United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Michael F. Urbanski United States District Judge.
Stanley Edward Jamison, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), naming four staff of the United States Penitentiary in Lee County, Virginia ("USP Lee"), as defendants. Plaintiff alleges that defendants used or allowed the use of excessive force on him three times on April 28, 2013, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment with a video recording, and Plaintiff responded, making the matter ripe for disposition. After reviewing the record, the court denies defendants' motion for summary judgment due to disputes of material facts.
A prisoner alleging excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment must show that a defendant "inflicted unnecessary and wanton pain and suffering." Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 320 (1986); see Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991) (holding that an Eighth Amendment claim for excessive force requires an objective deprivation of a basic human need and that prison officials subjectively acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind). Therefore, the proper inquiry is whether the force applied was "in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline or maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm." Whitley, 475 U.S. at 320-21. The subjective component encompasses such factors as the need for the application of force, the relationship between the need and the amount of force that was used, the extent of injury inflicted, the extent of the threat to the safety of staff and inmates reasonably perceived by responsible officials, and any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response. Id. at 321. A correctional officer may be liable on a theory of bystander liability if the correctional officer: "(1) knows that a fellow officer is violating an individual's constitutional rights; (2) has a reasonable opportunity to prevent the harm; and (3) chooses not to act." Randall v. Prince George's
Cnty., Md, 302 F.3d 188, 204 (4th Cir. 2002); see Willis v. Oakes, 493 F.Supp.2d 776, 784 (W.D. Va. 2007) (noting a plaintiff must prove a violation of a constitutional right as a prerequisite to establishing bystander liability).
Disputes of material facts preclude qualified immunity and summary judgment for all three alleged instances of excessive force. The video recording reveals that the first alleged use of excessive force occurred inside a prison hallway toward the special housing unit ("SHU").Correctional officer ("C/O") Taylor held Plaintiffs left arm, and Lt. Briggs held Plaintiffs right arm while Plaintiffs hands were cuffed behind his back. Lt. Martin and Case Manager Danny Lane were walking behind C/O Taylor, Lt. Briggs, and Plaintiff. As everyone was walking down the hall, Plaintiff calmly looked to the left in response to one of the defendant's statements to him, and C/O Taylor and Lt. Briggs immediately slammed Plaintiff up against the wall, bouncing Plaintiffs head off the concrete wall. These two defendants continued to push Plaintiffs face along the wall and into an intersecting concrete wall.
After a brief pause, C/O Taylor, Lt. Briggs, Lane, and Plaintiff entered a vestibule at the end of the hallway. C/O Taylor and Lt. Briggs allegedly lifted Plaintiff off his feet and rammed the left side of his forehead into a concrete wall while Lane and Lt. Martin watched. Defendants deny these allegations.
C/O Taylor, Lt. Briggs, and Lane then escorted Plaintiff to a recreation cage where C/O Taylor and Lt. Briggs allegedly slammed Plaintiffs knees to the ground and C/O Taylor allegedly slammed Plaintiffs head onto the concrete floor. Defendants also deny these allegations. The nurse's medical examination revealed that Plaintiff suffered two visible injuries: an abrasion on his right knee and a swollen area on the left side of his forehead.
Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, a reasonable trier of fact could conclude that defendants are liable for violations of Plaintiff s Eighth Amendment right to be free from excessive force, which was a right clearly established before the alleged events. See, e.g.. Carlson v. Green, 446 U.S. 14, 23-24 (1980); Williams v. Calton, No. 7:10-cv-75, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45237, at *14, 2011 WL 1598775, at *5 (W.D. Va. Apr. 27, 2011) ("In this case, the court cannot agree with [the defendant] that he did not have 'fair warning' that slamming a balking but otherwise unresisting and handcuffed inmate against the wall and then head-first into the floor constituted excessive force." (citing Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 238 (4th Cir. 2008); Rainev v.
Conerly, 973 F.2d 321, 324 (4th Cir. 1992); Pritchett v. Alford, 973 F.2d 307, 314 (4th Cir. 1992))).
A reasonable trier of fact could find that Plaintiff was not a threat to defendants or institutional security and, thus, there was no need for the force Plaintiff describes. For the first instance, Plaintiff admittedly turned his head to the left during the escort in a hallway immediately before he was pushed up against the wall. However, a jury could find that the force was excessive in light of Plaintiff s innocuous leftward glance, and Plaintiff did not create any cause or reason for C/O Taylor and Lt. Briggs to use the alleged force in the vestibule or recreation cage. As a result of the alleged force, Plaintiffs head was bounced off the wall, his face was pushed down the wall until his face was smacked into an intersecting concrete wall, his knees were slammed onto a concrete floor, and his face, again, was pushed down onto a concrete floor. Defendants could have avoided a forceful response in the hallway by merely telling Plaintiff to look forward, just as they admittedly had done earlier during the escort, and there was no apparent threat or need for such force in the vestibule of recreation cage. Although not determinative, the injuries Plaintiff suffered from the alleged uses of excessive force - a swollen forehead and scraped knee - are relevant to Whitley. These injuries, even if categorized as "minor, " do not require summary judgment in favor of defendants; Plaintiff does not "lose his ability to pursue an excessive force claim merely because he has the good fortune to escape without serious injury." Wilkins, 559 U.S. at 38.
For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff states a violation of an Eighth Amendment right clearly established before the alleged events on April 28, 2013, but disputes of material fact require resolution by trial. ...