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Joyner v. Byington

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

November 30, 2016

M. BYINGTON, ET AL., Defendants.

          Christopher Lee Joyner, Pro Se Plaintiff;

          Margaret Hoehl O'Shea, Office of the Attorney General, Richmond, Virginia, for Defendants Byington, Kirby, Sattlefield, and Coleman; and Rosalie Pemberton Fessier, Timberlake Smith Thomas & Moses PC, Staunton, Virginia, for Defendant Holbrook.


          James P. Jones United States District Judge.

         The plaintiff, Christopher Lee Joyner, an inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendant prison officials used or failed to prevent the use of excessive force against him and that the defendant prison nurse thereafter denied him medical care. After review of the record, I conclude that the nurse's Motion for Summary Judgment must be granted, but that Joyner's claims of excessive force and bystander liability must be tried before a jury.


         At the time his claims arose, Joyner was confined at Wallens Ridge State Prison (“Wallens Ridge”) in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.[1] On May 5, 2015, Officers M. Byington and J. Kirby escorted Joyner, in handcuffs and shackles, from his top tier cell toward the showers.[2] When Joyner turned his head, allegedly to greet Kirby, Byington told Joyner, “You better keep your head straight or I'm going to slam you down real hard.” (Compl. ¶ 11, ECF No. 1.) Joyner allegedly replied, “You are not going to do nothing to me.” (Id. at ¶ 12.) Byington then refused to take Joyner to the shower, and the officers escorted him back to his cell and ordered him to kneel. As Joyner was attempting to do so, Byington suddenly slammed him to the floor and began punching him in the face. Kirby ran into the cell and punched Joyner “in his private area.” (Id. at ¶ 15)

         After this commotion began, Officers E. Sattlefield and J. Coleman ran upstairs to Joyner's cell and stood outside the cell, watching as Byington and Kirby punched Joyner in the face and genitals. Byington then flipped Joyner on his stomach, “tightened the handcuff that was already secure on [Joyner's] left wrist [and] bent [his] middle and index finger[s] back, while attempting to force [his] hands to the middle of his back which caused . . . Joyner to scream.” (Id. at ¶ 18)

         An officer with a handheld camcorder filmed the events following. This camcorder footage shows Joyner standing upright in his cell in restraints for several minutes, then sitting on his bed. Twice he can be seen wiping his mouth against his white T-shirt, leaving no obvious blood stain. At one point, Joyner can be seen leaning over to spit into the toilet. Two officers then escort Joyner down the stairs, and he is seated at a table in the pod area. Nurse Donna Holbrook can be seen talking to Joyner, looking at his face and into his mouth, and taking his vital signs. She rotates her own wrist and then looks at Joyner's wrist.

         Joyner allegedly told Holbrook that he had been assaulted, that a cut on his lip might require stitches, that his left wrist hurt, and that three of his fingers were numb. Holbrook allegedly asked if he could move his hand, and Joyner replied, “A li'l bit.” (Id. at ¶ 21.) Holbrook then allegedly said, “Well if you can move it, its [sic] not broke and it aint nothing I can do.” (Id.)

         In her medical notes from this examination of Joyner, Holbrook reported seeing “some dried blood on his bottom lip.” (Holbrook Aff. ¶ 3, ECF No. 36-1.) She also noted seeing “two small red areas on his inner bottom lip with no active bleeding at that time, ” and she observed “a small red area in the middle of his forehead with no hematoma noted.” (Id.) Holbrook reported that she “had him rotate his wrist while in cuffs” and observed that he had “good range of motion.” (Id.) She further noted that his vital signs were “BP136/84, HR 106, oxygen saturations were at 93%.” (Id.)

         Holbrook states that when she examined Joyner on May 5, 2015, “he did not appear to [her] to require emergent or urgent care. He was not actively bleeding. There was no swelling on his head. He had good range of motion in his wrist.” (Id. at ¶ 4.) She also states that based on her “nursing judgment, he did not require further immediate medical attention.” (Id.) She advised him to contact medical staff to seek follow-up care in the event his condition worsened. A photograph of Joyner's face after the incident shows a small reddish area on the left side of his forehead and a deeper red area on his lower lip. No blood is visible on his face or shirt. (Photo, ECF No. 47.)[3]

         Joyner's medical records reflect that he was seen in the prison's medical unit on May 7, 2015, for complaints of wrist pain and “numbness and tingling” in three fingers on his left hand. (Holbrook's Mem. Supp. Summ. J., Ex. A at 18, ECF No. 36-1.) Staff noted on that occasion that he had good range of motion in the affected wrist and fingers, that his radial pulse was strong and his nail beds were pink, and that he had no swelling, bruising, or observable distress. They provided Joyner with ibuprofen for five days and referred him for placement on the sick call list.

         On May 6, Joyner filed prison complaint forms against the officers' alleged use of force and failure to intervene. On May 10, Byington allegedly gave Joyner an empty lunch tray and said, “You will never eat as long as you are here if you don't withdraw them informal complaints.” (Compl. ¶ 25, ECF No. 1.) That same day, Sattlefield allegedly gave Joyner an empty dinner tray and said, “You are doing this to yourself.” (Id. at ¶ 27)

         On May 11, 2015, Joyner was transferred to Red Onion State Prison (“Red Onion”). His medical records reflect that at the time of the transfer, he was taking ibuprofen, and although he complained of pain in two fingers on his left hand, no swelling or redness was noted. On May 29, 2015, an X-ray of Joyner's left wrist indicated “no fracture or dislocation, and no acute osseous or joint space abnormality.” (Holbrook Aff. ¶ 5, ECF No. 36-1.)

         In October 2015, Joyner filed this § 1983 action against Byington, Kirby, Sattlefield, Coleman, and Holbrook, seeking monetary damages. He alleges claims of excessive force, failure to intervene, retaliation, and deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. Holbrook filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, supported by her affidavit, medical records, and the video footage already described. The other defendants filed a Motion ...

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