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Woodard v. Winters

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

June 18, 2018

DAVID WINTERS, et al., Defendants.

          Algenon L. Marbley Judge



         Plaintiff, Keimarkus Woodard, an Ohio inmate proceeding without the assistance of counsel, brings this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants, [1]employees of Ross Correctional Facility (“RCI”), utilized excessive force against him and were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This matter is before the Court for consideration of Plaintiff's and Defendants' cross Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 70 and 80.) Having considered both Motions and all related briefing, it is RECOMMENDED that Defendants' Motion be GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART and that Plaintiff's Motion be DENIED. The Court has also screened the claims upon which Defendants have not moved for summary judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e), and further RECOMMENDS that Plaintiff's claim for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs be DISMISSED pursuant to § 1915(e) and that his excessive force claim premised upon Defendants' alleged failure to permit him to decontaminate following administration of oleoresin capsicum spray (“OC spray”) be permitted to proceed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This action arises from events that occurred on October 11, 2015. The parties' versions of events are highly disputed.

         A. Plaintiff's Version of Events

         Plaintiff alleges that on the date in question he engaged in a “physical altercation” with Defendant J. Elkins, a corrections officer at RCI, in an area of the prison known as Unit 7-B. (Pl.'s Am. Compl. 2, ECF No. 61.) According to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, the altercation ended when an unidentified corrections officer sprayed Plaintiff in the “facial area” with OC spray and placed him in handcuffs. (Id.) Once restrained, Plaintiff alleges Elkins and Defendant H. Sexton, another corrections officer at RCI, escorted him out of Unit 7-B to a supervisor's office. (Id.) At this time and throughout the remainder of the relevant time period, Plaintiff alleges he complied with Defendants' orders and that he was not behaving in an aggressive or threatening manner.

         Plaintiff alleges that notwithstanding his compliant behavior while en route to the supervisor's office, Elkins and Sexton “physically assaulted [him] by repeatedly hitting [him] in the facial area with there (sic) hands.” (Id.) Defendants Sexton and Elkins then allegedly brought Plaintiff into the supervisor's office where they, along with other unidentified officers, punched Plaintiff again and kicked him “with their feet when [he] fell.” (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Elkins and Sexton thereafter escorted him to a holding cell despite his request for medical treatment and “water to wash the [OC spray] out of [his] facial area and wounds.” (Id. at 3.) According to the Amended Complaint, officers left Plaintiff in the holding cell without medical treatment or a means to decontaminate for “30 to 45 minutes” before Defendant J. Evans, a sergeant at RCI, supervised Plaintiff's escort to the infirmary. (Id.)

         Once in the infirmary, according to the Amended Complaint, Evans and Defendant R.N. Winters, a nurse at RCI, began “punching, hitting[, ] and kicking” Plaintiff. (Id.) Rather than provide medical treatment or decontamination for the OC spray, Plaintiff alleges, Evans and Winters “used that time [in the infirmary] to further assault [him] because of the physical altercation [he] had with Defendant J. Elkins” earlier that day. (Id.) According to his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff suffered various physical injuries as a result of Defendants' assaults, including a “black eye that was swollen, a split open forehead, busted nose and split open lip.” (Id.) At an unidentified later date, Plaintiff was transferred to Southern Ohio Correctional Facility and later to the Ohio State Penitentiary where he remains confined today.

         B. Defendants' Version of Events

         Defendants submit that on the date in question, nonparty Tammy Smith, an officer at RCI, verbally confronted Plaintiff in Unit 7-B regarding suspicious activity in his cell. Defendants assert that Plaintiff used aggressive language with Officer Smith, causing her to order him to stand on the wall. Elkins thereafter arrived on the scene and ordered Plaintiff to proceed to the dayroom. Defendants represent that when Elkins attempted to escort Plaintiff to the dayroom, Plaintiff pulled away, prompting Elkins to attempt to restrain him. At that point, a physical altercation ensued between Plaintiff and Elkins, during which Plaintiff punched Elkins in the head “dozens of times.” (Defs.' Mot. 3, ECF No. 80.) During the altercation, according to Defendants, Elkins “made multiple thrusts at [Plaintiff] to subdue him.” (Id.) Ultimately, Sexton arrived on the scene, sprayed Plaintiff with OC spray, and used handcuffs to restrain Plaintiff.

