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Thompson v. Commonwealth of Virginia

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

December 18, 2017

PAUL CLEVELAND THOMPSON, JR., Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA; CAPTAIN DOLAN; LT. R. THOMPSON; GRIEVANCE COORDINATOR SEAY; BLACKWELL; WARE; LEWIS; BASKERVILLE; JENNINGS; WHITE; CORRECTIONAL OFFICER COOPER; CORRECTIONAL OFFICER DIMING; VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, sued in their official and individual capacities, Defendant-Appellees.

          Argued: September 15, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Norfolk. Rebecca Beach Smith, Chief District Judge. (2:12-cv-00209-RBS-TEM)

         ARGUED:

          Emily S. Mordecai, Joshua K. Day, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA SCHOOL OF LAW, Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellant.

          Trevor Stephen Cox, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF VIRGINIA, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          Stephen L. Braga, Appellate Litigation Clinic, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA SCHOOL OF LAW, Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellant.

          Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, Stuart A. Raphael, Solicitor General, Matthew R. McGuire, Assistant Solicitor General, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF VIRGINIA, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellees.

          Before GREGORY, Chief Judge, WYNN, and DIAZ, Circuit Judges.

          GREGORY, Chief Judge:

         Paul Thompson, an inmate of the Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC"), brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his rights under the First Amendment, Eighth Amendment, and the Fourteenth Amendment by several current and former VDOC officials. He also alleges violations of his rights under the Virginia Constitution by the Commonwealth of Virginia, the VDOC, and those same officials. Claims primarily stem from alleged retaliation by prison officials against Mr. Thompson for filing grievances and lawsuits, most notably by giving him a "rough ride" in a prison van. The district court below granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on all claims, relying in part on the doctrine of qualified immunity. We now affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

         I.

         At all relevant times, Appellant Mr. Paul C. Thompson[1] was an inmate at Deep Meadow Correctional Center ("DMCC"), which is run by the VDOC. The case largely centers on whether two correctional officers, Officer Cooper and Officer Diming, gave Mr. Thompson a so-called "rough ride" while transporting him in a van and whether other corrections officials responded inappropriately to the incident.

         At around 7 a.m. on April 8, 2010, DMCC began transporting Mr. Thompson to attend a 9:30 a.m. proceeding at the Mecklenburg Circuit Court. Before departure, Officers Diming and Cooper secured Mr. Thompson in handcuffs, leg irons, a belly chain, and a black box.[2]

         Diming and Cooper then placed Mr. Thompson in the second row of a van, which was equipped with seatbelts. According to Mr. Thompson, neither officer secured Mr. Thompson's seatbelt, even though his restraints prevented him from doing so himself. Mr. Thompson then specifically requested that his seatbelt be secured, but both Cooper and Diming refused. Cooper and Diming each averred that it was their usual practice to fasten inmates' seatbelts and that they would not refuse seatbelt requests. However, neither officer recalled whether Mr. Thompson in fact had his seatbelt fastened or even made such a request.

         Once Mr. Thompson was in the van, Cooper took the wheel, with Diming in the passenger seat. They drove without incident, despite going on windy, sharply-curved roads, for about an hour and a half. By Mr. Thompson's account, the van then made a short stop at a convenience store and turned back around in the direction of DMCC. According to Cooper and Diming, they made no stops during the trip and began the return trip after receiving a phone call from DMCC that the court proceeding had been cancelled.

         What happened on the return trip is vigorously disputed. According to Mr. Thompson, the officers intentionally drove the van in a way that caused him to be thrown around the cabin, and they took pleasure in doing so. Cooper reportedly drove erratically, exceeding the speed limit and crossing the white and yellow traffic lines. Because of Cooper's excessive speed on the curved roads and the fact that Mr. Thompson was not belted to his seat, Mr. Thompson was thrown around in the van from one side to the other. The sudden stops and accelerations also caused Mr. Thompson to be thrown forwards and backwards. Meanwhile, Mr. Thompson's restraints prevented him from protecting himself from slamming against the walls of the van. As a result, Mr. Thompson's head and upper body struck the steel mesh covering the windows, causing bleeding and bruising on his forehead, hands, and arms. Mr. Thompson repeatedly asked Cooper to slow down and to drive carefully, informing both officers that he was getting hurt. Mr. Thompson also specifically asked Diming to intervene. However, Diming did not take any action, even after Mr. Thompson had already sustained visible injuries.

         In response to Mr. Thompson's pleas, Cooper and Diming reportedly laughed and taunted him. They said, "So you like to write grievances and take people to court, we know how to deal with inmates . . . who create problems." J.A. 476. Since Mr. Thompson's first arrival at DMCC less than six months earlier, he had filed at least 14 complaints, primarily concerning access to the law library and to the notary.

         Cooper and Diming joked about how scared Mr. Thompson looked and stated that they were going to make his stay at DMCC a nightmare. Cooper eventually began driving normally again. At some point, Diming called staff at DMCC, stating that Mr. Thompson was banging his own head and being crazy.

         Cooper and Diming, unsurprisingly, recounted an entirely different version of events. By their telling, Cooper obeyed all traffic laws. When they were twenty minutes away from DMCC, Mr. Thompson started yelling, shouting profanities, and banging his head on the metal mesh. Mr. Thompson then threatened the officers with lawsuits, saying that he was going to claim they beat him up. Diming called the lieutenant on duty at DMCC, Lt. Thompson, and reported Mr. Thompson's behavior.

