Stewart v. Johnson et al
ORDER granting in part and denying in part 32 Motion for Summary Judgment. Defendants' motion is GRANTED as to Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Payne, Bagley, Burse, and Adams. Defendants' motion is DENIED as to Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Lee, Saenz, Johnson, and Gramiak. Signed by Judge Lisa G. Wood on 10/16/2020. (MG)
John E. Triplett, Acting Clerk
United States District Court
In the United States District Court
for the Southern District of Georgia
By MGarcia at 4:51 pm, Oct 16, 2020
CHRISTOPHER BRYAN STEWART,
EDWINA JOHNSON, ELIZABETH
BOWLES, TOM GRAMIAK, CAPTAIN
ADAMS, LT. BURSE, LT. BAGLEY,
SGT. PAYNE, and TIFFANY LEE,
Before the Court is Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment.
Dkt. No. 32. The motion is fully briefed, dkt. nos. 42, 54, and
with the benefit of a hearing and additional briefing, dkt. nos.
60, 61, is ripe for review. For the reasons below, Defendants’
Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
Plaintiff Christopher Stewart brings this action under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 and the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, claiming
Defendants failed to protect him from two assaults by other inmates
in April 2016. Dkt. No. 1 at 1–2. At the time of the incidents
giving rise to this action, Plaintiff was an inmate at Ware State
Prison (“WSP”) and in the custody of the Georgia Department of
Corrections (“GDC”). Id.
Defendants were employees of GDC and working at WSP at the
time of the incidents. Their roles were as follows: Thomas Gramiak,
Warden of WSP; Edwina Johnson, Deputy Warden of Care and Treatment;
Elizabeth Saenz (also known as Bowles), Grievance Coordinator;
Tiffany Lee, Grievance Coordinator; Brian Adams, Captain and Chief
of Security; Steve Burse, Lieutenant Corrections Officer; Mark
Bagley, Lieutenant; and Mack Payne, Sergeant. Dkt. No. 32-1 ¶ 1.
Plaintiff was assaulted twice while imprisoned at Ware State
Prison. See id. ¶¶ 3–6. The first assault occurred on April 20,
2016 in the day room of Dorm A-2. Id. ¶ 3. At that time, Plaintiff
was assaulted by an inmate whom he alleges acted on behalf of the
Muslims or the Bloods—both known as gangs within the Georgia prison
system. Dkt. No. 1 ¶¶ 15, 16, 51. Plaintiff alleges that he injured
his right eye, and, as a result, lost central vision in that eye.
Id. ¶¶ 52, 56. The second assault occurred on April 25, 2016, in
a two-person administrative segregation cell. Dkt. No. 32-1 ¶¶ 5–
6. During the incident, Plaintiff was attacked by his cellmate
while he was asleep. Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 73. As a result, Plaintiff
suffered a serious head injury and was taken to the hospital for
treatment. Id. ¶¶ 77, 79.
In the weeks leading up to these two attacks, Plaintiff
alleges that he put several prison officers and officials on notice
of threats against his safety and life. Id. ¶¶ 15–50. Plaintiff
first alleges that, on April 8, 2016, he gave notice of threats
made against him the previous day, April 7, to non-party Floor
Officer Ruger. Id. ¶ 31b. Plaintiff alleges that he told Officer
Ruger what happened both verbally and in writing. Dkt. No. 32-11.
Specifically, Plaintiff claims that he told Officer Ruger that on
April 7, 2016, he was surrounded and threatened by ten to fifteen
Muslim inmates in the A-2 dorm dayroom. Dkt. No. 62-1 ¶ 7a.
Plaintiff claims that the threats occurred after he had a verbal
altercation with a Muslim inmate regarding use of a contraband
cell phone. Id. Following the altercation, Plaintiff claims the
leader of the Muslims ordered his fellow Muslims to assault
Plaintiff if Plaintiff “said anything smart.” Dkt. No. 32-11 at
threats, including, “We’ll kill you, cracker.” Dkt. No. 62-1 ¶ 7d.
surveillance and that he requested the guards pull the video and
review it. Id. ¶ 7e. Plaintiff further contends that he requested
prison officials remove the Muslim leader from general population
or, in the alternative, that Plaintiff be removed from general
population, removed from dorm A-2, or transferred to a different
prison facility. Id. ¶ 7f.
Plaintiff contends that Officer Ruger, upon notice of these
events from Plaintiff, notified Lieutenant Bagley, who instructed
testified that Officer Ruger did so and that Sergeant Payne came
to the dorm hours later but did not review the videotape of the
incident. Dkt. No. 32-11 at 19. Plaintiff has never directly
interacted with Defendant Bagley or Defendant Payne. Dkt. No. 621 ¶ 8d.
Plaintiff next alleges that, on April 13, 2016, he gave
notice of threats made against him to nonparty Floor Officer
Self by handing her a note that contained all the information
above, including the lack of response by Sgt. Payne and Lt.
Bagley. Id. ¶ 8. Plaintiff also contends he told Officer Self,
through his note, that since the April 7, 2016 incident,
Plaintiff had been labeled a “snitch” by other inmates at WSP
after “a large number of [them]” read an open control log
wherein Officer Ruger recorded Plaintiff’s report of the
Muslims’ threats against him. Id. ¶ 8e. Plaintiff alleges that
his note provided Officer Self with notice that, because he had
been labeled a snitch, he was now “a target for all gang members
at WSP” and he was “specifically being targeted by two gangs,
the Muslims and the Bloods.” Id. ¶ 8f-g. He further contends
that his note conveyed to Officer Self that “the Muslims were
making plans for [him] to be stabbed” and that the leader of the
Bloods, nicknamed “Big J,” had “ordered that [he] be assaulted.”
Id. ¶ 8h-i. Plaintiff says he identified both the leader of the
Muslims and the leader of the Bloods by dorm and room number.
