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Crawford v. Hunt

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

August 11, 2016

ANTONIO CRAWFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRIS HUNT, Sgt.; E. BITTINGER, DHO; TONY SMITH, Captain; TRACY SIMS, Contraband Officer; and DAVID CRAIG III, Sgt., in their individual or personal capacities, Defendants.

          ORDER ADOPTING IN PART THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION, GRANTING DEFENDANT CRAIG’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, AND DENYING DEFENDANTS HUNT, BITTINGER, SMITH, AND SIMS’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          MARY GEIGER LEWIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff filed this case as a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action. The matter is before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (Report) of the United States Magistrate Judge suggesting that Defendant Craig’s motion for summary judgment be granted and Defendants Hunt, Bittinger, Smith, and Sims’s motion for summary judgment be granted in part and denied in part. The Report was made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina.

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976). The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which specific objection is made, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         The Magistrate Judge filed the Report on June 2, 2016, ECF No. 106, and on June 9, 2016, the Court appointed Mr. C. Fredric Marcinak and Ms. Emily I. Bridges from the Greenville, South Carolina, office of Smith Moore Leatherwood LLP as Plaintiff’s counsel in this matter, ECF No. 108. Plaintiff and Defendants Hunt and Bittinger filed their objections to the Report on July 11, 2016. ECF Nos. 118, 119. Plaintiff then filed a reply to Defendants’ objections on July 28, 2016. ECF No. 122. The Court has reviewed the parties’ objections, and finds Plaintiff’s to be meritorious but finds Defendants’ to be without merit. Therefore, it will enter judgment accordingly.

         As a starting point, Plaintiff fails to object to the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation that Defendant Craig’s motion for summary judgment be granted. ECF No. 118 at 1. Therefore, the Court will grant Defendant Craig’s motion for summary judgment.

         Turning next to Plaintiff’s objections to the Report, Plaintiff argues that the Magistrate Judge erred in suggesting that the Court grant Defendants Smith and Sims’s motion for summary judgment. Id. Plaintiff asserts that he has set forth genuine issues of material fact on his Eighth Amendment failure to protect claim against Defendants Smith and Sims. Id. at 2-6. Specifically, Plaintiff avers that he has satisfied the objective component of the failure to protect claim by demonstrating a genuine issue of material fact as to a substantial risk of physical or emotional injury from the underlying incident. Id. at 3. Plaintiff also contends that he has he has met the subjective component of the failure to protect claim because the circumstantial evidence allows the inference that Defendants Smith and Sims’s state of mind was that of deliberate indifference toward Plaintiff. Id. at 4. Based on these arguments, Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation that Defendants Smith and Sims are entitled to qualified immunity. Id. at 5.

         For a failure to protect claim under the Eighth Amendment to survive summary judgment, a plaintiff must first “establish a serious deprivation of his rights in the form of a serious or significant physical or emotional injury, ” or a “substantial risk” thereof. Danser v. Stansberry, 772 F.3d 340, 346 (4th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted); Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). A plaintiff must also show that the prison official had a “sufficiently culpable state of mind, ” which, in this context, consists of “deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 (internal quotation marks omitted). This state of mind can be inferred from circumstantial evidence, meaning that “a factfinder may conclude that a prison official knew of a substantial risk from the very fact that the risk was obvious.” Id. at 842.

         The record in this case leaves the Court of the unmistakable view that Plaintiff has presented genuine issues of material fact on his failure to protect claim against Defendants Smith and Sims sufficient to survive summary judgment. Taking the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Court holds that there exist genuine issues of material fact as to whether Defendant Hunt’s actions placed Plaintiff at a substantial risk of serious or significant physical or emotional injury. Notably, Plaintiff alleges Defendant Hunt twisted his arm, pushed him against a wall, and then clipped him to the floor so that he landed on his stomach. ECF No. 23-1 at 3. Additionally, the Court holds that Plaintiff has raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Defendants Smith and Sims acted with deliberate indifference toward Plaintiff, as the circumstantial evidence permits this inference. After all, according to Plaintiff, Defendants Hunt, Smith, and Sims failed to follow proper protocol prior to using excessive force against Plaintiff, because “[n]o first responders [were called] or pepper spray use[d, ] which is protocol if an inmate is causing resistance and won[’]t comply.” ECF No. 98 at 1. Consequently, because Plaintiff has established genuine issues of material fact as to whether Defendants Smith and Sims violated his Eighth Amendment rights, and the courts have clearly established the law on this matter, a reasonable person in the position of Defendants Smith and Sims would have known their alleged failure to intervene and protect Plaintiff violated his Eighth Amendment rights. See Pritchett v. Alford, 973 F.2d 307, 312 (4th Cir. 1992) (setting forth the test for qualified immunity). They are thus unentitled to qualified immunity in their individual capacities. Therefore, the Court declines to adopt the portion of the Magistrate Judge’s Report, ECF No. 106, that recommends that Defendants Smith and Sims’s motion for summary judgment be granted and that they are entitled to qualified immunity. Accordingly, the Court will deny their motion for summary judgment.

