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Jones v. Fleming

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

March 22, 2018

DEMOND L. JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
LESLIE FLEMING, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Jackson L. Kiser Senior United States District Judge

         Demond L. Jones, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against two defendants: Leslie Fleming, who is the Warden of Wallens Ridge State Prison ("WRSP"), and Correctional Officer ("C/O") Brandon Woodard. Plaintiff alleges that C/O Woodard used excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment and that Warden Fleming failed to intervene. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, and Plaintiff responded, making this matter ripe for disposition. After reviewing the record, I grant in part and deny in part the motion for summary judgment.

         I.

         C/O Woodard escorted Plaintiff to his cell on October 30, 2015, after Plaintiff chastised C/O Woodard for talking about another inmate. When they arrived at the cell door, C/O Woodard told Plaintiff to enter the cell and kneel down, and Plaintiff complied. Per normal procedure, Plaintiff next put his cuffed hands through the tray slot for the handcuffs to be removed. Although his hands were already in the tray slot, C/O Woodard aggressively and unnecessarily pulled the handcuff tether, causing Jones immense pain. C/O Woodard then announced, "Put your hands on the tray slot, " to cover up his pulling of the tether. After a minute or two, Plaintiff cried out in pain because his hands had been rubbing against a sharp steel edge inside the slot. Plaintiff asked C/O Woodard to stop inflicting pain. Nevertheless, C/0 Woodard continued to pull at the tether for two more minutes, and Plaintiff experienced continued pain as the steel edge cut into Plaintiffs arm. C/O Woodard then stopped, removed the handcuffs, and told Plaintiff that he should mind his business and not chastise officers. Besides experiencing immense pain, Plaintiffs hands, wrists, and arms were swollen and bloody, and he could not move his right wrist. A nurse later diagnosed a high wrist sprain.

         Defendants dispute Plaintiffs allegations, explaining that the escort was unremarkable. Once Plaintiff was inside the cell, C/O Woodard told Plaintiff to put his cuffed hands on the tray slot, but Plaintiff refused. C/O Woodard repeated the order, Plaintiff complied, and C/O Woodard removed the restraints without the use of force. Shortly after, Plaintiff complained that his arms had been injured during the handcuff removal. An officer checked Plaintiffs arms for injury and found none but called for a nurse, anyway. The nurse noted that Plaintiffs arms had abrasions, but no bleeding or other red areas. The responding officer reported on his internal incident report that Plaintiff appeared to have scratched his forearms between the officer's first visit and the nurse's examination.

         Plaintiff filed a Level I Grievance about C/O Woodard's actions. After investigation of rapid-eye video, staff incident reports, and medical records, Plaintiffs claims were considered to be unfounded. On appeal, Warden Fleming upheld the unfounded decision of the Level I Grievance Response.

         Plaintiff presents two claims. First, C/O Woodard violated the Eighth Amendment by maliciously and sadistically inflicting pain. Second, Warden Fleming is liable for "encouraging" Woodard's constitutional violation. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment, supported by affidavits from C/O Woodard and Warden Fleming.

         II.

         A.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that a court should grant summary judgment "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." "As to materiality ... [o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In order to preclude summary judgment, the dispute about a material. fact must be "'genuine, ' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. However, if the evidence of a genuine issue of material fact "is merely colorable or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Id., at 250. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the record as a whole and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See, e.g., Celotex Corp. v. Catrett. 477 U.S. 317, 322-24 (1986); Shaw v. Stroud. 13 F.3d 791, 798 (4th Cir. 1994).

         A court must grant a motion for summary judgment if, after adequate time for discovery, the nonmoving party fails to make a showing "sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. The nonmoving party cannot defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment with mere conjecture and speculation. Glover v. Oppleman, 178 F.Supp.2d 622, 631 (W.D. Va. 2001). The trial judge has an "affirmative obligation" to "prevent 'factually unsupported claims and defenses' from proceeding to trial." Id. (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 317).

         B.

         "The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials '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.'" Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald. 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). When a defendant asserts the affirmative defense of qualified immunity, the court must determine "whether the facts that a plaintiff has alleged ... make out a violation of a constitutional right[, ]" and "whether the right at issue was 'clearly established' at the time of defendant's alleged misconduct." Id. at 232 (citing Saucier v. Katz,533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001)). In determining whether the law was clearly established, the court '"ordinarily need not look beyond the decisions of the Supreme Court, [the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals], and the highest court of the state in which the case arose.'" Lefemine v. Wideman, 672 F.3d 292, 298 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting Edwards v. City of Goldsboro. 178 F.3d 231, 251 (1999)), v ...


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