Id. Plaintiff claims he notified Officer Self that he “stopped
eating breakfast for fear of being stabbed” in the crowd and had
“begun taking a weapon—a lock in a sock—to meals because [he]
was afraid of being attacked.” Id. ¶ 8l. Finally, Plaintiff
alleges that his note put Officer Self on notice that on April
13, 2016, as Plaintiff entered the “small yard” for pill call,
at least five inmates asked him to come to the “main walk” for a
talk; Plaintiff believed those inmates were, in fact, going to
attack him because “the windows in the adjoining building [were]
full of inmates, suggesting [they] knew [he] was going to be
attacked.” Id. ¶ 8k.
This second allegation of notice is somewhat inconsistent
with Plaintiff’s deposition testimony. There, when asked “[w]hat
specific notice” Defendant Burse would have received, Plaintiff
On the evening of the thirteenth, Floor Officer Ms. Self,
I advised her that some gang members out on the sidewalk
wanted me to come out there and talk to them. They was
wanting to assault me is what it was. So I went in and
told her to notify her lieutenant about my safety. She
said she would notify the Lieutenant Burse . . . She
notified him and nothing happened.
Dkt. No. 32-11 at 14-15. Plaintiff contends he knows Lieutenant
Burse received notice of at least the incident in the main walk
because Lieutenant Burse asked him the following morning: “Are you
the one that wrote that note last night[?]” Id. at 18. It was
during this conversation that Lt. Burse allegedly said she would
“tell Captain Adams.” Id.
Third, Plaintiff alleges that he gave notice of threats made
against him to Warden Gramiak, Deputy Warden of Care Johnson,
Coordinator Bowles, and Coordinator Lee by filing a grievance on
April 14, 2016. Dkt. No. 1 ¶¶ 28, 44. In this April 14, 2016
grievance, Plaintiff stated the following:
(Date of incident 4/7/16)[.] This is an emergency
grievance. I have a situation involving a significant
threat to my health that requires prompt action. This
emergency grievance (involves allegations of physical
abuse with significant injury to my person) . . . meet[s]
the G.D.C. criteria to be processed as an [emergency
grievance]. . .
[This grievance can be resolved by having] the gang
leader that ordered the Muslims to attack me . . .
removed and extracted from general population in W.S.P.,
A-2, 21 . . . or . . . place me in a safe dorm, where
there is no gang activity . . .
[On April 8] I . . . supplied floor officer Ms. Ruger
with a written “notice” about [an event on April 7
namely,] the gang leader of the Muslim’s [sic] housed in
A-2, 21 (Dorm Rep.) . . . “ordered” the Muslims to
“assault” me if I said anything smart. . . He need’s
[sic] to be extracted from general population in W.S.P.,
A-2 . . . [Videotape of the incident] would “clearly”
show me being surrounded by about 10 to 15 offenders
with the person listed in this grievance as leading this
disturbance and possible future assault . . .
Later in the day offender Timothy Henry[,] A-2, 12-B[,]
approached me and said: “I know what you did.” I asked
him, [“W]hat do you mean?[”] He stated[,] “I read the
officer’s log book, they left it open and I read it
through the window.” . . . Now the whole dorm knows that
I reported this gang activity against me. This has made
my living conditions “extremely” “dangerous!” . . . I am
now labeled a “snitch”! This label placed on my person
makes me a “target” to “all” gang members at W.S.P. A
source has told me that the “Muslim’s” [sic] are making
plan’s [sic] to have me “wet up,” meaning stabbed! . . .
A “new” gang leader of the “Blood’s” [sic] known as Big
“J” has been placed in . . . dorm A-2, 14. The [same]
source informed [me] that Big “J” stated that: “If his
new cell phone get’s taken from him because of me, that
he will have me “smashed . . . because I’m a snitch.”
This assault is to take place when I’m placed into
another dorm, or if the Muslims leader get’s extracted
from A-2 because of me. Then at that time, I will be
attacked! . . . I . . . will stop attending breakfast
. . . for . . . fear of getting stabbed . . .
[The W.S.P. guards have] allow[ed] the general
population at W.S.P. to know that I “snitched” on them.
This may get me killed!!! . . .
This all started over a dispute about using one of the
Muslim’s cell phones. The Pakastani [sic], Muslim
offender who lives in W.S.P. A-2, 7-B has a cell phone.
He only pull’s [sic] it out when [certain] officers are
not working. The Muslims [and] Bloods know I known their
business about their cell phones. So when [and] if you
take them[,] know that they will want to kill me. . .
Please . . . ship me to Walker State Prison so I may
attend their faith base program. We are in the last day’s
[sic] so I want to be a part [of] their spiritual
program or ship me to Phillips. Get me out of Ware
State Prison before I get killed!
Dkt. No. 32-2 at 6-12. Within the same grievance, Plaintiff also
specifically requested the following:
MOVE ME TO “I” or “L” [building] 1 or any [other] prison
. . . DO NOT place me in administrative segregation or
protective custody for that would impose overly
restrictive conditions upon me, causing me no “access”
to the law library or my legal assistant . . . to assist
me in my non-frivolous habeas corpus [case] . . . which
is scheduled for court in 90 days. . .
At the time of his grievance, Plaintiff believed there were no gang members
in either of these dorms.
Id. The same day Plaintiff filed his grievance, Defendant Elizabeth
Bowles (Hereinafter “Defendant Saenz”) rejected it procedurally
“due to offender grieving more than one issue.” Id. at 14.
Plaintiff also testified that Warden Gramiak was aware of
institution, Gramiak “would be aware of this document.” Dkt. No.
32-11 at 17.
