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Maxwell v. Ponton

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

August 16, 2016

BRADLEY MAXWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
HENRY PONTON, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Jackson L. Kiser Senior United States District Judge

         Bradley Maxwell, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights, complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, naming various staff of the Wallens Ridge State Prison ("WARSP") and Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC") as defendants. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants used, or permitted the use of, excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment and also violated due process guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, and Plaintiff responded, making the matter ripe for disposition. After reviewing the record, I find that the excessive force claims against Sgt. Bellamy, Correctional Officer ("C/O") C. Thomas, and C/O W. Thomas must be resolved by trial and that the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity and summary judgment for all other claims.

         I.

         During shakedowns in the A2 pod on December 13, 2014, defendant Sgt. Bellamy instructed defendant correctional officers C. Thomas and M. Thomas to search Plaintiffs cell, allegedly because Plaintiff recently had filed an administrative complaint against Sgt. Bellamy for threatening to assault Plaintiff.

         C/O C. Thomas maintained control of Plaintiff with leg irons, handcuffs, and a handcuff strap while officers searched the cell. Plaintiff requested the presence of the Watch Commander when the officers allegedly began to damage Plaintiffs legal documents, and C/O C. Thomas told Plaintiff to quiet down.

         Plaintiff admittedly did not comply with C/O C. Thomas' order to be quiet. As a result, Sgt. Bellamy, C/O C. Thomas, and C/O W. Thomas allegedly pushed Plaintiffs face against the wall, "slammed" Plaintiff to the floor while wearing leg irons and handcuffs, twisted his arm, and twisted his testicles, all causing Plaintiff pain. During the take down to the floor, C/O W. Thomas allegedly asked Plaintiff repeatedly whether Plaintiff thought he "was tough" and "had enough." Sgt. Bellamy allegedly instructed C/O C. Thomas to claim that Plaintiff tried to assault Thomas. Plaintiff alleges he was peaceable, not combative, and did not attempt to pull away from C/O W. Thomas.

         In contrast, Defendants allege that Plaintiff became verbally disruptive and attempted to pull away from an officer's control when the officers were searching the cell. Defendants acknowledge that they placed Plaintiff against the wall, but they allege Plaintiff did not cease his disruptive behavior and tried to assault defendant C/O C. Thomas. In response, C/Os C. Thomas and W. Thomas secured Plaintiff to the floor. Once Defendants believed Plaintiff had calmed down, Sgt. Bellamy instructed C/Os C. Thomas and W. Thomas to stand Plaintiff up, at which time non-defendant staff took control of Plaintiff. Defendants deny that Plaintiff ever asked for the Watch Commander, anyone told Plaintiff to "shut the fuck up, " anyone slammed Plaintiff to the floor, anyone taunted Plaintiff or asked him if he had had enough, or anyone twisted Plaintiff's arms or testicles.

         Defendant Lt. Carico arrived at Plaintiffs cell, and after consulting with Sgt. Bellamy, allegedly poured a cup of coffee all over Plaintiffs legal and personal property. The defendants placed Plaintiff in ambulatory restraints for eight to fourteen hours.[1]

         Plaintiff complains that defendant Captain Brown was the Watch Commander who authorized Plaintiffs placement in ambulatory restraints despite not having seen the incident. Plaintiff complains that defendant Lt. Fleming, the institutional investigator, determined the evidence was inconclusive to establish the officers "assaulted" Plaintiff. Plaintiff further complains that defendant Ponton, a VDOC Regional Administrator, failed to supervise WARSP staff and did not conduct a real investigation into Plaintiffs letters and grievances about the incident.

         Four related disciplinary charges were reported against Plaintiff. The first charge alleged that Plaintiff failed to comply with an order to stop kicking his cell door. Plaintiff challenged the charge during the disciplinary hearing, claiming Sgt. Bellamy never served the charge in accordance with VDOC policy. Plaintiff wanted defendant C. Franks, the disciplinary hearing officer ("DHO"), to watch the pod's video camera to prove Sgt. Bellamy did not serve the charge. Franks denied the request and deemed Plaintiff guilty of the charge, relying on Sgt. Bellamy's assertion that he served the charge.

         The three remaining charges were made by three officers for three distinct events. C/O Pauley alleged that Plaintiff threatened him, C/O Baker alleged that Plaintiff incited others to withhold meal trays and kick cell doors, and C/O C. Thomas alleged that Plaintiff tried to assault him during the incident. Plaintiff similarly argued that Sgt. Bellamy did not serve three charges in accordance with VDOC policy and wanted defendant Hensley, the DHO of the second hearing, to watch the pod's video camera to prove Sgt. Bellamy did not serve the charges. Hensley denied the request and deemed Plaintiff guilty of the charge, relying on Sgt. Bellamy's assertion that he served the charges. As a result of all these conviction, Plaintiff was ordered to serve ninety days in segregation and pay $7.00 in fines.

         II.

         Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that they are entitled to qualified immunity. Qualified immunity permits "government officials performing discretionary functions ... [to be] shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald. 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Once a defendant raises the qualified immunity defense, a plaintiff bears the burden to show that a defendant's conduct violated the plaintiffs right. Bryant v. Muth. 994 F.2d 1082, 1086 (4th Cir. 1993).

         A party is entitled to summary judgment if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Williams v. Griffin. 952 F.2d 820, 823 (4th Cir. 1991) (recognizing a party is entitled to summary judgment if the record as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find in favor of the non-movant). "Material facts" are those facts necessary to establish the elements of a party's cause of action. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine dispute of material fact exists if, in viewing the record and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, a reasonable factfinder could return a verdict for the non-movant. Id. The moving party has the burden of showing - "that is, pointing out to the district court - that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 CI 9861 If the movant satisfies this burden, then the non-movant must set forth specific facts that demonstrate the existence of a genuine dispute of fact for trial. Id. at 322-24. A court may not resolve disputed facts, weigh the evidence, or make determinations of credibility. Russell v. ...


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