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Funk v. Battle

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

June 18, 2019

Christopher Funk, Plaintiff,
Officer L. Battle, Defendant.



         Christopher Funk, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, initiated this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his rights under the Eighth Amendment. Defendant Lucilla Correa-Battle ("defendant" or "Officer Battle") has filed a motion for summary judgment, a memorandum in support of her motion, a video of the events in question, and a host of documentary exhibits. Dkt. Nos. 17-18. Plaintiff received the notice required by Local Rule 7(K) and the opportunity to file responsive materials pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975) [Dkt. No. 19], but has failed to submit any materials in opposition to defendant's motion. This matter is therefore ripe for adjudication. For the reasons that follow, defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted, and this civil action will be dismissed.

         I. Background

         The undisputed facts are as follows.[1] On June 11, 2018, defendant was assigned to Pod C-2 of Rappahannock Regional Jail ("RRJ"), the pod in which plaintiff was housed. Battle Aff. ¶¶ 2-4. At approximately 9:45 p.m., Officer Battle dispensed juice boxes to the inmates, including plaintiff, who had received Ramadan meal trays earlier in the evening. Id. at ¶ 3. Defendant unlocked plaintiffs cell door tray slot and handed plaintiff a juice box. Id. at ¶ 4. As defendant moved to close the tray slot, plaintiff extended his arms out of the opening, thereby preventing it from closing. Id. at ¶ 5. Plaintiff at that time complained that he had not received enough cakes or chips with his dinner tray. Id. Officer Battle then issued plaintiff a direct order to remove his hands from the tray slot so she could close and secure it, as is required by RRJ policy. Id. at ¶¶ 6-7. Defendant once more attempted to close the slot but was prevented from doing so by plaintiff, who again pushed the slot back open and placed his arms in the opening. Id. at ¶¶ 8-9.

         With the intention of returning once plaintiff became compliant, Officer Battle moved away from plaintiffs cell without closing the tray slot door. Id. at ¶¶ 10-11; Dkt. No. 18-1, p. 24. As defendant distributed mail to other inmates, plaintiff threw two food trays out of the tray slot door in the direction of defendant, strewing food across the ground in her vicinity. Battle Aff. ¶¶ 12-13. From the location of his cell, plaintiff equally could have aimed projectiles at a desk officer located just below him. Id. at ¶ 26. Once plaintiff removed his hands from the slot, Officer Battle returned to the cell in order to close it. Id. at ¶¶ 15-16. As defendant attempted to close the slot, plaintiff returned his arm to the opening, and plaintiffs left hand was momentarily pinned in the door. Id. at ¶¶ 17-19; Dkt. No. 18-1, p. 24. Officer Battle once more walked away from plaintiffs cell, at which point plaintiff yelled, "Fuck you, you fucking bitch," and threw a cup of ice in her direction. Battle. Aff. ¶¶ 27-28.

         Defendant informed Sergeant Adcock of her interactions with plaintiff, and the sergeant, after using the intercom to communicate with plaintiff, instructed defendant to return to plaintiffs cell to close the tray slot. Id. at ¶¶ 33-34. On her third attempt, defendant was able to do so without issue. Id. at ¶¶ 33-35. Later in the evening, Sergeant Foster and Sergeant Adcock escorted plaintiff to the medical unit for examination. Dkt. No. 18-1, p. 21. There, LPN Quayes evaluated plaintiff and cleared him to leave medical with no treatment after finding no swelling, paleness, or discoloration in plaintiffs left hand. Dkt. No. 18-1, p. 57. Approximately four months after the events in question, however, plaintiff was diagnosed with a scaphoid fracture in his wrist for which he needed surgery. Id. at p. 56.

         II. Standard of Review

         "The court shall 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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "A dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party," and "[a] fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Variety Stores v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.. 888 F.3d 651, 659 (4th Cir. 2018). Once the moving party has met its burden to show that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the nonmoving party "must show that there is a genuine dispute of material fact for trial... by offering sufficient proof in the form of admissible evidence." Id. (quoting Guessous v. Fairview Prop. Invs.. LLC. 828 F.3d 208, 216 (4th Cir. 2016)). In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, a district court should consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving 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).

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiff claims that Officer Battle used excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment when she shut his arm in his cell door's tray slot. The Eighth Amendment prohibits prison officials from inflicting unnecessary and wanton pain and suffering on prisoners. Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 320-21 (1986). The "core judicial inquiry" in an excessive force claim is "whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm." Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7 (1992). Determination of whether force was necessary or intentionally aimed at inflicting unnecessary physical harm requires consideration of factors such as the need for the application of force, the relationship between the need and the amount of force used, the extent of the threat to the safety of staff and inmates reasonably perceived by responsible officials, the extent of injury inflicted, and any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response. Whitley, 475 U.S. at 321; see also Wilkins v. Gaddv. 559 U.S. 34, 37-39 (2010). "[P]unitive intent behind a defendant's use of force may be inferred when the force is not reasonably related to a legitimate nonpunitive governmental objective." United States v. Cobb. 905 F.2d 784, 789 (4th Cir. 1990) (quotations omitted).

         Defendant has introduced-and plaintiff has failed to call into question-evidence that forecloses the notion that defendant acted maliciously or sadistically against plaintiff. Indeed, all five Whitley factors weigh in favor of dismissal.

         1. Need for the Application of Force

         As to the first factor, whether the use of force was necessary, defendant has introduced evidence that shows plaintiff refused to obey direct orders and threw food trays at Officer Battle before defendant attempted to close the tray slot. Plaintiffs behavior justified the use of some force to regain order. See Williams v. Benjamin, 77 F.3d 756, 762 (4th Cir. 1996) (finding guards' decision to use force justified in the face of inmates' refusal to cease unruly and disruptive behavior); see also Karavias v. Virginia, 2013 WL 3879701, at *3 (W.D. Va. July 26, 2013) ("Plaintiffs arms did not belong outside of his cell when returning the lunch tray, and his persistent refusal to comply with staffs orders required some type of force to restore discipline and order"). Though defendant was ultimately able to close the tray slot without exerting any force against plaintiff, this occurred only after plaintiff ignored defendant's direct orders, threw several items in defendant's direction, and swore at defendant. In sum, this factor cuts in favor of Officer Battle.

         2. Relationship Between Need and ...

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