Finally, Plaintiff alleges that he gave notice of
threats against his safety and life to Warden Gramiak on April 20,
2016. See id. (“When the guy whacked me in the head[, they] took
me to . . . a little medical room . . . Mr. Gramiak came in there
. . . [and] I made him aware at that point in that room as to what
happened . . . I told him straight from my mouth what happened.”).
presented to the court by the movant demonstrates there is “no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled
to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A dispute
is “genuine” where the evidence would allow “a reasonable jury to
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” FindWhat Inv. Grp. v.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A fact
is “material” only if it “might affect the outcome of the suit
under the governing law.” Id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).
When reviewing the record, the trial court need not accept or give
credit to conclusory allegations that are not supported by physical
evidence, medical records, or corroborating witness testimony. See
Bennett v. Parker, 898 F.2d 1530, 1533-34 (11th Cir. 1990).
Moreover, irrelevant, unnecessary, or unsupported facts are not
material fact. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating
that a genuine dispute of material fact does not exist. See Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). To do so, the movant
must show the court that the nonmovant lacks the evidence necessary
to support its case. See id. at 325. “A mere ‘scintilla’ of
suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the jury could
reasonably find for that party.” Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573,
1577 (11th Cir. 1990).
If successful, the burden shifts to the nonmovant, who must
go beyond his pleadings and present affirmative evidence showing
that a genuine dispute of material fact exists. See Anderson, 477
U.S. at 257. The nonmovant may satisfy this burden in one of two
ways. First, the nonmovant may show the court that the record
before it contains sufficient evidence for the nonmovant’s claim
to survive a directed verdict motion. Fitzpatrick v. City of
Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1116 (11th Cir. 1993). Second, the nonmovant
may come forward with additional evidence beyond its original
pleadings to make its case. Walker, 911 F.3d at 1576-77 (“A party
opposing summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations
or denials in its pleadings. Rather, its responses, either by
affidavits or otherwise . . . must set forth specific facts showing
that there is a genuine issue for trial.”).
If the nonmoving party cannot show that there is a dispute of
material fact or that the movant is not entitled to summary
judgment as a matter of law, then the court must find in favor of
the movant. Morris v. Ross, 663 F.2d 1032, 1034 (1981) (in such
cases, summary judgment in favor of the movant is “not only proper
I. Qualified Immunity
Defendants argue that the Court should grant their motion for
qualified immunity. Dkt. No. 54 at 15.
officials ‘from liability for civil damages insofar as their
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.’” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009) (quoting
Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). To be entitled to
qualified immunity, a government official must first demonstrate
that “he was acting within the scope of his discretionary authority
when the allegedly wrongful acts occurred.” Rich v. Dollar, 841
F.2d 1558, 1563-64 (11th Cir. 1988) (citations omitted).
If a defendant satisfies this burden, then the Court must
grant qualified immunity unless the plaintiff can demonstrate: (1)
that the defendant’s alleged actions violated a constitutional or
statutory right; and (2) that such a right was clearly established.
Bogle v. McClure, 332 F.3d 1347, 1355 (11th Cir. 2003). Courts
have the discretion to determine which of these two prongs it will
address first. See Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232; see also Williams v.
Russo, 636 F. App'x 527, 532 (11th Cir. 2016).
A. Discretionary Authority
Discretionary authority includes all actions of a government
official that “(1) were undertaken pursuant to the performance of
his duties, and (2) were within the scope of his authority.” Dang
ex rel. Dang v. Sheriff, Seminole Cnty., 871 F.3d 1272, 1279 (11th
Cir. 2017) (quoting Rich, 841 F.2d at 1564). Plaintiff has conceded
authority, but he contests qualified immunity on the grounds
discussed below. See Dkt. No. 42. at 3 n.3 (“Plaintiff does not
B. Constitutional Violation
discretionary authority, the burden shifts to Plaintiff to show
that qualified immunity does not apply. Dang, 871 F.3d at 1279.
Plaintiff must “prove that the facts alleged, construed in the
light most favorable to [him], establish that a constitutional
violation did occur.” Shaw v. City of Selma, 884 F.3d 1093, 1099
(11th Cir. 2018) (citing Smith v. LePage, 834 F.3d 1285, 1291 (11th
Here, Plaintiff claims that Defendants failed to protect him
from assaults by other inmates in violation of his Eighth and
Fourteenth Amendment constitutional rights. See Dkt. No. 1 at 2.
Plaintiff brings these claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which
provides a cause of action for damages against every person who,
acting under the color of state law, deprives another of “rights,
privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws” of
the United States. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In other words, section 1983
conferred” upon a plaintiff. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271
(1994) (citations omitted). The Court determines the success of a
plaintiff’s section 1983 claim “by reference to the specific
constitutional standard that governs that right.” Id.
Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. 2 Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825,
The same standard and analysis applies under either amendment. See, e.g.,
H.C. v. Jarrard, 786 F.2d 1080, 1084-87 (11th Cir. 1986). For the sake of
clarity, the Court will construe Plaintiff’s complaint as a claim that his
Eighth Amendment rights were violated.
828 (1994). Inherent in the Eighth Amendment’s right to be free
from the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment is an inmate’s
right to be free from violence at the hands of other inmates.
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 833. This right imposes a duty on facility
officials to protect inmates from such violence. Id. That said,
not “every injury suffered by one inmate at the hands of another”
translates into a “constitutional liability for prison officials
responsible for the victim’s safety.” Id. at 834. Specifically,
failure-to-protect claim, ‘a plaintiff must produce sufficient
evidence of (1) a substantial risk of serious harm; (2) the
causation.’” Caldwell v. Warden, TCI Talladega, 748 F.3d 1090,
1099 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting Goodman v. Kimbrough, 718 F.3d 1325,
1331 (11th Cir. 2013)); see also Lane v. Philbin, 835 F.3d 1302,
1307 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting Hale v. Tallapoosa Cnty., 50 F.3d
Plaintiff’s claims, the Court will explain what Plaintiff must
show for each of these elements.
i. Substantial Risk of Serious Harm
For a plaintiff to successfully bring an Eighth Amendment
claim for deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must show that the
“risk of inmate-on-inmate violence” at the prison was “excessive.”
