Ingrassia v. Sheets et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER re: 26 The Court concludes that the defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the defendants' motion for summary judgment [Doc. # 26 ] is granted. Signed by District Judge Carol E. Jackson on 6/26/13. (KKS)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
DARREN SHEETS, et al.,
Case No. 4:11-CV-2033 (CEJ)
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on the motion of defendants for summary
judgment. Plaintiff has filed a response in opposition to the motion, and the issues are
Plaintiff Thomas Ingrassia, proceeding pro se, brings this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges that defendants used excessive force against him and
were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs while he was a civilly-committed
detainee in the Sex Offender Rehabilitation and Treatment Services (SORTS) facility
operated by the Missouri Department of Mental Health. The defendants are Darren
Sheets, David Easter, Gary Bennett, and Richard Watkins, all of whom were Security
Aides at SORTS at the time of the incident alleged in the complaint. The defendants
are sued in their individual capacities, and plaintiff seeks monetary and declarative
On March 1, 2011, defendants were assigned to escort plaintiff from SORTS to
a doctor’s appointment in Des Peres, Missouri. Prior to departure, plaintiff was placed
in wrist and ankle restraints by defendant Sheets. Because of plaintiff’s status as a
detainee and his history of escaping from confinement, the restraints were deemed a
necessary security precaution.1 According to the complaint, the trip to the doctor’s
office took approximately ninety minutes and the appointment itself lasted for
approximately sixty minutes.
Plaintiff initially testified that he was kept in the
restraints the entire time he was away from SORTS, but later stated that he could not
be one-hundred percent sure. There is nothing in defendants’ affidavits to indicate that
the restraints were ever adjusted or removed prior to the return to SORTS.
Plaintiff testified that he experienced some right wrist discomfort on the trip to
the medical office, which required him to constantly move the cuff around.
undisputed that plaintiff did not complain of any discomfort until after the
Plaintiff testified that while waiting for Easter to retrieve the vehicle for the
return trip to SORTS, he told Sheets that the cuffs were too tight and that they were
hurting him and causing his wrists to be numb. According to plaintiff, Bennett and
Watkins were nearby when he made this complaint. Sheets checked the cuffs by
placing one finger between the side of plaintiff’s right wrist and the cuff. When Sheets
stated that the cuffs were not too tight, plaintiff responded that the tightness was at
the top and bottom of the cuff. Plaintiff’s testified that he also complained to Easter
when he returned with the vehicle, but Easter did not check plaintiff’s cuffs at that
In their affidavits, the defendants state that they “observed [plaintiff] moving
his handcuffs up and down his wrists and pulling on his handcuffs” on the drive back
to SORTS. Plaintiff testified that he again complained about the cuffs and Sheets again
responded that they were not too tight.
Plaintiff was committed to SORTS in 2001, after a jury determined that he was
a sexually violent predator. Later that year, plaintiff left the facility without permission
and was not apprehended until 2008.
After plaintiff and defendants arrived at SORTS, Al Tripp, the supervising
security officer came to inspect the handcuffs. According to defendants’ affidavits, Mr.
Tripp was able to fit one finger between the cuff and plaintiff’s wrist. In addition, the
defendants took photographs that show a finger inserted between plaintiff’s right wrist
and the handcuff and that show plaintiff’s wrists after the cuffs were removed.
According to the medical records, there was some redness observed on
plaintiff’s wrists after he returned to SORTS, with increased redness on the right wrist.
There were also some skin indentations, but no broken skin. Plaintiff testified that he
was offered pain medication but refused it. Plaintiff testified that he experienced
numbness and pain for more than a year after the incident. The SORTS records show
that on March 2, 2011, plaintiff was observed doing physical exercises, including
vertical upside down push-ups using both arms.
Plaintiff acknowledged in his
deposition that in the days and weeks following the incident he was able to write with
his right hand, play basketball, and do push-ups, pull-ups, and parallel bar exercises.
The SORTS records also show that plaintiff engaged in other physical activity using his
right arm, including punching walls and fighting with other detainees.
Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary
judgment shall be entered if the moving party shows “that there is no genuine dispute
as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”
In ruling on a motion for summary judgment the court is required to view the facts in
the light most favorable to the non-moving party and must give that party the benefit
of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts. AgriStor Leasing
v. Farrow, 826 F.2d 732, 734 (8th Cir. 1987). The moving party bears the burden of
showing both the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and its entitlement to
judgment as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986);
Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986).
Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party may not rest on the
allegations of his pleadings but must set forth specific facts, by affidavit or other
evidence, showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists. United of Omaha Life
Ins. Co. v. Honea, 458 F.3d 788, 791 (8th Cir. 2006) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)).
Rule 56 “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery
and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish
the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will
bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corporation v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322
In support of their motion for summary judgment, defendants argue that
plaintiff cannot demonstrate that they used excessive force or were deliberately
indifferent to his medical needs. Defendants argue, in the alternative, that they are
entitled to qualified immunity because they did not violate plaintiff’s clearly established
rights. For the reasons discussed below, the Court concludes that there is no genuine
issue of disputed material fact with respect to plaintiff’s claims and it is unnecessary
to address the issue of qualified immunity.
