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Smith v. Taylor

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

February 24, 2015

COREY SMITH, Plaintiff,
OFFICER S. TAYLOR, ET AL., Defendant(s).


ROBERT S. BALLOU, Magistrate Judge.

Corey Smith, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendants, who are correctional officers at Red Onion State Prison, violated his rights under the U.S. Constitution and state law. Specifically, Smith alleges that officers used excessive force against him, denied him medical attention, verbally threatened him, and retaliated against him by denying him recreation for a month. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, and Smith responded. Thereafter, the court referred the case to me under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).

After careful review of the parties' evidence, I now present my proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommended disposition. For the reasons set forth below, I RECOMMEND that defendants' motion for summary judgment be GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. Because I find genuine issues of material fact in dispute as to Smith's § 1983 claims of excessive force and bystander liability, I recommend that the motion be denied as to these claims, and the related state law claims of assault, battery, and negligence regarding medical care, but that the motion be granted as to all other § 1983 claims and that the court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Smith's other state law assault claim.


A. Smith's Allegations and Claims

Smith alleges the following sequence of facts relevant to his claims. During the morning of September 19, 2013, Officers Taylor and Lawson came to Smith's segregation cell and asked if he wanted outside recreation. Smith said that he did. Taylor said, "I shouldn't let yo[ur] ass go anywhere, all that d*** paperwork you keep filing on everybody, " and Lawson expressed similar sentiments. (Compl. 3.) The officers said to each other that Smith would learn filing paperwork at Red Onion "is going to cause him a lot of trouble." (Id. at 4.) Smith said he would file paperwork on staff who threatened to assault him, referring to a prior incident when Taylor had threatened to "beat" Smith over a lawsuit Smith had filed against other prison officers. Taylor said, "I had enough of your f****** mouth and you best closed [sic] it or get f***** up." (Id.) Taylor "continued to try to provoke [Smith] to become disruptive so th[at] he could physically assault him." (Id. at 5.)

Once Smith was locked in the recreation cage, Taylor asked Smith if he had filed a grievance about their discussion of Smith's prior lawsuit. Smith said he had filed a grievance about that incident and that after his recreation time, he intended to file another grievance against Taylor for "threats and harassment". Taylor then asked, "What are you going to do about that lawsuit Smart ass?" (Comp. 6.) Smith answered, "None of your business, man. Why do you keep harassing me about a lawsuit that has nothing to do with you?" (Id.) Taylor said, "it all has something to do with me, n*****. Now are you going to drop it?" Smith said he would continue the lawsuit because officers had violated his rights. Taylor said, "You don't have any rights now. Your rec is being taken." (Id.) The officers then cut short Smith's recreation time, purportedly based on Smith's threats toward them.

As Smith exited the cage in full restraints, Taylor applied "mix martial art wrist locks, " which caused Smith "extreme pain in his left arm, wrist and hand." (Id.) Smith told Taylor that the grip was hurting him and that the restraints were too tight, but Taylor called him obscene names and racial slurs. Smith then asked Lawson for help, and Lawson said, "That's what happen[s] when you file paperwork against everybody.... You deserve every bit of what you are getting." (Compl. 9.) Taylor continued the wrist locks, making them even more painful, until the officers had placed Smith into his cell. Smith's screams that Taylor was twisting his wrist and using force attracted other inmates' attention, and they yelled for Taylor to stop. Taylor told Smith, "Don't cry now you lil [sic] bitch." (Id. at 10.)

Smith alleges that after the incident, his left wrist was swollen and bruised, his wrist, hand, and finger were bleeding, and his left thumb had partially lost feeling. He asked Taylor and Lawson to call a nurse, but they refused. Taylor said, "I hope it's broken." (Id. at 12.)

Shortly after this incident, Building Sgt. Miller heard about it and came to Smith's cell. Smith told Miller about the assault and asked to see a nurse for his pain. Miller said, "You're not getting any medical treatment and you best go lay down or [I] is gon be [sic] your fucking ass." (Compl. 13.) Seven and a half hours after the assault, when a nurse came by during pill pass, Smith told her that he had been assaulted. She documented his injuries and gave him some Motrin.

On September 24, 2013, Smith told Lt. Franklin about the assault and Miller's failure to provide medical care. Miller threatened to beat Smith for telling on him to his superior officer. Smith alleges that Miller and Lawson denied him outside recreation for a month "as part of his punishment for filing a grievance" and for reporting on Miller to Franklin. (Id. at 17.)

In his § 1983 complaint, Smith sues Taylor, Lawson, and Miller, alleging the following claims: (1) Taylor's use of wrist locks was excessive force, and Lawson failed to intervene to stop that use of force, in violation of Smith's constitutional rights; (2) Taylor's use of force constituted the torts of assault and battery under state law; (3) refusal by Taylor and Lawson to grant Smith's request after the escort procedure for medical attention, and Miller's refusal to grant Smith's later request for medical attention, constituted negligence under state law;[1] (4) Miller and Lawson deprived Smith of recreation for a month in retaliation for his complaints about officers, in violation of his constitutional rights; and (5) Miller's threat to "beat" Smith constituted assault under state law. As relief, Smith seeks injunctive relief (specifically reclassification, a permanent transfer out of the western region of the state, and restoration of privileges) and monetary damages.

B. The Pending Motion

Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment, with several supporting affidavits. Taylor and Lawson state that after they escorted Smith and another inmate to recreation on September 19, 2013 without incident, Smith verbally "threatened to put a knife in [Taylor] or have some of his people do it for him." (Taylor Affid. 1, ECF No. 15-1.) Taylor reported the threat to Sgt. Miller, and the decision was made for Smith to be returned to his cell. Taylor and Lawson deny that they used or saw anyone use excessive force against Smith.[2] ...

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