Davis v. Chapdeline et al
ORDER granting 55 Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and denying 64 Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment for the reasons set forth in the Ruling attached. The Clerk is directed to enter judgment for the Defendants and close this case. Signed by Judge Vanessa L. Bryant on 7/28/2017. (Hudson, C)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
TONY P. DAVIS,
CHAPDELAINE, et al.,
PRISONER CASE NO.
JULY 28, 20178
RULING ON MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
On February 18, 2016, the plaintiff, Tony P. Davis, an inmate currently
incarcerated at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution (“MacDougallWalker”) and proceeding pro se, filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
against Warden Carol Chapdelaine, Captain Butkiewicus, Captain Sharp, and
Lieutenant Burgos, all of whom are employees of the Connecticut Department of
Correction (“DOC”). He claimed that the defendants acted with deliberate
indifference to his safety, in violation of his Eighth Amendment protection against
cruel and unusual punishment, when they placed him in a restrictive housing cell
with an inmate who immediately assaulted him, despite knowing that the inmate
had refused other cellmates in the past.
On May 2, 2016, this Court dismissed his complaint for failure to state a
plausible claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) because the plaintiff failed to
sufficiently allege that the conditions of confinement at the restrictive housing
unit posed a serious risk of harm to him or that the defendants knew that the
inmate who assaulted him had violent tendencies or a desire to assault him. See
Initial Review Order #10 at 3.
The plaintiff filed an amended complaint on May 13, 2016 [Doc.#12], which
contained more factual support for his deliberate indifference claim. After
reviewing this complaint, the Court permitted the plaintiff’s deliberate indifference
claim to proceed against the defendants. The defendants answered the
complaint on August 1, 2016.1
On February 22, 2017, the defendants moved for summary judgment
against the plaintiff [Doc.#55]. The plaintiff filed a written opposition to the
defendant’s motion on March 27, 2017 [Doc.#63]. The plaintiff then filed his own
motion for summary judgment against the defendants [Doc.#64], to which the
defendants filed an opposition [Doc.#65]. Afterward, the plaintiff filed a
supplemental memorandum in support of his motion for summary judgment
[Doc.#68]. For the following reasons, the Court will GRANT the defendants’
motion and DENY the plaintiff’s motion.
Relevant Legal Principles
In a motion for summary judgment, the burden is on the moving party to
establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and that it is
“entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A fact is
“material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law” and
is “genuine” if “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party”
After the Court accepted the amended complaint [Doc.#12] and permitted
the plaintiff’s deliberate indifference to safety claim to proceed against the
defendants, the plaintiff filed an identical amended complaint, which was
assigned a separate docket number [Doc.#15]. The defendants answered the
second amended complaint [Doc.#15]. For purposes of the motions for summary
judgment, the Court will refer to the second amended complaint [Doc.#15] as the
based on it. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see also
Dister v. Continental Group, Inc., 859 F.2d 1108, 1114 (2d Cir. 1988) (mere
existence of alleged factual dispute will not defeat summary judgment motion).
When a motion for summary judgment is supported by documentary
evidence and sworn affidavits and “demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue
of material fact,” the nonmoving party must do more than vaguely assert the
existence of some unspecified disputed material facts or “rely on conclusory
allegations or unsubstantiated speculation.” Robinson v. Concentra Health
Servs., Inc., 781 F.3d 42, 44 (2d Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). Thus, the party
opposing the motion for summary judgment “must come forward with specific
evidence demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact.” Id.;
see also First Nat. Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Service Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289 (1968)
(nonmoving party must submit sufficient evidence supporting claimed factual
dispute to require factfinder to resolve parties’ differing versions of truth at trial).
In reviewing the record, the Court must “construe the evidence in the light
most favorable to the non-moving party and to draw all reasonable inferences in
its favor.” Gary Friedrich Enters., L.L.C. v. Marvel Characters, Inc., 716 F.3d 302,
312 (2d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). If there is any evidence in the record from
which a reasonable factual inference could be drawn in favor of the opposing
party for the issue on which summary judgment is sought, however, summary
judgment is improper. See Security Ins. Co. of Hartford v. Old Dominion Freight
Line Inc., 391 F.3d 77, 83 (2d Cir. 2004).