See Purcell ex rel. Estate of Morgan v. Toombs Cnty., 400 F.3d
1313, 1320 (11th Cir. 2005). A plaintiff does this by showing that
the risk was substantial and the threatened harm was serious. For
there to be a substantial risk, the plaintiff must show that, when
viewed objectively, “there must be more than a mere possibility of
serious harm; instead, there must be a strong likelihood.” Turner
v. Burnside, 444 F. App’x 394, 396 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing Edwards
v. Gilbert, 867 F.2d 1271, 1276 (11th Cir. 1989)); see also
Caldwell, 748 F.3d at 1099 (explaining there must be more than a
speculative, theoretical, or insignificant risk of some harm).
For the Court to find a threat of serious harm, a plaintiff
must show that the risk is serious; mere discomfort, without more,
is not enough. See Hunt v. Warden, 748 F. App’x 894, 900 (11th
Cir. 2018). For example, “a prisoner’s exposure to the potential
for a fight does not, in and of itself, constitute [a] substantial
risk of harm.” Estate of Owens v. GEO Group, Inc., 660 F. App’x
763, 767 (11th Cir. 2016). Instead the threat of violence must be
“extreme:” it must create an “unreasonable risk of serious damage
to the prisoner’s health or safety.” Richardson v. Johnson, 598
F.3d 734, 737 (11th Cir. 2010).
ii. Deliberate Indifference to Risk
If a substantial risk of serious harm exists, the inquiry
Rodriguez v. Sec’y Dep’t of Corr., 508 F.3d 611, 617 (11th Cir.
2007). The deliberate indifference element is comprised of a
subjective component and an objective component. See Caldwell, 748
F.3d at 1099. A prison official acts with deliberate indifference
“when he actually (subjectively) knows that an inmate is facing a
substantial risk of serious harm, yet disregards that known risk
by failing to respond to it in an (objectively) reasonable manner.”
Rodriguez, 508 F.3d at 617.
To prove the subjective component, a plaintiff must show that
the prison official was “both aware of the facts from which the
inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm
exists, and must also draw that inference.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at
likelihood, rather than a mere possibility before a guard’s [or
indifference.” Doe v. Ga. Dep’t of Corr., 245 F. App’x 899, 903
(11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Brown v. Hughes, 894 F.2d 1533, 1537
(11th Cir. 1990)).
“Whether a prison official had the requisite knowledge of a
substantial risk is a question of fact subject to demonstration in
the usual ways, including inference from circumstantial evidence.”
Bowen, 826 F.3d at 1321 (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 842). The trier
of fact may consider the “degree of specificity” of the facts
subjectively known to the defendant in determining whether the
defendant knew the risk was serious and the harm substantial. Id.
at 1322. Additionally, the trier of fact may also “conclude that
the prison official knew of a substantial risk [of serious harm]
from the very fact that the risk was obvious.” Id. (citing Farmer,
511 U.S. at 842).
To prove the objective component, a plaintiff must show that
the defendant disregarded the substantial risk by “failing to
respond to it in an (objectively) reasonable manner.” Rodriguez,
508 F.3d at 616. A prison official responds to a known risk of
serious harm in an objectively unreasonable manner if he “knew of
ways to reduce the harm but knowingly declined to act” or “knew of
ways to reduce the harm but recklessly declined to act.” Id. at
619-20. Of note, if a prison official responds in a reasonable
manner, there is no Eighth Amendment violation, even if the harm
was not averted. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 844. Finally, and importantly,
under section 1983, mere negligence is not enough to show that a
Kimbrough, 718 F.3d 1325, 1334 (11th Cir. 2013) (“Were we to accept
[a negligent] theory of liability, the deliberate indifference
standard would be silently metamorphosed into a font of tort law—
a brand of negligence redux—which the Supreme Court has made
abundantly clear it is not.”).
Finally, a plaintiff must prove “a causal connection between
the prison official’s conduct and the Eighth Amendment violation.”
Rodriguez, 508 F.3d at 617. In other words, the plaintiff must
indifference caused the violation of his Eighth Amendment rights.
See Hale, 50 F.3d at 1584. To do so, a plaintiff must show two
deliberately indifferent acts and omissions and the excessive risk
of violence; and second, a link between the excessive risk of
violence and his injury.” Id.
II. Application to Plaintiff’s Claim
A. Defendants Payne and Bagley
Defendant’s motion for summary judgment is GRANTED as to
Defendants Payne and Bagley because Plaintiff’s notice to these
Defendants did not convey a “substantial risk” of harm. Here,
Plaintiff initially alleged that his note to Officer Ruger informed
Defendants Payne and Bagley of Plaintiff’s April 7 altercation
altercation of which Payne and Bagley were notified of. For Eighth
Amendment liability to attach, Plaintiff must show evidence that
possibility of serious harm.” Turner, 444 F. App’x 394, 396 (11th
Cir. 2011); Caldwell, 748 F.3d at 1099. Here, even if Payne and
Bagley received the notice Plaintiff alleges they did, the notice
does not present a “substantial risk” of harm to which these
Defendants had a duty to respond.
The threat posed to Plaintiff by these Muslim gang members
was, at best, speculative—not actual and imminent. The Muslims
threatened to “beat [Plaintiff’s] ass” if Plaintiff “said anything
smart” at some point in the future. That threat was not imminent
to Plaintiff at that time. Plaintiff would have to take another
provocative and knowing action before coming to blows with the
Dorm A-2 Muslim inmates. Thus, at the time, there was no reason
for Payne or Bagley to believe there was anything “more than a
mere possibility of serious harm” to Plaintiff because of this
threat. See Turner, 444 F. App’x at 396.
