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Lewis v. Zook

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

June 4, 2018

Douglas Lewis, Plaintiff,
David Zook, Defendant.


         This matter comes before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by defendant Warden David Zook of Sussex I State Prison ("Sussex I"). Douglas Lewis, an inmate at that facility, filed this pio se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that: (1) he was subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement when he was not provided with a step stool to access the top bunk; and (2) his right to equal protection thereby was violated, because other inmates at the institution have step stools. For the reasons which follow, defendant Zook's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted.

         I. Background

         A. Plaintiffs Allegations

         Plaintiff alleges in the amended complaint that he is housed in Building 4, Pod A, cell 29 at Sussex I. [Dkt. No. 5 at 5][1] On June 9, 2016 he fell while "trying to get down off the top bunk which is more than 4' high." Id. Plaintiff states that there was no step stool in the cell to allow him safe passage from the top bunk to the floor. Plaintiff claims that as a result of the fall he suffered a concussion, a chipped tooth, lacerations to his head, and bruises to his hands and knees. Plaintiff asserts that this incident violated his Eighth Amendment right "to have reasonable living conditions." Id.

         In a second claim, plaintiff states that he is denied equal protection in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, because Sussex I allegedly provides inmates in other buildings with step stool and a table to allow them to get in and out of top bunks more easily. Plaintiff states that since he is housed in Building 4, Pod A he is denied a "proper way to get up and down from the bunk." The sole named defendant as to both claims is Warden Zook, and as relief plaintiff seeks injunctive relief in the form of an order directing that he be "provided with a special ladder to climb in the bunk, " as well as an award of $5 million in damages. [Dkt. No. 5 at 6]

         B. Proceedings

         On February 2, 2018, Warden Zook filed a Motion for Summary Judgment accompanied by a memorandum and exhibits, asserting that plaintiff establishes no claim for violation of his constitutional rights. [Dkt. No. 20-21] Plaintiff was provided with the notice required by Roseboro v. Garrison. 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975) and Local Rule 7(J) [Dkt. No. 22], and he filed a Brief in Response to the Motion for Summary Judgment with exhibits on February 22, 2018. [Dkt. No. 23] For the reasons which follow, the Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted, and a Motion for Status of Case filed by the plaintiffs will be denied, as moot.

         II. Analysis

         A. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of proving that judgment on the pleadings is appropriate. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett. 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (moving party bears the burden of persuasion on all relevant issues). To meet that burden, the moving party must demonstrate that no genuine issues of material fact are present for resolution. Id. at 322. Once a moving party has met its burden to show that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to point out the specific facts which create disputed factual issues. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc.. 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.. 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, a district court should consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of that party. United States v. Diebold. Inc.. 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962). Those facts for which the moving party bears the burden of proving are facts which are material. "[T]he substantive law will identify which facts are material. Only disputes over facts which might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson. 477 U.S. at 248. An issue of material fact is genuine when, "the evidence ... create[s] [a] fair doubt; wholly speculative assertions will not suffice." Ross v. Communications Satellite Corp.. 759 F.2d 355, 364 (4th Cir. 1985). Thus, summary judgment is appropriate only where no material facts are genuinely disputed and the evidence as a whole could not lead a rational fact finder to rule for the non-moving party. Matsushita. 475 U.S. at 587.

         B. Undisputed Material Facts

         Warden Zook has supplied evidence which establishes the following facts. Lewis is an inmate at Sussex I and was assigned to a top bunk during the times relevant to this lawsuit. Inmates at Sussex I are not issued step stools. Zook Aff. ¶ 5. If an inmate has difficulty accessing a top bunk due to medical reasons, he can request a bottom bunk assignment from the institution's medical authorities. Id. Warden Zook has no personal involvement in making bunk assignments at Sussex I, nor has he personally received any informal complaints or correspondence from Lewis regarding the incident at issue. Zook Aff. ¶¶ 5 - 6.

         The cells at Sussex I are designed with bunk beds bolted to the walls. Zook Aff. ¶ 5. Inmates assigned to top bunks can access their beds by climbing on a chair which is attached to a nearby desk, which in turn is mounted on the wall. Id. Sussex I does not issue step stools to inmates because they could be thrown or disassembled to make weapons. Id.

         On June 9, 2016, Lewis was observed walking into the dining hall with several scars and marks on his face. Zook Aff. ¶ 7. That same day he was escorted to the medical department and was being treated by a nurse for severe head trauma when he collapsed. Id. At that point he was transported by ambulance to a hospital. Id. An incident report ...

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