Where one party is proceeding pro se, the Court must read the pro se
party’s papers liberally and interpret them “to raise the strongest arguments that
they suggest.” Willey v. Kirkpatrick, 801 F.3d 51, 62 (2d Cir. 2015) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted). Despite this liberal interpretation,
however, “[u]nsupported allegations do not create a material issue of fact” and
cannot overcome a properly supported motion for summary judgment. See
Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000), cert. denied, 540 U.S.
The following factual allegations are not in dispute.
On April 1, 2015, Lieutenant Burgos escorted the plaintiff, who was
handcuffed, to a restrictive housing unit where he would share a cell with another
inmate named Talton. Before escorting the plaintiff into the cell, Burgos ordered
Talton, who was not handcuffed, to sit on his bunk, and Talton complied. Once
Talton was seated, Burgos opened the cell door and ordered the plaintiff to step
inside while remaining handcuffed. Per protocol, Burgos had to remove the
plaintiff’s handcuffs through the trap on the cell door after it closed behind the
plaintiff. However, as the cell door was closing, Talton stood up from his bed and
rushed toward the door where the plaintiff was standing. Talton attempted to
push his way toward the correction officers and, in doing so, assaulted the
plaintiff, who was still handcuffed, by punching him in the chest. The correction
officers immediately rushed into the cell and separated Talton from the plaintiff.
They deployed a chemical agent to Talton’s face in an effort to subdue him.
Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 1 [Doc.#55-2 at 15].
The plaintiff was taken to a nearby empty cell, where medical staff asked
him if he had sustained any injuries from the attack. Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 1
[Doc.#55-2 at 7]. The plaintiff informed medical staff that “he was fine,” and the
staff’s assessment of his chest showed no signs of raised, red or tender areas.
Id. [Doc.#55-2 at 38]. He declined to pursue outside criminal charges with the
Connecticut State Police against Talton. Id.
In the years prior to the incident, Talton developed a history of, and was
often reprimanded for, repeatedly attempting to obtain single-cell status. Def.’s
Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 1 [Doc.#55-2 at 10-11]. While housed at Northern Correctional
Institution, he received disciplinary reports for refusing to take cellmates. Id. at
11; Pl.’s Opp’n to Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 3. On at least one occasion, Talton
threatened to bring bodily harm to an inmate who was placed in his cell. Pl.’s
Opp’n to Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 3. While at MacDougall-Walker, Talton stated
that he wanted to be in cell by himself because he had a “vision of hostility.” Id.
at 2. Nevertheless, as of March 31, 2015, one day prior to the incident, Talton was
not on single-cell status and needed to receive a cellmate during the next
placement. Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 1 [Doc.#55-2 at 8]. At the time, there was no
information prohibiting Talton and the plaintiff from sharing a cell. Id. at 10.
The Eighth Amendment requires prison officials to “take reasonable
measures to guarantee the safety of . . . inmates.” Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S.
517, 526-27 (1984). “[P]rison officials have a duty . . . to protect prisoners from
violence at the hands of other prisoners.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 833
(1994) (internal quotations omitted); see also Fischl v. Armitage, 128 F.3d 50, 55
(2d Cir. 1997). However, not every injury suffered by one prisoner from another
prisoner establishes constitutional liability on the part of the prison officials
responsible for victim. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. A prison official violates the
prisoner’s Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment
only when two requirements are met. Id.
First, the plaintiff must prove that the deprivation was “objectively,
sufficiently serious . . . .” Id. (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991)).
If the claim is based on the defendants’ failure to prevent harm, the plaintiff must
prove that he is “incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of
serious harm.” Id. To determine whether the prisoner faced an excessive risk of
serious harm, courts “look at the facts and circumstances of which the official
was aware at the time he acted or failed to act.” Hartry v. County of Suffolk, 755
F. Supp. 2d 422, 436 (E.D.N.Y. 2010) (internal quotations and citation omitted).
Secondly, the plaintiff must prove that the prison official acted with a
“sufficiently culpable state of mind.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 (quoting Wilson, 501
U.S. at 302-03). This requirement is based on the principle that “only the
unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain implicates the Eighth Amendment.” Id.