Although these threats certainly may have made Plaintiff
uncomfortable, “[a] prisoner’s exposure to the potential for a
fight” alone does not constitute a substantial risk of harm, Estate
of Owens, 660 F. App’x at 767, nor does “mere discomfort,” Hunt,
748 F. App’x at 900. At best, Plaintiff put Payne and Bagley on
notice of a potential and conditional threat to his safety that
made him uncomfortable. Such threats do not trigger Defendants
Payne and Bagley’s constitutional duty to protect Plaintiff.
B. Defendants Burse and Adams
Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is GRANTED as to
Defendants Burse and Adams, because Plaintiff’s notice to these
Defendants likewise did not convey a “substantial risk” of harm.
Here, Plaintiff initially alleged that his April 13 note to Officer
Self would inform Defendants Adams and Burse of all the threats
specified in his grievance form. Dkt. No. 62-1 ¶ 8e. However, in
his deposition, Plaintiff stated that only the grievance dated
April 8, 2016 would show Defendant Adams was aware of the April 7
threats against him. Dkt. No. 32-11 at 18 (“If he read it, then he
was notified. If he didn’t, then he wasn’t.”). Additionally, when
asked about Defendant Burse’s specific notice of the April 7
threats, Plaintiff could confirm only that Burse received notice
of the April 13 main walk incident and not the grievance form. Id.
Consequently, Plaintiff has failed to show evidence, beyond mere
allegations, that Defendants Burse and Adams were aware of the
specific threats identified in his grievance form.
Similar to Plaintiff’s notice to Defendants Payne and Bagley,
substantial risk of harm to which these Defendants had a duty to
respond. See id. at 14-15 (“On the evening of the thirteenth, Floor
Officer Ms. Self, I advised her that some gang members out on the
sidewalk wanted me to come out there and talk to them. They was
wanting to assault me is what it was.”). Based on this information,
any threat to Plaintiff regarding the main walk incident was
speculative. See Thornton v. Jackson, 998 F. Supp. 2d 1365, 1376
(N.D. Ga. 2014) (finding that speculation regarding other inmates
talking about plaintiff was not enough to establish a substantial
risk of harm). Defendants Burse and Adams could not infer a
substantial and serious threat to Plaintiff’s safety. See Turner,
444 F. App’x at 396; Estate of Owens, 660 F. App’x at 767.
C. Defendants Lee, Saenz, Johnson and Gramiak
Defendants allegedly had notice of Plaintiff’s grievance regarding
gangs labeling Plaintiff a “snitch” and the specified threats from
the Muslim and Blood gang leaders at large in WSP. Dkt. No. 42 at
6–24. Therefore, the Court continues its analysis to the elements
for a constitutional violation.
i. Substantial Risk of Serious Injury
For the remaining Defendants, Plaintiff’s alleged facts would
substantial risk of serious harm. Plaintiff’s April 14 grievance
indicates that he had become a target of gang members in WSP. See
Dkt. No. 32-13 at 5; Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 31. One could infer that Plaintiff
faced a substantial risk of being attacked by one of these two
gangs. Plaintiff’s grievance further states that the “Muslims are
making plans to have me ‘wet up’ meaning stabbed!” Id. This “hit”
put out on Plaintiff could create an objective risk of serious
harm to Plaintiff. See Rodriguez, 508 F.3d at 618.
In response, Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s grievances did
not make them subjectively aware of a serious and substantial
threat to his safety because he specifically asked to not be placed
in protective custody. Dkt. No. 54 at 1. Indeed, it is undisputed
that Plaintiff affirmatively made a request against administration
Consequently, Defendants assert that, because of this request, a
reasonable juror could come to only one conclusion: Plaintiff did
not face a serious risk of harm. See Mitchell v. Jackson, No. 6:17CV-143, 2019 WL 4439504, at *9 (S.D. Ga. Aug. 14, 2019), report
and recommendation adopted, No. 6:17-CV-143, 2019 WL 4437861 (S.D.
Ga. Sept. 16, 2019) (“If Defendant offered to transfer Plaintiff
to [protective custody] and Plaintiff refused, this fact would cut
against a conclusion that Plaintiff faced a substantial risk.”)
However, just because an undisputed fact gives rise to a possible
conclusion does not mean that summary judgment is warranted when
other evidence in the record weighs against that conclusion.
petition. Dkt. No. 32-13 at 5. Plaintiff instead requested other
measures to alleviate his fears, such as a transfer to a different
building or removal of certain gang leaders in Plaintiff’s current
dorm. Id. at 1.
construed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant—here,
Plaintiff. Shaw, 884 F.3d at 1099. Plaintiff’s request against
protective custody ultimately goes to Plaintiff’s credibility and
is properly left for the jury. See Dkt. No. 46 at 31 (“Q. If an
inmate specifically requests not to be placed in protective custody
determining the credibility of the warning? A. It would be.”).
Plaintiff’s decision to request against protective custody or
administrative segregation means that Plaintiff did not face a
threat of an attack that was objectively serious and substantial.