         Although Defendants concede that Elkins and Sexton subsequently escorted Plaintiff from Unit 7-B to a supervisor's office, they deny using physical force against Plaintiff at any point after he was restrained and the altercation with Elkins ended. Defendants submit that Elkins and Sexton later brought Plaintiff to a segregation cell, after which Evans escorted Plaintiff to the infirmary where he was examined by Nurse Winters. Nurse Winters noted left eye edema and left forehead edema.

         Evans and Winters both deny using physical force against Plaintiff at any time on October 11, 2015, other than Evans placing his hand on Plaintiff's arm while escorting him to the infirmary. Defendants deny that Plaintiff requested medical attention at any point during these encounters and represent that he refused medical treatment once in the infirmary. Defendants further deny that Plaintiff exhibited a need for medical treatment at any point prior to being brought to the infirmary or while in the infirmary. Defendants do not indicate whether, when, or if they provided Plaintiff an opportunity to decontaminate following the administration of OC spray.

         Although Defendants concede Plaintiff suffered swelling to his left eye and left forehead and a black eye, they maintain that “the only plausible explanation” for these injuries is that “the left side of [Plaintiff's] face made contact with either the floor or someone's body part (likely Officer Elkins) during the melee” between Plaintiff and Elkins. (Defs.' Mot. 6, ECF No. 80.) Defendants acknowledge, however, that “no particular notable jab [to Plaintiff] can be identified on the video” footage that captured the altercation, which Defendants have submitted to the Court for review. (Id.)

         C. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed this action, moving for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, on July 20, 2016. (ECF No. 1.) The Court granted his in forma pauperis motion, causing Plaintiff's Complaint to be filed on July 22, 2016. (ECF No. 3.) Plaintiff subsequently sought leave to file an Amended Complaint, which the Court granted, causing his Amended Complaint to be filed on January 3, 2017. (ECF No. 61.) In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff names four RCI employees as Defendants, including Officer Sexton, Officer Elkins, Officer Evans, and Nurse Winters, in both their individual and official capacities. The Court construes Plaintiff's Amended Complaint as asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for excessive force and deliberate indifference to serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as a declaration that Defendants' actions violated his constitutional rights. Plaintiff filed his Motion for Summary Judgment on October 10, 2017. Defendants filed their cross Motion for Summary Judgment on November 1, 2017. Both motions are now ripe for review. The Court also screens those claims upon which Defendants did not move for summary judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e).


         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, “[t]he 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). “The moving party has the initial burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact exists, and the court must draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Stansberry v. Air Wisconsin Airlines Corp., 651 F.3d 482, 486 (6th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations omitted); cf. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2) (providing that if a party “fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact” then the Court may “consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion”).

         The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). “The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Id. at 255 (citation omitted). “The nonmovant must, however, do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, . . . there must be evidence upon which a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party to create a genuine dispute.” Lee v. Metro. Gov't of Nashville & Davidson Cnty., 432 Fed.Appx. 435, 441 (6th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) (requiring a party maintaining that a fact is genuinely disputed to “cit[e] to particular parts of materials in the record”). “When a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported and the nonmoving party fails to respond with a showing sufficient to establish an essential element of its case, summary judgment is appropriate.” Stansberry, 651 F.3d at 486 (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986))

         B. Analysis

         Plaintiff posits that summary judgment in his favor is proper on each of his claims because the evidence conclusively establishes that Defendants utilized excessive force against him and were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Defendants assert that they are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's excessive force claims premised upon Defendants' alleged beatings of Plaintiff for three reasons, including because (1) Plaintiff's claims against them in their official capacity are barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution; (2) Plaintiff has adduced no credible evidence that Defendants utilized excessive force against him; and (3) they are entitled to qualified immunity. Defendants have not moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims premised upon Defendants' alleged failure to provide medical care or an opportunity for decontamination following administration of OC spray. The Court considers each of the parties' respective arguments below.

