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Tillerson v. Booker

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

July 24, 2019

BERNARD BOOKER, et al., Defendants.


          Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge

         John Tillerson, Jr., a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, [1] alleging constitutional violations while housed at the Buckingham Correctional Center (Buckingham). Defendants Warden Booker, Assistant Warden White, and Lieutenant Patton filed a motion for summary judgment, and Tillerson responded, making this matter ripe for disposition.[2] Having reviewed the record, the court concludes that the defendants' motion for summary judgment must be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Tillerson alleges that on March 28, 2017, [3] he was assaulted by his cellmate. Prior to the assault, Tillerson “expressed [his] fear” to the floor officer, Officer Scruggs, and requested to speak with the watch commander, Lt. Patton. Officer Scruggs told Tillerson to return to his cell and, thereafter, he “was brutally attacked and injured in [his] right eye and bitten on [the] left side of [his] face.” (Compl. 3-4, Dkt. No. 1; V.S., Attach. 2-4, Dkt. No. 2.)

         In his unverified amended complaint, Tillerson alleges that he “is registered as a Muslim and [his] cellmate was known to be a member of the Bloods. This was reiterated and made known to both Lt. Patton and Officer Scruggs at the time [the other inmate] was assigned to cell with Tillerson.” Tillerson also alleges that Lt. Patton and Officer Scruggs knew that the other inmate “detested Muslims with a passion.” (Am. Compl. 1-2, Dkt. No. 24.)

         Tillerson alleges that Warden Booker is “responsible for the safety and well-being of all inmates.” Tillerson further alleges that Asst. Warden White is “responsible for monitoring gang affiliation” and failed to oversee the records department, who “chose to house inmates in any available location without due consideration to any danger, ” leading to Tillerson erroneously being paired with the other inmate. Tillerson also alleges that Warden Booker conducted a full investigation into the attack and “concluded [that Tillerson] was a victim and errors had been made.” (Compl. 3-4; V.S., Attach. 2-4; Am. Compl. 2.)

         Following the incident, Tillerson was transferred to a segregation cell until April 14, 2017. On April 16, 2017, Tillerson filed an informal complaint regarding the incident. Prison staff responded on April 26, 2017. Tillerson then filed a regular grievance on May 2, 2017. On May 4, 2017, Buckingham's Human Rights Advocate (Advocate) Meinhard refused intake of the regular grievance because the thirty-day filing period had expired. Tillerson appealed the intake decision. On May 11, 2017, the Regional Ombudsman upheld the intake refusal because the regular grievance was filed late. (V.S., Attach. 2-4; Am. Compl. 3.)

         In their motion for summary judgment, defendants Warden Booker, Asst. Warden White, and Lt. Patton argue, among other things, that Tillerson failed to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing this action. Additionally, defendants argue that Tillerson's remaining claims fail on their merits, but the analysis merely argues that the first amended complaint fails to state a claim. (Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 4-16, Dkt. No. 29.)

         Liberally construed, Tillerson's remaining claims are that: (1) Warden Booker, Asst. Warden White, and Lt. Patton failed to protect Tillerson in violation of the Eighth Amendment; (2) Warden Booker and Asst. Warden White are liable under the theory of supervisory liability; (3) Warden Booker and Asst. Warden White failed to ensure the safety of Tillerson's environment; and (4) Tillerson was improperly housed in a cell with a gang member in violation of Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) policy.


         A. Standard of Review

         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). The dispute over a material fact must be genuine, “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.; see also JKC Holding Co. v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001). As such, the moving party is entitled to summary judgment if the evidence supporting a genuine issue of material fact “is merely colorable[ ] or is not significantly probative.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

         The moving party bears the burden of proving that judgment on the pleadings is appropriate. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). If the moving party meets this burden, then the nonmoving party must set forth specific, admissible facts to demonstrate a genuine issue of fact for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the record as a whole and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-24; Shaw v. Stroud, 13 F.3d 791, 798 (4th Cir. 1994). However, the nonmoving party may not rely on beliefs, conjecture, speculation, or conclusory allegations to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Baber v. Hosp. Corp. of Am., 977 F.2d 872, 874-75 (4th Cir. 1992). Instead, the nonmoving party must produce “significantly probative” evidence from which a reasonable jury could return a verdict in his favor. Abcor Corp. v. AM Int'l, Inc., 916 F.2d 924, 930 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50).

         B. ...

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