United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
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.
alleges in the amended complaint that he is housed in
Building 4, Pod A, cell 29 at Sussex I. [Dkt. No. 5 at
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."
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]
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.
Standard of Review
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.
Undisputed Material Facts
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.
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.
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 ...