         The Court will now turn to Defendants Hunt and Bittinger’s objections to the Report. First, Defendant Hunt insists that the Magistrate Judge erred in recommending that his motion for summary judgment be denied. ECF No. 119 at 9-14. In particular, Defendant Hunt claims that Plaintiff has not refuted the affidavits and other supporting evidence submitted by him, which purportedly establish that he used only a reasonable amount of force to secure Plaintiff in light of Plaintiff’s resistance and refusal to obey his orders. Id. at 11. Moreover, Defendant Hunt insists that Plaintiff’s excessive force claim must fail because the unrefuted evidence he submitted establishes that Plaintiff suffered no injury as a result of the force used. Id. at 12.

         Defendant Hunt’s contentions are without merit. Contrary to his argument, Plaintiff relied on more than the mere allegations in the Complaint to refute the evidence presented by Defendant Hunt. Specifically, Plaintiff relied on the incident investigation report wherein Defendant Craig reported facts in favor of Plaintiff. ECF No. 94-5 at 3.

         In the incident investigation report, although Defendant Craig notes he failed to observe the events leading up to Defendant Hunt’s use of force, he states that Plaintiff “showed no signs of aggression and was mild mannered.” Id. Further, Defendant Craig “thought the actions of [Defendant] Hunt were uncalled for.” Id. The Magistrate Judge utilized this report in her analysis of whether the subjective component of Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment excessive force claim met the requirements of Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 321 (1986), and found in the affirmative. ECF No. 106 at 9-12. This Court holds that Defendant Craig’s statement, taken in conjunction with Plaintiff’s allegations, creates a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Defendant Hunt “acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind.” See Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 238 (4th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted) (setting forth the elements of an Eighth Amendment excessive force claim).

         Moreover, the objective inquiry of an excessive force claim, whether “the deprivation suffered or injury inflicted on the inmate was sufficiently serious, ” id., focuses not on the severity of any injuries inflicted, but rather on the “nature of the force, ” which must be “nontrivial.” Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 38-39 (2010). Although there must be some evidence of an injury, “[i]njury and force . . . are only imperfectly correlated, and it is the latter that ultimately counts.” Id. at 38. Thus, it is “the nature of the force, rather than the extent of the injury, ” that is the “relevant inquiry.” Hill v. Crum, 727 F.3d 312, 321 (4th Cir. 2013). Where, as here, Plaintiff’s Complaint and medical records indicate he sought medical assistance following the incident and that the prison medical staff saw him several times for complaints of neck pain, ECF Nos. 94-4, 95-5, the Court holds that Plaintiff has established a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the objective component of Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment excessive force claim has been met. Consequently, because Plaintiff has established a genuine issue of material fact regarding both the subjective and objective components of his Eighth Amendment excessive force claim, the Court will deny Defendant Hunt’s motion for summary judgment.

         Second, Defendant Bittinger objects to the Magistrate Judge’s suggestion that his motion for summary judgment be denied. ECF No. 119 at 9-10, 14-19. Defendant Bittinger asseverates that Plaintiff’s disciplinary hearing wherein he lost canteen, telephone, and visitation privileges failed to implicate a liberty interest triggering procedural due process protections. Id. at 14. Additionally, Defendant Bittinger urges that Plaintiff’s loss of good-time credits cannot give rise to a claim for monetary relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 resulting from procedural defects at his disciplinary hearing. Id. at 16. Further, Defendant Bittinger avouches that Plaintiff failed to sign the charging document when served, resulting in the waiver of his right to call witnesses at the disciplinary hearing, pursuant to South Carolina Department of Corrections policy. Id. at 17. Finally, Defendant Bittinger alleges that Plaintiff has neglected to establish prejudice by the inability to call witnesses at his disciplinary hearing. Id. at 18.

         Defendant Bittinger’s objection is likewise without merit. As set ...


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