuffs to the front
and attacked Inmate #2.
The plaintiff also slipped his handcuffs
to the front and began attacking Inmate #2.
The plaintiff and
Inmate #1 used weapons made from eyeglass arms wrapped with wire
to stab Inmate #2 about the face, neck and head.
attempted to assist Inmate #2.
The plaintiff, along with Inmates
##5 & 6 attacked Inmate #4 and returned to continue attacking
The attack was recorded on videotape.
A "code blue" was called and many correctional officers
responded to stop the altercation.
Apollo responded to the code.
Defendant Trifone and his dog
As defendant Trifone and Apollo
The facts are taken from the parties’ Local Rule 54(a) Statements and the exhibits
provided by the parties.
entered the recreation yard, the plaintiff moved to an area not
visible on the videotape.
Apollo bit the plaintiff in the right
Defendant Trifone states that the plaintiff was refusing to
get on the ground and drop his weapon when Apollo bit him.
plaintiff contends that he was on the ground and not resisting
the officer before Apollo was ordered to bite him.
In support of his motion for summary judgment, the defendant
argues that he acted reasonably and in good faith to restore
order, therefore the force used was not excessive.
argues that he is protected by qualified immunity.
Use of Excessive Force
The use of excessive force against a prisoner may constitute
cruel and unusual punishment even where the inmate does not
suffer serious injuries. See Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 4
(1992). The “‘core judicial inquiry ’” is “not whether a certain
quantum of injury was sustained, but rather ‘whether force was
applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline,
or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.’” Wilkins v.
Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 37 (quoting Hudson, 503 U.S. at 7).
The defendant argues that the decision to use Apollo was
made in a good faith effort to restore order.
He refers the
court to the videorecording of the incident.3
A review of the
recording shows that, as soon as the defendant entered the
recreation yard, the plaintiff moved to an area not visible on
Thus, the court cannot determine whether the
plaintiff was continuing to resist, as argued by the defendant,
or was complying with all orders, as claimed by the plaintiff.
As the court cannot resolve this credibility question on
summary judgment, the motion for summary judgment is denied on
Finally, the defendant contends that he is protected by
A state official is protected by qualified
immunity from a suit for damages unless the plaintiff can show
that the state official violates a statutory or constitutional
right and that the right was “clearly established” at the time of
the alleged violation.
Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.
Ct. 2074, 2080 (2011) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Government official’s conduct violates clearly established law
when, at the time of the challenged conduct, the contours of a
right are sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would
have understood that what he is doing violates that right.”
The court notes that the defendant has not submitted his own affidavit or even a copy of
the incident report. The only evidence submitted in addition to the recording is the affidavit of a
supervisory official who states that he reviewed relevant documents and the recording. As the
only videotape submitted lacks audio and there is no view of the plaintiff, there is no objective
evidence showing whether the plaintiff was resisting orders at the time he was bitten.
at 2083 (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted).
court does “not require a case directly on point, but existing
precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional
question beyond debate.”
“If an official’s conduct did not
violate a clearly established constitutional right, or if the
official reasonably believed that his conduct did not violate
such a right, then he is protected by qualified immunity.”
Walker v. Schult, 717 F.3d 119, 126 (2d Cir. 2013).
considering a claim of qualified immunity, the court need not
consider these two questions in any particular order.
Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009).
As explained above, the court cannot determine whether the
plaintiff was refusing to comply with orders to get on the ground
and drop his weapon or was on the ground without a weapon at the
time the defendant allowed Apollo to bite the plaintiff.
the trier of fact resolves this factual issue, the court cannot
determine whether a reasonable correctional officer would have
understood the defendant’s actions to be a reasonable, good faith
attempt to restore order.
The motion for summary judgment on the
ground of qualified immunity is denied without prejudice.
The defendant’s motion for summary judgment [Doc. #51] is
As this case will now proceed to trial, the plaintiff’s
motion for appointment of counsel [Doc. #49] is GRANTED.
Clerk is directed to attempt to appoint pro bono counsel from the
Civil Pro Bono Panel.
SO ORDERED this 16th day of June 2014, at Hartford,
Dominic J. Squatrito
United States District Judge
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