A. Excessive Force
“[E]xcessive-force claims in the context of involuntarily committed state hospital
patients” are “evaluated under the [Fourth Amendment’s] objective reasonableness
standard usually applied to excessive-force claims brought by pretrial detainees.”
Andrews v. Neer, 253 F.3d 1052, 1060-61 (8th Cir. 2001). Thus, plaintiff’s excessive
force claim is to be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment. See Graham v. Connor,
490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989) (“Today we . . hold that all claims that law enforcement
officers have used excessive force . . . in the course of an arrest, investigatory stop or
other ‘seizure’ of a free citizen should be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment and
its ‘reasonableness’ standard, rather than under a ‘substantive due process’
“An officer’s use of force violates the Fourth Amendment when it is
objectively unreasonable, given the facts and circumstances of the particular case, as
‘judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the
20/20 vision of hindsight.’” Chambers v. Pennycook, 641 F.3d 898, 905-06 (8th Cir.
2011) (quoting Graham, 490 U.S. at 396).
Plaintiff does not contend that he should not have been placed in restraints.
Rather, his claim is that the restraints were unnecessarily applied too tightly, causing
injury to his wrists. As discussed above, the only injuries plaintiff sustained as a result
of being handcuffed were skin redness and indentation.
While there is no uniform
requirement that a plaintiff show more than de minimis injury to establish a claim of
excessive-force,2 defendants correctly assert that “[f]or the application of handcuffs
[in particular] to amount to excessive force, there must be something beyond minor
injuries.” Hanig v. Lee, 415 F.3d 822, 824 (8th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). This is
because “‘[h]andcuffing inevitably involves some use of force,’ and it almost inevitably
will result in some irritation, minor injury, or discomfort where the handcuffs are
applied.” Chambers, 641 F.3d at 907 (quoting Wertish v. Krueger, 433 F.3d 1062,
1067 (8th Cir. 2006)) (internal citations omitted).
The Court agrees with defendants that skin redness and indentation resulting
from handcuffing do not qualify as “something beyond minor injuries.” In Foster v.
Metro Airports Comm’n., 914 F.2d 1076 (8th Cir. 1990), the court found that “nerve
damage” from being handcuffed too tightly did not constitute actual injury without
E.g., Lambert v. City of Dumas, 187 F.3d 931 (8th Cir. 1999) (holding that
“[a] single small cut of the lateral right eyelid and small scrapes of the right posterior
knee and upper calf” were sufficient to support an excessive force claim).
“medical records indicating any long-term injury as a result of the handcuffs.” Id. at
1082. Affirming summary judgment, the court of appeals ruled that “allegations of
pain as a result of being handcuffed, without some evidence of more permanent injury,
are [insufficient] to support [a] claim of excessive force.” Id.; see also Crumley v. St.
Paul, 324 F.3d 1003, 1008 (8th Cir. 2003) (finding that no reasonable jury could have
found excessive force in applying handcuffs where plaintiff failed to allege or present
any medical records indicating long-term or permanent physical injury).
Finally, plaintiff’s rejection of pain medication, his ability to engage in strenuous
physical activity using his wrists, and the absence of any medical evidence of serious
injury belie his allegations of continuing pain and numbness. The Court concludes that
the evidence fails to establish that the defendants used excessive force.
B. Deliberate Indifference
To establish a claim of deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must prove (1) an
objectively serious medical need, and (2) that defendants knew of the need yet
deliberately disregarded it. Hartsfield v. Colburn, 371 F.3d 454, 457 (8th Cir. 2004).
“To constitute an objectively serious medical need,” the need alleged “must be either
obvious to the layperson or supported by medical evidence, like a physician’s
diagnosis.” Aswegan v. Henry, 49 F.3d 461, 464 (8th Cir. 1995). For the reasons
discussed above, the evidence fails to establish the existence of a serious medical
However, even if a serious need could be established, the evidence fails to
establish the defendants’ disregard of it.
Upon learning of plaintiff’s discomfort, defendant Sheets responded by
inspecting the handcuffs. Because he was able to insert his finger between the cuff
and plaintiff’s wrist, Sheets determined that the cuffs were not too tight. Mr. Tripp, the
supervising security aide, also checked the handcuffs, using the same method utilized
by Sheets. Plaintiff’s disagreement with the technique used in checking his restraints
and the determination that they were not too tight does not create a genuine issue of
material fact. Further, the evidence establishes that plaintiff was evaluated by medical
personnel upon his return to SORTS and was offered medication for his pain. The
evidence does not support a finding of deliberate indifference.
The Court concludes that the defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the defendants’ motion for summary judgment
[Doc. # 26] is granted.
CAROL E. JACKSON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated this 26th day of June, 2013.
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