         1. Plaintiff's Claims Against Defendants in Their Official Capacity

         Defendants assert that the Eleventh Amendment bars Plaintiff's claims against them in their official capacity. The undersigned agrees.

         The Eleventh Amendment operates as a bar to federal-court jurisdiction when a private citizen sues a state or its instrumentalities unless the state has given express consent. Pennhurst St. Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1983); Lawson v. Shelby Cnty., 211 F.3d 331, 334 (6th Cir. 2000). A suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is “not a suit against the official but rather is a suit against the official's office, ” and is therefore “no different from a suit against the State itself.” Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). “There are three exceptions to sovereign immunity: (1) when the state has waived immunity by consenting to the suit, (2) when Congress has expressly abrogated the states' sovereign immunity, and (3) when the doctrine set forth in Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908), applies.” Boler v. Earley, 865 F.3d 391, 410 (6th Cir. 2017) (citation omitted).

         None of the three exceptions apply here. First, “Ohio has not waived sovereign immunity in federal court.” Mixon v. State of Ohio, 193 F.3d 389, 397 (6th Cir. 1999). Second, “Section 1983 does not abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity.” Boler, 865 F.3d at 410 (citing Will, 491 U.S. at 66). Finally, Ex Parte Young does not operate to save Plaintiff's official capacity claims. The Ex Parte Young exception to sovereign immunity allows a plaintiff “to bring claims for prospective relief against state officials sued in their official capacity to prevent future federal constitutional or statutory violations, regardless of whether compliance might have an ancillary effect on the state treasury.” Boler, 865 F.3d at 412 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The exception applies where the plaintiff alleges “‘an ongoing violation of federal law and seeks relief properly characterized as prospective.'” Dubuc v. Mich. Bd. of Law Exam'rs, 342 F.3d 610, 616 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Verizon Md., Inc. v. Pub. Serv. Comm'n of Md., 535 U.S. 635, 645 (2002)). Applied here, Ex Parte Young is inapplicable because Plaintiff neither alleges any ongoing violations nor seeks any specific injunctive relief in his Amended Complaint. (See Am. Compl., ECF No. 61.) Moreover, Plaintiff's subsequent transfer to another institution would render any such claims for prospective injunctive relief moot. See Sossamon v. Texas, 131 S.Ct. 1651, 1669-70 (2011) (citations omitted) (“A number of . . . suits seeking injunctive relief have been dismissed as moot because the plaintiff was transferred from the institution where the alleged violation took place prior to adjudication on the merits.”); see, e.g., Kensu v. Haigh, 87 F.3d 172, 175 (6th Cir. 1996) (inmate's request for injunctive relief moot upon transfer from relevant prison); Abdur-Rahman v. Mich. Dep't of Corr., 65 F.3d 489, 491 (6th Cir. 1995) (same); Lavado v. Keohane, 992 F.2d 601 (6th Cir. 1993) (same).

         Accordingly, it is RECOMMENDED that the Court grant summary judgment in Defendants' favor on Plaintiff's claims against them in their official capacity.

         2. Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment Claims Against Defendants in Their Individual Capacity

         The Court next considers (1) Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Elkins and Sexton for allegedly beating him while en route to the supervisor's office and while he was in the supervisor's office; (2) Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Evans and Winters for allegedly beating him in the infirmary; (3) Defendants' assertion that they are entitled to qualified immunity on the first two sets of claims; and (4) Plaintiff's remaining claims ...

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