(quoting Wilson, 501 U.S. at 297). The prison official must have disregarded an
excessive risk to the prisoner’s health or safety. See id. at 837. Whether an
official had knowledge of a substantial risk of harm is a question of fact “subject
to demonstration in the usual ways, including inference from circumstantial
evidence.” Id. at 842. In cases involving the failure to prevent an attack from
another inmate, a prisoner may prove deliberate indifference by showing that the
official had actual knowledge of a “longstanding, pervasive, well-documented, or
expressly noted” substantial risk of inmate attacks. See id. at 842-43.
In support of their motion for summary judgment, the defendants rely on a
video recording of the incident, which shows minimal physical contact between
Talton and the plaintiff and that the plaintiff was not injured during the incident.
See Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 2 [video exhibit]. The plaintiff counters that Farmer
does not require him to prove an actual injury in order to prevail on a claim of
deliberate indifference to safety. Pl’s Opp’n to Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. at 3.
Alternatively, he argues that he had “down-played” his injuries to medical staff
because of an “adrenalin rush.” Pl.’s Decl. in Opp’n to Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. at 2.
He alleges that he experienced greater pain in his lower back and left knee in the
days following the incident and was given medication to relieve the pain. Pl.’s
Opp’n to Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. at 3; Pl.’s Mot. Summ. J. at 2.
In support of his summary judgment motion, the plaintiff argues that he
has proven the defendants’ deliberate indifference to his safety through their
failure to act on numerous reports and information regarding Talton’s refusal to
have, and threats to harm, cellmates, which date back to 2011. As evidence, he
relies on Talton’s affidavit and the disciplinary reports from Northern and
MacDougall-Walker showing Talton’s history of refusing and threatening
cellmates and that he had notified the defendants of his intention to harm them.
Pl.’s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 1, 3.
In response, the defendants acknowledge that Talton “has, on occasion,
refused to have cellmates” and that he “had been on single cell status in another
facility.” Def.’s Local Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at 2 (emphasis in original).
Nevertheless, the defendants argue that the video shows that “the ‘altercation’
between . . . Talton and the plaintiff was de minimis and did not rise to the level of
a constitutional violation.” Def.’s Resp. to Pl.’ Mot. Summ. J. at 1. In his reply
brief, the plaintiff argues that the video does not show the “internal pain” that he
sustained from the assault. Pl.’s Reply Br. in Supp. of Mot. Summ. J. at 1.
The majority of decisions in this Circuit have established that a plaintiff in
an Eighth Amendment failure to prevent harm claim must show some form of
actual injury in order satisfy the objective element of the deliberate indifference
standard. See Encarnacion v. Dann, 80 F. App’x 140, 141 (2d Cir. 2003) (affirming
district court’s decision granting defendants summary judgment because plaintiff
suffered no actual injury from defendants’ failure to protect him from other
inmate); Colliton v. Gonzalez, 07 Civ. 2125 (RJH)(MHD), 2011 WL 1118621, *6
(S.D.N.Y. Mar. 23, 2011) (minor injuries resulting from three incidents in which
plaintiff was attacked by other inmate insufficient to establish risk of harm for
deliberate indifference claim); Parker v. Peek-Co, 06 Civ. 1268 (GLS)(DEP), 2009
WL 211371, *6 (N.D.N.Y. Jan. 27, 2009) (granting defendants summary judgment
on deliberate indifference claim based on plaintiff’s failure to show actual injury);
Newman v. Duncan, 04 Civ. 395 (TJM)(DRH), 2007 WL 2847304, *5 (N.D.N.Y. Sep.