Alternatively, a reasonable juror might also choose to believe
that Plaintiff’s rationale not to request protective custody was
solely based on his concern over his upcoming habeas case. In this
view, a reasonable juror could find a substantial risk of serious
injury still existed based on the evidence in the record. Summary
judgment is therefore not appropriate as to this element.
ii. Deliberate Indifference to the Risk
a. Subjective Component
Plaintiff was now labeled a “snitch” in the whole dorm; this label
made him a target to all gang members at Ware State Prison; his
making plans to have him stabbed; an identified inmate wanted to
breakfast for fear of getting stabbed. Dkt. No. 32-13 at 1-6.
against protective custody made the threat “unbelievable” and
failed to convey to Defendants that Plaintiff actually perceived
an imminent risk to his safety. Dkt. No. 54 at 8. As this Court
has previously held, although a defendant’s statement that he
Defendants’ allegations regarding their beliefs.” Mitchell, 2019
WL 4439504, at *9. Otherwise, a defendant could defeat any Eighth
Amendment claim by disavowing all subjective beliefs. Instead, the
inquiry also focuses on whether a reasonable juror could infer
from the evidence that Defendants actually knew of a substantial
risk of harm to Plaintiff from other inmates. See Caldwell, 748
F.3d at 1102.
Defendant Saenz and Defendant Lee admit they both read the
grievance. Saenz Dep. 163:15-20; Lee Dep. 114:15-19. Additionally,
Defendant Saenz stated that she actually believed “[Plaintiff]
felt there was a threat to his safety.” Saenz Dep. at 178:24-25;
179:1. Defendant Lee agreed that Plaintiff set out threats to his
life in his April 14 grievance. Lee Dep. 114:9-11.
testimonies, a reasonable juror could infer that Defendants Saenz
and Lee not only read the grievance, but also actually perceived
a serious risk to Plaintiff’s safety by reading it.
Defendant Johnson contends that she was never aware of the
grievance. See Johnson Dep. 208:11-14, 209:1-3. However, Defendant
Saenz testified that Johnson read the grievance and instructed
Saenz to sign off on it. Saenz Dep. 169:5-25, 170:1-12. Thus, a
factual dispute exists as to whether Defendant Johnson saw the
Like Defendant Johnson, Defendant Gramiak contends he was
never aware of the grievance. Gramiak Dep. 139:1-3. However,
Defendant Saenz testified that the grievance would have been sent
to Warden Gramiak for final review because Defendant Johnson was
listed in the grievance. Saenz Dep. 166:6-10. Reviewing the record
in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, one could infer that
Defendant Gramiak did receive the grievance and conducted a final
review. Thus, the record also demonstrates a factual dispute as to
whether Defendant Gramiak was aware of the grievance form.
“sufficient evidence in the record to allow the Court, or a jury,
to second guess [defendant’s] assertion that she was not aware of
a substantial risk of serious harm to Plaintiff.” Chatham v.
Adcock, 334 F. App’x 281, 294 (11th Cir. 2009). A reasonable juror
could infer from the evidence that Defendants Gramiak and Johnson
also knew of a substantial risk of harm to Plaintiff.
b. Objective Component
Plaintiff’s request against protective custody and administrative
segregation. However, Plaintiff’s request does not imply, as a
matter of law, that doing nothing is a reasonable approach in light
of the threats made against Plaintiff. While it holds true that
Defendants cannot be liable solely for their violation of a policy
or procedure, there is little evidence here that any affirmative
steps were taken to protect Plaintiff. Consequently, a genuine
dispute of material fact remains as to whether Defendants failed
to reasonably respond by declining to take any further action to
protect Plaintiff against a threat of harm. Cf. Days, 701 F. App’x
883, 886 (11th Cir. 2017) (finding no deliberate indifference
because the prison officials there “(1) opened an investigation
into [plaintiff]’s allegations; (2) moved [plaintiff] to Y dorm,
where [plaintiff] himself felt safe; and (3) transferred plaintiff
to kitchen duty, where plaintiff also felt safe”); Walker v.
Smokes, No. 6:15-CV-57, 2019 WL 3919064, at *4 (S.D. Ga. Aug. 19,
confinement constituted sufficient safeguards for purposes of a
deliberate indifference claim).
Finally, Plaintiff must prove “a causal connection between
the prison official’s conduct and the Eighth Amendment violation.”
Rodriguez, 508 F.3d at 617. Defendants allege that Plaintiff has
failed to prove causation for two reasons: (1) administrative
segregation would have been the exact place Defendants placed
Plaintiff would have still been attacked; and (2) neither of
Plaintiff’s assailants were a member of the two groups Plaintiff
contends threatened him.
To determine whether Defendants caused Plaintiff’s injury, we
look at Defendants’ “duties, discretion and means.” Rodriguez, 508
F.3d at 622 (11th Cir. 2007). Here, Defendants contend that
Plaintiff cannot establish causation because after Plaintiff’s
transfer to administrative segregation, he was still assaulted,
and administrative segregation was the same treatment he would
custody. 3 Dkt. No. 54 at 12. However, this overlooks testimony in
the record stating otherwise.
Both Defendants Johnson and Gramiak said in their depositions
that they had the means to lock Plaintiff up in involuntary
protective custody and would likely have done so if they had seen
the grievance. 4 Johnson Dep. 230:1-12; Gramiak Dep. 153:23-25,
154:1-2 (“Q: The fact that he’s saying I don’t want protective
custody doesn’t mean you just don’t follow-up on it? A: No, that
doesn’t mean you don’t follow up on it.”). Because there is a
factual dispute as to whether either one of these Defendants saw
the grievance, it follows that a factual dispute also exists as to
After the April 20 attack, Plaintiff was placed in a two-man cell in
administrative segregation with verified gang member. On April 25, he was
attacked again by his cellmate in administrative segregation. Dkt. No. 42-2 ¶
4 As noted by Defendant Gramiak, in a scenario where there is a substantial
threat against an inmate and that inmate does not want to go into protective
custody, prison officials may still place the inmate under protective custody
known as “involuntary” protective custody. Dkt. No. 42-2 ¶ 47(d).
a “necessary causal link.” Rodriguez, 508 F.3d at 622 (“[A]
plaintiff demonstrates the ‘necessary causal link’ where he is
substantially to improve’ the inmate's safety, (2) ‘knew that the
actions he undertook would be insufficient to provide [the inmate]
with reasonable protection from violence,’ and (3) had ‘other means
... available to him which he nevertheless disregarded.’” (quoting
LaMarca v. Turner, 995 F.2d 1526, 1539 (11th Cir. 1993) (emphasis
As discussed above, a factual dispute exists as to whether
Saenz. Saenz Dep. 169:5-25, 170:1-12. It is undisputed, however,
that Defendant Saenz’s signature is on the grievance response form.