         Lt. Thompson reported that he heard Mr. Thompson screaming and yelling on speaker-phone during the call. Another officer, K. James, stated that he heard, because the call was on speaker-phone, Mr. Thompson yelling, "I am going to tell them you beat me up, " as well as thuds consistent with a head striking a window. J.A. 230.

         Mr. Thompson's physical injuries were documented after the ride. Photos were taken, and Lt. Thompson observed a cut that appeared to be a half to three-quarters of an inch long on Mr. Thompson's forehead. An injury report prepared by Cooper and Diming indicated that Mr. Thompson's gash was cleaned and dressed, with no follow-up treatment prescribed.

         Mr. Thompson was referred to the prison psychologist for a mental health evaluation. The psychologist, D. Lipscomb, observed Mr. Thompson crying as he recounted the morning's events. Mr. Thompson reportedly expressed concern for his safety, said that he was "scared now[, ]" because "they cause[d] [him] to bang [his] head, " and that the officers told him, "This will teach you to write grievances . . . [and] file litigation." J.A. 451. According to the mental health report, Mr. Thompson also stated, "Don't know if I can do this. Shouldn't have to go through this shit. Now fucking crying like a freaking baby." J.A. 451.

         Lt. Thompson issued a disciplinary charge against Mr. Thompson for "lying and giving false information to an employee, " specifically for claiming that staff had assaulted him when his injuries were self-inflicted. J.A. 74, 212-214, 513. This resulted in pre-hearing detention, a disciplinary hearing before Hearing Officer Blackwell, and seven days' isolation time (credited by pre-hearing detention).

         In addition to the "rough ride, " Mr. Thompson also generally alleges that VDOC officials, including Grievance Coordinator Seay, Assistant Warden Jennings, Ombudsman White, and Major Lewis have denied him access to grievance procedures and to the law library and have rejected grievances without sufficient explanation or after excessive delay.

         In 2012, Mr. Thompson, acting pro se, filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action in the Eastern District of Virginia, alleging violations of the First Amendment, Eighth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and the Virginia Constitution. The suit named the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Virginia Department of Corrections, Warden Baskerville, Assistant Warden Jennings, Ombudsman White, Major Lewis, Captain Dolan, Lt. Thompson, Grievance Coordinator Seay, Operations Officer Ware, Hearing Officer Blackwell, and Officers Cooper and Diming.

         II.

         For clarity, we adopt Mr. Thompson's summary of his claims, as referenced by the district court:

Claim One. Defendants named are Baskerville, Jennings, Ware, Lewis, Dolan, Thompson, Seay, Blackwell, White, Cooper and Diming. This is a First Amendment retaliation claim. This claim encompasses more than the transport incident on April 8, 2010, it involves Defendants' actions/inactions prior to and after the transport;
Claim Two. Defendants named are Jennings, Dolan, Thompson, Cooper and Diming. This is an Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment claim, that relates directly to the transport incident on April 8, 2010;
Claim Three. Defendants named are Jennings, Dolan, Thompson, Cooper, Diming, Lewis, Seay and Blackwell. This is a Fourteenth Amendment claim involving violations of due process concerning the issuance of a false charge, the hearing process, confinement in segregation, extended confinement in segregation and conspiracy to cover up First and Eighth Amendment violations;
Claim Four. Defendants named are Baskerville, Jennings, Ware, Lewis, Dolan and White. This is a supervisory responsibility direct involvement claim related to First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment violations;
Claim Five. Defendants named are Commonwealth of Virginia, VDOC, Baskerville, Jennings, Ware, Lewis, Dolan, Thompson, Seay, Blackwell, White, Cooper and Diming. This is an Article I, Section 12, Virginia Constitution violation involving harassment and retaliation for Plaintiff exercising his First Amendment right;
Claim Six. Defendants named are Commonwealth of Virginia, VDOC, Jennings, Dolan, Thompson, Cooper, and Diming. This is an Article I, Section 9, Virginia Constitution violation related to the transport incident on April 8, 2010; and
Claim Seven. Defendants named are Commonwealth of Virginia, VDOC, Jennings, Seay, Blackwell, Dolan, Thompson, Lewis, Cooper and Diming. This is an Article I, Section 11, Virginia Constitution violation involving due process violations concerning the issuance of a false charge, hearing process, confinement in segregation, extended confinement in segregation and conspiracy to cover up First and Eighth Amendment violations violating the Fourteenth Amendment.

Thompson v. Dolan, Civ. A. No. 12-209, 2015 WL 13065640, at *1 (E.D. Va. Aug. 10, 2015). The district court granted summary judgment on all seven claims in favor of all defendants.

         This court reviews a grant of summary judgment de novo. Lee v. Town of Seaboard, 863 F.3d 323, 327 (4th Cir. 2017). We ask "whether any genuine issues of material fact exist for the jury and if not, whether the district court erred in applying the substantive law." Id. In doing so, we "view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Id. "To survive summary judgment, 'there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [nonmovant].'" Id. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986)).

         For the reasons below, we affirm the grant of summary judgment as to Claims Three and Four but reverse in part as to Claims One, Two, Five, Six, and Seven. Because Claim Two's Eighth Amendment claim goes directly to the transport incident and ...


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