26, 2007) (“[A]n inmate must demonstrate an ‘actual injury’ when alleging a
constitutional violation”) (quoting Brown v. Saj, 06 Civ. 6272 (DGL), 2007 WL
1063011, *2 (W.D.N.Y. Apr. 5, 2007)); but see Smolen v. Fischer, 12 Civ. 1856
(PAC)(AJP), 2012 WL 3609089, *4 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 23, 2012) (prisoner need not
show actual injury for claim that prison officials exposed him to toxic
substances). Requiring the plaintiff to show actual injury is consistent with 42
U.S.C. § 1997e(e), which prohibits a prisoner from bringing a federal civil action
“for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing
of physical injury or the commission of a sexual act . . . .” See Colon v. Furlani,
07 Civ. 6022L, 2008 WL 5000521, *3 (W.D.N.Y. Nov. 19, 2008) (barring prisoner’s
failure to protect claim under § 1997e(e) based on lack of any physical injury);
Newman, 2007 WL 2847304, *5 n.8 (rejecting prisoner’s contention that attempted
sexual assaults by other inmates caused him mental or emotional injuries).
Although the threshold injury required for an Eighth Amendment failure to
protect claim is not well-established, other Circuits also require prisoners to
prove more than a de minimis injury in order to prevail on such claims,
particularly when they are seeking monetary damages against the prison officials.
See Parker v. Stevenson, 625 F. App’x 196, 200 (4th Cir. 2015) (swelling in
prisoner’s lower extremities insufficient to establish serious deprivation for
unconstitutional conditions of confinement); Irving v. Dormire, 519 F.3d 441, 448
(8th Cir. 2008) (“Because a [42 U.S.C.] § 1983 action is a type of tort claim, general
principles of tort law require that a plaintiff suffer some actual injury before he
can receive compensation”); Jarriett v. Wilson, 162 F. App’x 394, 400 (6th Cir.
2005) (injury must be more than de minimis for Eighth Amendment claim to
proceed); Ruiz v. Price, 84 F. App’x 393, 395 (5th Cir. 2003) (prisoner cannot
recover damages from prison officials on failure to protect claim based on de
minimis injuries); Johnson v. Ortiz, 157 F.3d 902, *1 (5th Cir. 1998) (prisoner
cannot prevail on deliberate indifference to safety claim based on de minimis
shoulder injury); Edison v. Hudson, 91 F.3d 129, *1 (4th Cir. 1996) (prisoner’s de
minimis injuries do not provide basis for failure to protect claim); Ellis v. Bass,
982 F.2d 525, *1 (8th Cir. 1992) (prisoner’s de minimis injury from other inmate’s
act of dousing him with bucket of water, bleach, and cleanser insufficient to
satisfy objective element of failure to protect claim). Based on the foregoing case
law, the Court agrees with the defendants in this case that the plaintiff must prove
more than a de minimis injury in order to prevail on his Eighth Amendment claim
that the defendants failed to protect him from Talton’s attack.
The plaintiff argues that under Farmer, 511 U.S. at 845, he is not required to
sustain an actual injury in order to obtain relief from unsafe conditions of
confinement and, therefore, does not have to prove that he suffered an actual
injury. Pl.’s Opp’n to Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. at 3. In Farmer, 511 U.S. at 845, the
Supreme Court rejected the argument that a subjective deliberate indifference
test will unjustly require prisoners to suffer physical injury before obtaining
preventive relief. While it is true that a prisoner does not have to wait for a “tragic
event” such as an assault by another inmate to occur before obtaining relief, the
plaintiff in this case is not suing the defendants based on a present unsafe
condition or imminent threat. Rather, he is suing them for their past action of
placing him in a cell with Talton and seeking compensatory and punitive
damages. See Brown, 2007 WL 1063011, *2 (limiting Farmer to claims involving
inmates under present threat of imminent harm); Irving, 519 F.3d at 448 (claims
under Eighth Amendment require compensable injury to be greater than de
minimis); Ruiz, 84 F. App’x at 395 (prisoner cannot recover damages on failure to
protect claim based on de minimis injuries). Because the plaintiff is seeking
compensatory and punitive damages based on the defendants’ alleged failure to
prevent the attack from Talton, he is required to prove a more than de miminis
injury in order to prevail on his Eighth Amendment claim.
After reviewing all of the evidence in this case, the Court agrees with the
defendants that any injury suffered by the plaintiff as a result of Talton’s attack
was de minimis. The video of the incident shows that the plaintiff did not sustain
any injury from the punch to his chest and reacted calmly immediately thereafter.
