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Judah v. Rodriguez

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

November 10, 2016

Lord Judah, Plaintiff,
v.
L.M. Rodriguez, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          T. S. Ellis, III, United States District Judge

         Lord Judah, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that defendant violated his Eighth Amendment rights. Defendant L.M. Rodriguez, a sergeant at Sussex I State Prison ("SISP") filed a Motion for Summary Judgment as well as memoranda of law with supporting exhibits. Plaintiff was given the Notice required by Local Rule 7(K) and the opportunity to file responsive materials pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison. 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975). Plaintiff filed a response with supporting exhibits. This matter is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, respondent's Motion for Summary Judgment must be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Factual Background

         The following facts are undisputed. On December 28, 2016, there was an altercation between two inmates at SISP. Rodriguez Aff. at Enclosure A; Verf. Compl. at ¶ 8. Plaintiff was in the shower on the top tier of his housing unit at the time of the altercation. Id; Verf. Compl. at ¶¶ 6, 7. The emergency button was activated by the officers in the housing unit and the inmates were directed to "lie down on the ground, [and] put their palms facing up." Id. Plaintiff did not immediately comply, therefore, defendant went to the shower and directed plaintiff to get out of the shower." Id; Verf. Compl. at ¶ 8. Plaintiff did not immediately leave the shower and a K-9 officer was called. Id.; Verf. Compl. at ¶¶ 9, 11. Plaintiff then exited the shower and laid down on the ground. Id; Verf. Compl. at ¶¶ 13, 15. Defendant handcuffed plaintiff, lifted him off the ground, and escorted plaintiff to the restricted housing unit. Id; Verf. Compl. at ¶¶ 16-21. While being escorted, plaintiff hit a wall, causing him to chip his tooth. Id; Verf. Compl. at ¶¶ 22, 23. Lieutenant Allen took plaintiff back to the shower, after which he was seen by the medical staff. Id; Verf. Compl. at ¶¶ 32.

         Plaintiff was found to have a chipped tooth, abrasion on the inside of his bottom lip, and a sprained thumb. Id; Feb. 19, 2016 Offender Request. Plaintiff was then placed in the segregated housing unit and Officer Gayles charged plaintiff with disobeying a direct order. Id. at ¶ 6, Enclosure D.. A Disciplinary Offense Report which detailed the charges against plaintiff was provided to him. Id. at Enclosure D. At a disciplinary hearing on January 12, 2016, plaintiff was found not guilty. Id. The hearing officer found that plaintiff "did not comply to [sic] the orders given he did not want to lay down on the floor in the show [sic]. He laid down outside the shower and posed no threat to security during the incident that occurred in the pod being in the top shower." Id. Plaintiff was returned to the general housing population on January 19, 2016. Id.

         The disputed facts relate to how plaintiffs injuries were caused. Defendant states that, while he was escorting plaintiff, plaintiff "became aggressive, trying to jerk himself free and turn towards" defendant. Rodriguez Aff. at ¶ 5. Defendant claims that he used plaintiffs "momentum to place him against the wall in order to gain control of the situation" which was "in accordance with [defendant's] training." Id. Defendant asserts that he "used only the amount of force necessary to restrain [plaintiff] and maintain control of the situation. Had [plaintiff] kept walking and cooperated with the escort to special housing, it would not have become necessary for [defendant] to put [plaintiff] against the wall." Id. at ¶ 10.

         Plaintiff alleges in his verified complaint that he was "walk[ing] a slow pace to avoid a slip and fall" but defendant was attempting to "force [] plaintiff [] to walk a faster pace." Verf. Compl. at ¶¶ 19, 20. Plaintiff states that he almost slipped, but was able to catch himself, after which defendant "jerk[ed] [] plaintiffs arm back and then deliberately hurl[ed] him face first into a metal door." Id. at ¶ 22. Plaintiff claims that defendant "proceeded to bend [plaintiffs] left thumb back, applying pressure that nearly broke it, while at the same time thrusting his fore arm [sic] into [] plaintiffs neck with so much pressure it caused [] plaintiff to lose his bowels." Id. at ¶ 24. Plaintiff asserts that defendant released him "after Lt. Allen's third command" at which point Lt. Allen told plaintiff "it's all on camera" and escorted plaintiff back to the showers. Id. at 28-32. Plaintiff claims that he not only suffered injuries to his thumb, mouth, and teeth, but that he is also suffering from mental and emotional distress, as well as possible "life long [sic] complications with his neck." Id. at ¶ 41. Plaintiff has submitted requests for medical attention related to neck and back pain as well as psychological issues from February through May 2016.

         Plaintiff has also submitted affidavits from five other inmates. The first inmate stated that he "observed [defendant] ... escorting [plaintiff], " that he "never observed [plaintiff] resisting or not complying with any officers, " and that defendant "throw [sic] [plaintiff] into a metal door and pinned him there until Lt[.] Allen rushed up and instructed [defendant] to release [plaintiff]. When [plaintiff] turned around [this inmate] observed that his teeth was [sic] chipped and his mouth was bleeding." Everette Aff. The second inmate stated that, while he was lying on the ground, he

observed [defendant] handcuff [plaintiff] from the back, then [he] observed [defendant] escorting [plaintiff] to the stairs. Then for no apparent reason, [he] observed [defendant] shove [plaintiff] into a metal door and keep [plaintiffs] face pinned to the door for about 90 seconds. When [plaintiff] was released [he] saw that [plaintiffs] mouth was bleeding and his teeth was [sic] chipped. At no time did [this inmate] see [plaintiff] resisting.

         Robertson Aff. The third inmates stated that he saw defendant escorting plaintiff and

at no time did [he] see [plaintiff] resisting or causing a disturbance. However, for no apparent reason, [he] observed [defendant] slam [plaintiff] face first into a metal door and then proceed to pin [plaintiff] to the door by planting his forearm in [plaintiffs] neck. After Lt. Allen ran up the stairs and instructed [defendant] to release [plaintiff, this inmate] saw [plaintiffs] teeth was [sic] chipped and his mouth was bleeding.

         Whitfield Aff. The fourth inmates states that, on the date of the incident, he observed defendant "slam [plaintiff] into a metal door while [plaintiff] was already in handcuffed [sic] from the back. At no time did [this inmate] observe [plaintiff] resisting or not complying." Daniels Aff. The fifth inmate states that he observed defendant escorting plaintiff

but before they made it to the stairway, [he] observed [defendant] spin [plaintiff] around and slam [plaintiff] face first into the metal door. [Defendant] then pinned [plaintiff] to the door by slamming his forearm into [plaintiffs] neck. [This inmate] then observed Lieutenant Allen rush up the stairs and instructed [sic] [defendant] to release [plaintiff]. At no time did [this inmate] observe [plaintiff] resisting or not complying to any command by either staff personnel. Subsequently ...

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