Thus, a jury could also find that Defendant Saenz failed to
pass along the threats against Plaintiff, and that this failure
constituted deliberate indifference that caused Plaintiff’s harm.
reasonable juror to find that the “necessary causal link” has been
Defendant Lee contends that Plaintiff cannot prove causation
in her case because she did not have any power to help Plaintiff
other than processing and delivering the grievance as she did. Lee
Dep. 114-18. However, this overlooks other testimony in the record
that notes a considerable amount of action Lee could have taken to
security; Lee recommended the grievance be rejected; and Lee failed
to actually flag the security concerns for her supervisor. See
Gramiak Dep. 134:24-25, 135:1-12. Therefore, a reasonable juror
could find that Defendant Lee failed to use considerable means
Plaintiff is also required to show a causal link between the
excessive risk of violence and his injury.
See Hale, 50 F.3d at
1584. Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to establish this
second causal link because, while his assailants were members of
a gang, neither was a member of either the Bloods or the Muslims,
the two groups Plaintiff contends had threatened him. See Dkt. No.
37-11 at 22. In response, Plaintiff points to his deposition where
he testifies that after his April 20 attack, Plaintiff’s assailant
said: “We’re going to split your fucking head open every time you
hit the fucking compound, you snitch.” Id. at 12. Additionally,
during the April 25 attack, Plaintiff’s assailant said, “this is
for the Muslims, you snitch.” Id. at 22. Plaintiff has carried his
burden by pointing to specific evidence found in the record.
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff,
these statements create a genuine dispute of material fact as to
the link between Plaintiff’s feared threat of harm and the injuries
that actually occurred.
III. Clearly Established Law
Even when there is a genuine factual dispute as to whether a
constitutional violation occurred, if the defendant did not act in
violation of clearly established law, then the claim will not
proceed past summary judgment. See Ansley v. Heinrich, 925 F.2d
regardless of factual disputes.” (quoting Harlow, 457 U.S. at
The “clearly established” requirement is designed to ensure
that officers have fair notice of the conduct which is proscribed.
Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739 (2002). Therefore, “[f]or a
constitutional right to be clearly established, its contours ‘must
be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand
that what he is doing violates that right.’” Id. (quoting Anderson
constitutional right were clearly established in at least two ways.
Cottone, 326 F.3d at 1359.
First, a plaintiff “may show that ‘a
materially similar case has already been decided.’” Id. (quoting
Mercado v. City of Orlando, 407 F.3d 1152, 1159 (11th Cir. 2005)).
Second, a plaintiff “can point to a ‘broader, clearly established
situation.’” Id. (quoting Mercado, 407 F.3d at 1159); accord United
States v. Lanier, 520 U.S. 259, 271 (1997) (“[G]eneral statements
of the law are not inherently incapable of giving fair and clear
warning, and in other instances a general constitutional rule
already identified in the decisional law may apply with obvious
clarity to the specific conduct in question.”).
“Some broad statements of principle in case law are not tied
to particularized facts and can clearly establish law applicable
in the future to different sets of detailed facts.” Terrell v.
Smith, 668 F.3d 1244, 1256 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Vinyard v.
Wilson, 311 F.3d 1340, 1351 (11th Cir. 2002)). Here, the broader
principles laid down in Farmer v. Brennan “control the novel facts”
set forth by Plaintiff. See 511 U.S. 825 (1994). Additionally, it
is clearly established in this Circuit that Defendants’ total
failure to investigate or mitigate the substantial risk of serious
harm to Plaintiff constitutes deliberate indifference. See, e.g.,
Marsh v. Butler Cnty., 268 F.3d 1014, 1034 (11th Cir. 2001) (en
banc) (“[A]t the time of the assaults in this case, it was clearly
established in this Circuit that it is an unreasonable response
conditions—like the conditions alleged in this case—that pose a
risk of serious physical harm to inmates.”).
In Farmer, the Supreme Court made clear “that prison officials
have a duty ‘to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of
other prisoners’ and that an official may be liable if he knows of
and disregards a substantial risk of an inmate-on-inmate attack
‘by failing to take reasonable measures to abate [the risk].’”
Scott v. Miami Dade Cnty., 657 F. App'x 877, 885 (11th Cir. 2016)
(quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 833). Vital to its holding was the
Court’s admonition that “having stripped [prisoners] of virtually
every means of self-protection and foreclosed their access to
outside aid, the government and its officials are not free to let
the state of nature take its course.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 833.
Based on the broader principle laid down in Farmer, the
Eleventh Circuit concluded in Scott v. Miami Dade that “it was
clearly established that a prison official violates an inmate’s
constitutional rights where the official is aware of a substantial
risk of serious harm to an inmate, including an inmate-on-inmate
attack, and takes no action.” 657 F. App'x at 885 (emphasis added).
Additionally, the Eleventh Circuit explained in Caldwell that a
prison official is not entitled to qualified immunity if the
[other inmates] pose a substantial risk of serious harm to
another, yet fails to take any action to investigate, mitigate, or
monitor that substantial risk of serious harm.” Caldwell, 748 F.3d
1090 at 1102 (emphasis added) (citing Cottone, 326 F.3d at 1358–
60). Finally, in Bowen v. Warden Baldwin State Prison, 826 F.3d
1312, 1325 (11th Cir. 2016), the Eleventh Circuit found that as of
March 2010, “the law of this Circuit, as expressed in Cottone,
investigate—or take any other action to mitigate—the substantial
risk of serious harm that [an inmate] posed to [the plaintiff]
constitutional] rights.” (emphasis added).