His medical evaluation administered shortly after the incident showed no signs of
injury, and he did not complain of any pain or discomfort in the hours following
the incident. Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 2 [Doc.#55-2] at 38. Courts have rejected
failure to protect claims based on injuries more serious than the one complained
of in this case. Ellis, 982 F.2d at *1 (plaintiff’s inability to see for fifteen minutes
after inmate threw bucket of water and bleach on him de minimis and insufficient
for failure to protect claim); Colliton, 2011 WL 1118621, *6 (plaintiff’s injuries after
being punched several times by other inmates, for which he did not seek medical
attention, were de minimis for failure to protect claim); Parker, 2009 WL 211371, *6
(plaintiff’s failure to protect claim based on inmate assault resulting in bruised
finger did not withstand summary judgment).
The plaintiff argues that he “downplayed” his injuries at the time and, days
later, complained about pain in other areas of his body, including his lower back
and left knee. He attached as exhibits, several Inmate Request Reports that he
submitted beginning in late April 2015 in which he complained about pain in his
back and knee. Pl.’s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 4. However, nothing in these reports
sufficiently connects those injuries to the incident with Talton and the defendants
on April 1, 2015; nor does the conclusory assertion in his signed declaration that
his “on and off” back pain is a result of the assault by Talton. See Lujan v. Nat’l
Wildlife Fed’n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990) (self-serving affidavit repeating
conclusory allegations from complaint insufficient to preclude summary
judgment); Allen v. Coughlin, 64 F.3d 77, 80 (2d Cir. 1995) (“Conclusory
assertions in affidavits are generally insufficient to resolve factual disputes that
would otherwise preclude summary judgment”). Based on all the evidence
presented, a jury could not reasonably infer that the plaintiff sustained more than
a de minimis injury as a result of the attack.
With respect to his claim for injunctive relief, there is undisputed evidence
in the record that the defendants immediately intervened when Talton charged at
the plaintiff, separating the two inmates and subduing Talton with pepper spray.
Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 1 [Doc.#55-2 at 15]; Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 2. The
defendants then secured the plaintiff in a separate cell and offered him medical
attention, which revealed no signs of injury. Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 1 [Doc.#55-
2 at 7, 38]. Moreover, the defendants created an ongoing separation profile
between Talton and the plaintiff following the incident. Pl.’s Mot. Summ. J. at 5.
The plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment claim only stems from the failure of the
defendants to prevent Talton from assaulting him.2 Ruiz, 84 F. App’x at 395
(prisoner not entitled to injunctive relief for defendants’ failure to prevent inmate
assault); Inside Connect, Inc. v. Fischer, 13 Civ. 1138 (CS), 2014 WL 2933221, *7
(S.D.N.Y. Jun. 30, 2014) (Eleventh Amendment barred prisoner’s claim for
injunctive relief based on officials’ past conduct that is no longer ongoing).
Therefore, he is not entitled to any form of injunctive relief.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court will GRANT the defendants’ motion
for summary judgment [Doc.#55]. The Court need not address the defendants’
alternative argument that the plaintiff failed to prove the subjective element of the
deliberate indifference standard because it agrees that the plaintiff failed to prove
the objective element of the standard. The plaintiff’s motion for summary
judgment [Doc.#64], which is based on the same arguments as his opposition to
the defendant’s motion, is DENIED. The Clerk is hereby directed to enter
judgment for the defendants and close this case.
The plaintiff argues in his motion for summary judgment that, following
the incident, he was placed in a cell next to Talton. Pl.’s Mot. Summ. J. at 5.
However, he does not explain how, if at all, that placement, if still current,
presents an imminent danger to his safety warranting injunctive relief. His
request for a “permanent injunction ordering all defendants to follow policies and
not put inmates’ health and safety at risk knowingly” is overly broad and not
tailored to the incident with Talton which gave rise to the alleged constitutional
deprivation. Am. Compl. [Doc.#15] at 8.
Digitally signed by VANESSA BRYANT
DN: cn=VANESSA BRYANT, o, ou,
Date: 2017.07.28 09:39:37 -04'00'
VANESSA L. BRYANT
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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