United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge
Nikita Custis, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se,
filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983 alleging that defendants Earl Barksdale, M. Younce, D.
Edwards, P. Harless, and E. Sowards denied him adequate
medical care, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, while he
was housed at the Red Onion State Prison (“Red
Onion”). Specifically, Custis alleges in his verified
complaint that he was denied a bottom bunk assignment as
ordered by a Red Onion physician in September 2015. (Dkt. No.
13.) Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment arguing
that defendant Barksdale was not personally involved in any
deprivation of rights, that plaintiff is not entitled to
damages from defendants in their official capacities, that
defendants were not deliberately indifferent to a serious
medical need, and that defendants are entitled to qualified
immunity. (Dkt. No. 32.) Custis responded to the motion for
summary judgment, making this matter ripe for disposition.
(Dkt. No. 35.) Upon review of the record, the court concludes
that defendants' motion for summary judgment must be
February 5, 2015, Custis was transferred from Sussex I State
Prison to Red Onion and assigned to a bottom bunk in general
population housing. Custis was later re-assigned to a top
bunk on August 11, 2015, and then transferred to a medical
cell on September 1, 2015, after he requested medical
treatment for pain in his toes and right foot. On September
1, Dr. Smith treated Custis for low back pain related to an
injury he suffered the year before at another prison, noting
that Custis had bi-lateral foot pain and two amputated toes.
Dr. Smith issued a medical order for Custis to be assigned to
a bottom bunk for six months pending resolution of a separate
order for special shoes. A nurse's note dated September 1
indicated that medical staff had seen Dr. Smith's order
that day. The medical staff, however, did not complete the
Medical Bottom Bunk Assignment Form or enter Dr. Smith's
order until two weeks later on September 15, 2015. Meanwhile,
Custis was released from the medical cell on September 3 and
alleges that he was deliberately returned to his top bunk
assignment, which was the assignment he held prior to being
admitted to medical housing. (Am. Compl. at 2-3, Dkt. No. 13;
Smith Aff. ¶¶ 3-7, Dkt. No. 21-1.)
alleges that on September 7, 2015, he submitted an offender
request and notified Edwards of his medical order assigning
him to a bottom bunk despite actually being in a top bunk.
Custis alleges that Edwards, an official in the records
department, had the authority to change Custis's bunk
assignment or notify the appropriate prison official to do
so. Nurse Harless responded to the offender request, as seen
by Custis on September 11; however, Custis alleges that she
failed to help him or notify the appropriate official to
correct his bunk assignment. On September 17, Custis notified
Edwards again by submitting an offender request to be changed
from the top bunk to a bottom bunk. Custis alleges that
Edwards responded on September 24, instructing Custis to
speak with his assigned counselor or unit manager.
Consequently, that same day, Custis submitted an offender
request to Warden Barksdale, Unit Manager Younce, and
Counselor Sowards, repeating his complaint of being in a top
bunk despite his medical order for a bottom bunk. Custis
alleges he received no response and no action was taken. (Am.
Compl. at 2-4, Dkt. No. 13.)
their motion for summary judgment, defendants state that
after Custis was received at Red Onion on February 5, 2015,
he was assigned a bottom bunk in general population but
subsequently had several changes in housing assignments.
Defendants state that Custis was moved within Red Onion to
assignments in segregation, medical, and mental health
housing, and was then “mistakenly moved to a top bunk
assignment on August 11, 2015.” Custis was later
transferred to a medical cell on September 1, 2015, and
returned to his top bunk assignment on September 3, 2015.
When Custis was seen by the prison physician on September 1,
his medical records note that he had “back pain”
and his “feet hurt, ” but was in “no acute
distress.” (Med. Rec. at 2, Dkt. No. 21-2.) Defendants
state that on October 9, 2015, Unit Manager Younce responded
to an “Informal Complaint” from Custis and noted
that he had been moved to a bottom bunk assignment on October
4, 2015. Following this bunk assignment, defendants state
that Custis remained in a bottom bunk at Red Onion, with the
exception of a ten-day segregation assignment, until his
transfer to Wallens Ridge State Prison on August 31, 2016.
(Younce Aff. ¶¶ 4, 6, Dkt. No. 33-1.)
Summary Judgment Standard
is entitled to summary judgment if the pleadings, the
disclosed materials on file, and any affidavits show that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. Fed. R.
56(a). Material facts are those 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 fact-finder
could return a verdict for the non-movant. Id. The
moving party has the burden of showing “that there is
an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's
case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
325 (1986). 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 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.
Williams v. Griffin, 952 F.2d 820, 823 (4th Cir.
1991). “Mere unsupported speculation [ ] is not enough
to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ennis v.
Nat'l Ass'n of Bus. & Educ. Radio. Inc., 53
F.3d 55, 62 (4th Cir. 1995).
Official Capacity Damages
threshold matter, to the extent Custis brings this action
against the defendants in their official capacities for
monetary damages, such claims are not cognizable under §
1983. “[N]either a State nor its officials acting in
their official capacities are ‘persons' under
§ 1983.” Will v. Michigan Dep't of State
Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70 (1989). Because the prison
official defendants in their official capacities are not
“persons” who can be sued under § 1983, the
court must dismiss Custis's claims against them.
Denial of Medical Care
alleges that defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights
by denying him medical care when he received a top bunk
assignment despite the Red Onion physician's medical
order assigning him to a bottom bunk. Specifically, Custis
argues that the physician's September 1, 2015 order
assigning him to a bottom bunk was deliberately ignored by
defendants, causing him to suffer pain from putting pressure
on his foot to climb to the top bunk until he was moved to a
bottom bunk on October 4, 2015. Defendants allege they did
not deliberately deny Custis his ...