OWENS v. SPARKS et al
ORDER denying Defendant's 74 Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court will endeavor to recruit counsel to represent Mr. Owens at trial. Once counsel is recruited, the Court will issue a separate order setting a trial date and related dead-lines. Signed by Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson on 11/7/2017. (JDC)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
DAVID OWENS, JR.,
This matter is before the Court on Defendant Franklin Sparks’ Motion for Summary
Judgment. [Filing No. 74.] Plaintiff David Owens, Jr., proceeding pro se, alleges that Mr. Sparks
hit Mr. Owens in the hand with a spatula while working in the kitchen at Pendleton Correctional
Facility (“PCF”). [Filing No. 57.] Mr. Owens alleges that Mr. Sparks’ conduct violates the Eighth
Amendment prohibition on excessive force, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. [Filing No. 57.]
Because a reasonable trier of fact could find that Mr. Sparks intentionally struck Mr. Owens
without any justification, the Court DENIES Mr. Sparks’ Motion.
A motion for summary judgment asks the Court to find that a trial is unnecessary because
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and, instead, the movant is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). As the current version of Rule 56 makes clear,
whether a party asserts that a fact is undisputed or genuinely disputed, the party must support the
asserted fact by citing to particular parts of the record, including depositions, documents, or
affidavits. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). A party can also support a fact by showing that the
materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute or that the adverse
party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(B).
Affidavits or declarations must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be
admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant is competent to testify on matters stated. Fed. R.
Civ. P. 56(c)(4). Failure to properly support a fact in opposition to a movant’s factual assertion
can result in the movant’s fact being considered undisputed, and potentially in the grant of
summary judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e).
In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court need only consider disputed facts
that are material to the decision. A disputed fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the
suit under the governing law. Hampton v. Ford Motor Co., 561 F.3d 709, 713 (7th Cir. 2009). In
other words, while there may be facts that are in dispute, summary judgment is appropriate if those
facts are not outcome determinative. Harper v. Vigilant Ins. Co., 433 F.3d 521, 525 (7th Cir.
2005). Fact disputes that are irrelevant to the legal question will not suffice to defeat summary
judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
On summary judgment, a party must show the Court what evidence it has that would
convince a trier of fact to accept its version of the events. Johnson v. Cambridge Indus., 325 F.3d
892, 901 (7th Cir. 2003). The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if no reasonable
factfinder could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 875
(7th Cir. 2009). The Court views the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party
and draws all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor. Darst v. Interstate Brands Corp., 512
F.3d 903, 907 (7th Cir. 2008). It cannot weigh evidence or make credibility determinations on
summary judgment because those tasks are left to the fact-finder. O’Leary v. Accretive Health,
Inc., 657 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2011). The Court need only consider the cited materials, Fed. R.
Civ. P. 56(c)(3), and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has “repeatedly assured the district
courts that they are not required to scour every inch of the record for evidence that is potentially
relevant to the summary judgment motion before them,” Johnson, 325 F.3d at 898. Any doubt as
to the existence of a genuine issue for trial is resolved against the moving party. Ponsetti v. GE
Pension Plan, 614 F.3d 684, 691 (7th Cir. 2010).
The following factual background is set forth pursuant to the standards detailed above. The
facts stated are not necessarily objectively true, but as the summary judgment standard requires,
the undisputed facts and the disputed evidence are presented in the light most favorable to “the
party against whom the motion under consideration is made.” Premcor USA, Inc. v. American
Home Assurance Co., 400 F.3d 523, 526-27 (7th Cir. 2005).
A. The Parties
In 2014, Mr. Owens, an inmate at PCF, worked in the kitchen. [Filing No. 76-1 at 5.] As
a kitchen worker, Mr. Owens performed a variety of duties, such as slicing vegetables, cleaning,
and preparing trays. [Filing No. 76-1 at 3-4.] Mr. Sparks was an employee of Aramark
Correctional Services, LLC (“Aramark”), which provided food services to inmates at PCF. [Filing
No. 76-2 at 2.]
B. The Incident
On July 17, 2014, Mr. Owens was cleaning utensils in the kitchen when Mr. Sparks entered
from the Aramark office. [Filing No. 76-1 at 5.] Then, according to Mr. Owens’ deposition
testimony, Mr. Owens and Mr. Sparks had the following exchange:
[Filing No. 76-1 at 5.]
Mr. Sparks swung the spatula downward toward Mr. Owens’ face, and would have hit Mr.
Owens in the face had he not put his hand up to block the spatula. [Filing No. 76-1 at 5.] Instead,
the spatula hit Mr. Owens’ left hand, nicking his left pinky and cutting his left ring finger. [Filing
No. 76-1 at 5.] Mr. Sparks said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to,” and gave Mr. Owens a Band-Aid
and iodine wipe. [Filing No. 76-1 at 6.] Two other inmates at PCF witnessed Mr. Sparks swing
at and hit Mr. Owens. [Filing No. 91-1 at 1-3; Filing No. 91-1 at 9-11.]
C. Immediate Aftermath
Mr. Owens informed the supervising officer of what happened and informed the officer
that he needed medical attention because his hand was hurting. [Filing No. 76-1 at 6.] Specifically,
Mr. Owens needed a note excusing him from working due to the injury, colloquially called a “layin.” [Filing No. 76-1 at 6.] The officer informed Mr. Owens that he would need to write an
incident report and visit the medical unit. [Filing No. 76-1 at 6.] Mr. Owens went to Mr. Sparks
and told him that they would need to file an incident report. [Filing No. 76-1 at 6.] Mr. Sparks
replied, “You’re going to get me fired.” [Filing No. 76-1 at 6.] According to Mr. Owens, the two
had the following exchange as they were walking:
[Filing No. 76-1 at 6.] Mr. Owens and Mr. Sparks then sat down to write the incident report:
[Filing No. 76-1 at 6.]