Defendants rely on Mitchell v. Jackson, 2019 WL 4439504, at
*2, to support their contention that qualified immunity applies.
Dkt. No. 54 at 18. This court in Mitchell found that the Defendant
was entitled to qualified immunity in a case involving alleged
threats of a gang hit related to contraband disputes. Id. The
Mitchell decision turned in large part on the unique self-locking
mechanism found in the plaintiff’s cell. Id. at *14. As such,
Defendants contend that Mitchell is instructive and should come
out the same way. Dkt. No. 60 at 5 (“Mitchell is instructive here
circumstance of Plaintiff’s express and emphatic rejection of
protective custody and the cases are strikingly similar.”).
However, Mitchell did not involve a situation where the
Defendant failed to take any action to investigate or mitigate the
potential harm. The Defendant in Mitchell tried to move the
plaintiff to a different cell but was unable to due to security
clearance. Id. at *2. Additionally, the defendant told plaintiff
she would look into having the guards lock external doors to the
holding area. Id. at *3. And finally, as the Court noted in
Mitchell, the plaintiff’s situation was unique because he “was not
‘stripped ... of virtually every means of self-protection’ because
Plaintiff could lock himself inside of his single-man cell.” Id.
at *14 (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 833).
Saenz, Johnson, and Gramiak took no action to protect Plaintiff
despite their knowledge of gang threats to harm Plaintiff and their
Additionally, unlike Mitchell, Defendants fail to demonstrate any
efforts or attempts to investigate Plaintiff’s claim or provide
any form of unique protection. Cf. Mosley v. Zachery, 966 F.3d
1265, 1275 (11th Cir. 2020) (granting summary judgment where the
defendant told plaintiff she would look into a dorm transfer,
called a cell count, and provided a self-locking cell to the
Defendants further argue that there is no clearly established
law on the facts particular to this case. Dkt. No. 54 at 16.
Specifically, Defendants contend that Plaintiff’s request against
protective custody warrants qualified immunity to apply because it
is a unique fact not found in other cases. Id. at 18. 5
As previously noted, Defendants’ argument on this point goes to the factual
question of whether they subjectively recognized the threat voiced in
Plaintiff’s grievance. Genuine disputes of fact exist as to whether any
Defendant subjectively discounted Plaintiff’s grievance because of his specific
request. A reasonable juror could conclude that Plaintiff’s grievance provided
However, the qualified immunity analysis is not so granular
as to require that Plaintiff identify a controlling case with
identical facts. See Holloman ex rel. Holloman v. Harland, 370
F.3d 1252, 1277 (11th Cir. 2004) (“[T]here need not be a case ‘on
all fours,’ with materially identical facts, before we will allow
suits against them.”). Instead, the law was clearly established in
2016 that prison officials have a duty to afford inmates at least
some form of response to or protection from a known danger,
including violence exacted by other inmates. See Bowen, 826 F.3d
Plaintiff here was the victim of inmate-on-inmate violence.
Dkt. No. 42-2 ¶ 61. He told officials about the likelihood of such
an attack. Id. ¶ 28. Defendants—like the officials in Caldwell and
Farmer—did nothing to protect him. Id. ¶ 29. Each remaining
Defendant acknowledges that at least something should have been
done regarding Plaintiff’s grievance. See Dkt. No. 47 at 183; 6 Dkt.
No. 48 at 53; Dkt. No. 49 at 38; Dkt. No. 43 at 32. 7 Yet, not a
single Defendant acted to investigate or mitigate Plaintiff’s
awareness (both subjective and objective) of a serious threat felt by the
Plaintiff. “A gang’s threat to kill someone for leaving the gang (or really for
almost any other reason) could reasonably be considered . . . credible.”
Woodyard v. Alabama Dep't of Corr., 700 F. App’x 927, 933 (11th Cir.
2017)(emphasis added)(discussing Rodriguez, 508 F.3d at 618).
6 Defendant Saenz agrees that the grievance should have been passed on to
security but claims she believed that Defendant Johnson had already done so.
7 Defendant Lee claims that she did everything she was authorized to do by
passing the grievance up her chain of command. Id. However, testimony by
Defendant Johnson contradicts this statement. Johnson Dep. 163:1-14; Dkt. No.
48 at 42.
situation. See Dkt. No. 47 at 183; Dkt. No. 48 at 53; Dkt. No. 49
at 34; Dkt. No. 43 at 31-32.
Plaintiff’s situation amounts to sitting back and letting “the
state of nature take its course.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 833. No
reasonable jailer could conclude that it was constitutionally
permissible to do nothing despite awareness of specified gang
threats and the motivation behind such threats. See Caldwell, 748
F.3d 1090 at 1102; Rodriguez, 508 F.3d at 617 n. 12.
While the opinions in Miami Dade and Bowen were handed down
after April 2016 and were therefore not clearly established law at
the time of the altercation, the cases demonstrate that the binding
authority of Farmer, Cottone, and Caldwell was established with
sufficient clarity to guide Defendants at the time. Based on the
facts analyzed in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, Defendants
are not entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiff’s deliberate
For the above reasons, Defendants’ Joint Motion for Summary
Judgment, dkt. no. 32, is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
Defendants’ motion is GRANTED as to Plaintiff’s claims against
Defendants Payne, Bagley, Burse, and Adams. Defendants’ motion is
DENIED as to Plaintiff’s claims against Defendants Lee, Saenz,
Johnson, and Gramiak.
SO ORDERED, this 16th day of October, 2020.
HON. LISA GODBEY WOOD, JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
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