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Void v. Large

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

March 26, 2018

T.D. LARGE, et al., Defendants.


          Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge

         Trevin Donte' Void, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that defendant Sergeant Large used excessive force against Void and that defendant Correctional Officer McCowan is liable as a bystander. Void alleges that while he was on his knees to have leg irons removed after being escorted to a segregation cell, Sgt. Large hit Void in the face five times with a closed fist. He also alleges that Officer McCowan was present during the punches and did nothing to prevent or stop Sgt. Large. Void states that he was “no threat” to either defendant at that time. The defendants deny that Sgt. Large hit Void and that Officer McCowan witnessed Sgt. Large hitting Void.

         The defendants moved for summary judgment, and the court denied the motion after finding disputes of material facts. A bench trial was held on May 31, 2017, and the parties presented evidence and argument. In addition to his own testimony, Void called Red Onion State Prison (Red Onion) staff members: Investigator McQueen, defendant Officer McCowan, Officer Gwinn, Officer Johnson, Captain Tate, and defendant Sgt. Large. The defendants called Nurse Bledsoe.

         Based on the evidence presented during trial, the court issues this memorandum opinion and order, which constitutes its findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a). For the reasons stated herein, the court will enter judgment in favor of the defendants.[1]

         A. Electronically Stored Evidence- Rapid Eye Video Footage

         As an initial matter, the court will address the issue of the rapid eye video recording. Void argues that a rapid eye camera captured the use of excessive force by Sgt. Large. However, the video recording no longer exists. While Void never filed a formal written spoliation motion, he complained of the lack of video footage in writing and verbally on several occasions. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(e):

If electronically stored information that should have been preserved in the anticipation or conduct of litigation is lost because a party failed to take reasonable steps to preserve it, and it cannot be restored or replaced through additional discovery, the court: (1) upon finding prejudice to another party from the loss of the information, may order measures no greater than necessary to cure the prejudice; or (2) only upon finding that the party acted with the intent to deprive another party of the information's use in the litigation, may: (A) presume that the lost information was unfavorable to the party; (B) instruct the jury that it may or must presume the information was unfavorable to the party; or (C) dismiss the action or enter a default judgment.

         The parties agree that if Sgt. Large had used excessive force against Void, it would have appeared on the rapid eye video recording. The parties also agree that the video recording did exist at one time, but no longer exists. Void does not allege, and the evidence does not suggest, that either of the defendants destroyed the recording or that they were in any way involved in the destruction of the recording. Void also does not allege, and the evidence does not suggest, that either of the defendants were in a position to preserve the recording. There is no evidence to prove when the recording was destroyed or who destroyed it. It appears that the video was recorded over in the normal course of business after Investigator McQueen completed his investigation and determined that the recording did not support Void's allegation against Sgt. Large. Nothing in the record suggests that the video recording was destroyed after this action was filed. Based on the foregoing, the court finds that Void has not demonstrated that the video evidence was “lost because a party failed to take reasonable steps to preserve it, ” and, thus, he is not entitled to any “measure” to “cure” any alleged prejudice.

         B. Motion Seeking Preliminary Injunctive Relief

         After trial, Void filed a motion (Dkt. No. 62) seeking preliminary injunctive relief. Upon review of Void's motion, the court finds no basis for granting preliminary injunctive relief and, therefore, denies the motion.

         The jurisdiction of federal courts is limited to live cases or controversies. U.S. Const. art. III, § 1. When a claim no longer presents a viable legal issue to resolve, the claim becomes moot. Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 496 (1969). If developments occur during the course of a case which render the court unable to grant a party the relief requested, the claim(s) must be dismissed as moot. Blanciak v. Allegheny Ludlum Co., 77 F.3d 690, 698-99 (3d Cir. 1996). The transfer or release of a prisoner generally renders moot any claims for injunctive or declaratory relief relating to the former place of confinement. See Cnty. of Los Angeles v. Davis, 440 U.S. 625, 631 (1979); Williams v. Griffin, 952 F.2d 820, 823 (4th Cir. 1991) (prisoner's transfer rendered moot his claims for injunctive and declaratory relief); Magee v. Waters, 810 F.2d 451, 452 (4th Cir. 1987) (holding that transfer of a prisoner rendered moot his claim for injunctive relief); Taylor v. Rogers, 781 F.2d 1047, 1048 n.1 (4th Cir. 1986) (holding that transfer made moot claim for injunctive relief); Ross v. Reed, 719 F.2d 689, 693 (4th Cir. 1983); Martin-Trigona v. Shiff, 702 F.2d 380, 386 (2d Cir. 1983) (“The hallmark of a moot case or controversy is that the relief sought can no longer be given or is no longer needed.”).

         In his motion seeking preliminary injunctive relief, Void asks the court to enjoin the defendants and non-defendant staff at Red Onion from retaliating against him for filing grievances and this action. Void states that he is currently “enduring” harassment and verbal threats, but he does not describe the harassment or threats or name the alleged actor(s). Void further states that officers at Red Onion “have a reputation for abuse and retaliation” and that he fears that the harassment and threats will “progress into physical assault” and destruction of his personal property. However, since filing the motion, Void has been transferred to Sussex I State Prison. Therefore, he no longer requires the preliminary injunction against the defendants.[2]Accordingly, the court finds that Void's claim for preliminary injunctive relief is now moot; thus, his motion will be denied.

         I. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         Rule 52(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that the court make specific findings of fact and state conclusions of law separately in any action tried without a jury. Specifically, the trial judge must appraise the testimony and demeanor of witnesses, as well as weight the evidence and choose among conflicting inferences and conclusions that seem most reasonable. See Burgess v Farrell Lines, Inc., 335 F.2d 885, 889-90 (4th Cir. 1964). In this regard, the trial court has a unique opportunity to evaluate the credibility of witnesses and weigh the evidence accordingly. See Johnson v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 724 F.3d 337, 345 (3d Cir. 2013) (citing Inwood Labs. v. Ives Labs., 456 U.S. 844, 855 (1982)).

         A trial court must do more than announce statements of ultimate fact, United States ex rel. Belcon, Inc. v. Sherman Constr. Co.,800 F.2d 1321, 1324 (4th Cir. 1986), but is not required “to make findings on all facts presented or to make detailed evidentiary findings . . . . The ultimate test as to the adequacy of the findings will always be whether they are sufficiently comprehensive and pertinent to the issues to provide a basis for decision and ...

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