D. Incident Report
Mr. Sparks filled out the following “Report of Offender Injury” form (“Incident Report”):
[Filing No. 76-1 at 48.] Under the box labelled “What caused the injury?”, Mr. Sparks wrote, “I
accidentally hit offender in hand with spatula.” [Filing No. 76-1 at 48.]
At his deposition, Mr. Owens had the following exchange regarding the Incident Report:
[Filing No. 80 at 7.]
E. Procedural History
On March 13, 2015, Mr. Owens brought suit against Aramark and Mr. Sparks. [Filing No.
1.] Following screening orders, [Filing No. 7; Filing No. 11; Filing No. 61], and pleading
amendments, [Filing No. 10; Filing No. 19; Filing No. 57], Mr. Owens’ Eighth Amendment
excessive force claim remains pending against Mr. Sparks. Mr. Sparks seeks summary judgment
in his favor, arguing that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. [Filing No. 74.]
In support of his Motion, Mr. Sparks argues that the evidence demonstrates that the spatula
incident was an accident.1 [Filing No. 75 at 8.] Specifically, Mr. Sparks argues that Mr. Owens
agreed at his deposition that Mr. Sparks accidentally struck Mr. Owens. [Filing No. 75 at 8.] Mr.
Mr. Sparks also seeks summary judgment on Mr. Owens’s Eighth Amendment deliberate
indifference claim. [Filing No. 75 at 5-8.] But as Mr. Owens himself recognizes, [Filing No. 91
at 5], he has not pursued a deliberate indifference claim, [Filing No. 11 at 1 (entry clarifying that
“there is no claim for denial of medical treatment”)]. The Court therefore DENIES AS MOOT
this portion of Mr. Sparks’s Motion.
Sparks argues that an accidental strike cannot support an Eighth Amendment excessive force
claim. [Filing No. 75 at 8.]
In response, Mr. Owens argues that he has raised a genuine issue of material fact as to
whether Mr. Sparks’ actions were intentional. Mr. Owens argues that, in his deposition testimony,
he agreed with the questioner that the Incident Report stated that the incident was an accident.
[Filing No. 91 at 2-3.] Mr. Owens argues that he did not agree that the incident itself was an
accident. [Filing No. 91 at 2-3.]
In reply, Mr. Sparks submitted Mr. Owens’ errata sheet from his deposition, [Filing No.
93-1], arguing that it shows that Mr. Owens understood how to correct erroneous deposition
testimony, [Filing No. 94 at 3-4]. Mr. Sparks also argues that Mr. Owens’ affidavit, submitted as
evidence with Mr. Owens’ response brief, should be disregarded as a sham. [Filing No. 94 at 34.]
In surreply, Mr. Owens states that he only submitted errata corrections where he believed
that there were stenographic errors. [Filing No. 96 at 1-2.] Mr. Owens reiterates that, at his
deposition, he only agreed with the questioner that the Incident Report stated that the incident was
an accident. [Filing No. 96 at 1-2.]
The Eighth Amendment prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments” and distinguishes
between “force . . . applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline” and force applied
“maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.” Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 37 (2010) (quoting
Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9 (1992)). This inquiry looks not to the extent of the injury
suffered, but to the “nature of the force” applied, id. at 39, considering “whether there was a
genuine need to use force and whether the amount of force used corresponded to that need,”
Mitchell v. Kreuger, 594 F. App’x 874, 876-77 (7th Cir. 2014) (collecting cases). “Infliction of
pain that is totally without penological justification is per se malicious.” Fillmore v. Page, 358
F.3d 496, 504 (7th Cir. 2004) (quoting Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 737 (2002)).
In this case, Mr. Sparks provides no evidence of any penological justification for his
alleged actions. Rather, the sole issue is whether there is sufficient evidence from which a jury
could find that Mr. Sparks intentionally struck Mr. Owens. Moreover, the Court need not reach
the issue of whether Mr. Owens’ summary judgment affidavit is a sham because the Court agrees
with Mr. Owens that he did not admit in his deposition that Mr. Sparks’ actions were accidental.
To the contrary, Mr. Owens testified that Mr. Sparks “grabbed a spatula and turned
around,” told Mr. Owens to “[s]hut up,” and swung the spatula down at Mr. Owens’ face. [Filing
No. 80 at 5.] Only later, when the questioner was asking Mr. Owens about the Incident Report,
did Mr. Owens testify as follows:
Mr. Owens quite reasonably explains that his agreement with the questioner only extended to what
the Incident Report “says” and what Mr. Sparks “wrote”—particularly when read in the context of
Mr. Owens’ clear testimony from just a few pages earlier about Mr. Sparks swinging the spatula
at him. Mr. Sparks’s attempt to parse Mr. Owens’ testimony to reach a different conclusion is
wholly unavailing, especially given that the Court must give Mr. Owens the benefit of all
reasonable inferences under Rule 56. Mr. Owens’ testimony raises a reasonable inference that Mr.
Sparks intentionally struck Mr. Owens with a spatula without any penological interest in doing so.
This is sufficient to require a trial on Mr. Owens’ excessive force claim.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court DENIES Mr. Sparks’ Motion for Summary Judgment.
[Filing No. 74.] The Court will endeavor to recruit counsel to represent Mr. Owens at trial. Once
counsel is recruited, the Court will issue a separate order setting a trial date and related deadlines.
Christopher Douglas Cody
HUME SMITH GEDDES GREEN & SIMMONS
David Owens, Jr.
Pendleton Correctional Facility
Electronic Service Participant – Court Only
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