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China v. Coles

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Orangeburg Division

July 12, 2017

Antoine Jermaine China, Plaintiff,
v.
Ofc. Armet Coles; Sgt. Dustin Mincey; and Warden Fred B. Thompson, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         Plaintiff Antoine Jarmaine China (“Plaintiff”) filed this civil rights action against Defendants Ofc. Armet Coles, Sgt. Dustin Mincey (together “Defendants”), and Warden Fred B. Thompson pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Defendants used excessive force against Plaintiff in violation of his constitutional rights. (ECF No. 1.)

         This matter is before the court on Defendants' Motion for Reconsideration of the court's Order entered on March 31, 2017 (the “March Order”), pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 67.) Specifically, Defendants seek reconsideration of the court's decision in the March Order (ECF No. 62) to deny Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 56) as to qualified immunity and Plaintiff's claim for excessive force. (ECF No. 67 at 1.) Plaintiff opposes Defendants' Motion for Reconsideration asserting that they fail to meet the standard for reconsideration. (ECF No. 75 at 1.) For the reasons stated below, the court DENIES Defendants' Motion for Reconsideration.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD AND ANALYSIS[1]

         In the March Order, the court made the following observations in denying Defendants summary judgment on qualified immunity and Plaintiff's excessive force claim:

In their Objections, Defendants dispute the Report's denial of summary judgment and qualified immunity for Defendants Coles and Mincey in their individual capacities. (ECF No. 58 at 1.) Defendants use the factors from Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 239 (4th Cir. 2008), to explain that Defendants Coles and Mincey's forceful response to Plaintiff's actions was necessary and objectively reasonable. (ECF No. 58 at 2-6.) Defendants refute the Report's assertions in their own Iko analysis, stating that: (1) because Plaintiff continued to defy orders after Defendant Coles' initial chemical munitions burst, Defendant Mincey's larger chemical burst was necessary (id. at 3); that Plaintiff did pose a threat that needed to be quelled (id. at 4), and that because Defendants' presence and verbal commands were ignored, Defendants should be afforded deference in how to “preserve order” (id. at 5). Defendants assert that they did not violate Plaintiff's constitutional rights because their use of force was made in a good-faith effort to restore discipline, as Plaintiff posed a continuous risk to prison officials and other inmates by flooding his cell and refusing to comply with Defendants' verbal directives. (Id. at 6-7.)
The court agrees with Defendants that the use of chemical munitions to control an unruly inmate is “far preferable to ‘hands on' use of force'” (id. at 5), and does not dispute that the use of munitions may have been necessary. A prison official's use of chemical munitions on an inmate to prevent disorder generally does not infringe upon the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, as long as the quantity of chemical munitions is commensurate with the gravity of the occasion. Bailey v. Turner, 736 F.2d 963, 968 (4th Cir. 1984) (italics added). However, whether the use of chemical munitions on an inmate constitutes excessive force depends upon “the totality of the circumstances, the provocation, the amount of gas used, and the purposes for which the gas was used.” Id. at 969. The court finds that there exists a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the application of an additional 163 grams of chemical munitions, after Plaintiff had already been sprayed shortly before, was a quantity greater than necessary.[2]
In regard to the threat posed by Plaintiff, a genuine issue of material fact exists. Plaintiff and Defendants' accounts diverge widely on this issue, with Plaintiff asserting “no one conduct was out of control” [sic] (ECF No. 53 at 8), while Defendants assert Plaintiff threatened to “bust out” (ECF No. 46-1 at 2) and that Plaintiff “rushed the cell door” (id. at 3). There is no dispute that Plaintiff's cell had flooded. On a motion for summary judgment, the court is required to view the facts and inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party (Plaintiff). See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Though the court finds that a flooding cell poses a threat, there is a dispute as to whether the water was indeed cut off from the cell before Plaintiff was sprayed a second time. Though Defendants assert that there is “no evidence to support Plaintiff's claim that the water had been shut off” (ECF No. 58 at 3), if the water had indeed been shut off by Defendants, that could have helped mitigate the threat, and afforded Defendants an opportunity to reduce the severity of their subsequent response.
The court finds that Plaintiff suffered a sufficient injury to satisfy Iko's objective prong. The court also finds that Plaintiff has demonstrated Defendants Coles and Mincey's actions satisfy Iko's subjective prong. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, Defendants Coles and Mincey's conduct violated Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment protection against excessive force. Furthermore, Plaintiff's constitutional right was clearly established at the time of Defendants' conduct. The court concludes that Defendants Coles and Mincey are not entitled to qualified immunity.

(ECF No. 62 at 6-8.) Defendants seek reconsideration of the foregoing pursuant to Rule 59(e).

         A. Applicable Standard under Rule[3] 59(e)

         Rule 59 allows a party to seek an alteration or amendment of a previous order of the court. Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e). Under Rule 59(e), a court may “alter or amend the judgment if the movant shows either (1) an intervening change in the controlling law, (2) new evidence that was not available at trial, or (3) that there has been a clear error of law or a manifest injustice.” Robinson v. Wix Filtration Corp., 599 F.3d 403, 407 (4th Cir. 2010); see also Collison v. Int'l Chem. Workers Union, 34 F.3d 233, 235 (4th Cir. 1994). It is the moving party's burden to establish one of these three grounds in order to obtain relief. Loren Data Corp. v. GXS, Inc., 501 F. App'x 275, 285 (4th Cir. 2012). The decision whether to reconsider an order under Rule 59(e) is within the sound discretion of the district court. Hughes v. Bedsole, 48 F.3d 1376, 1382 (4th Cir. 1995). A motion to reconsider should not be used as a “vehicle for rearguing the law, raising new arguments, or petitioning a court to change its mind.” Lyles v. Reynolds, C/A No. 4:14-1063-TMC, 2016 WL 1427324, at *1 (D.S.C. Apr. 12, 2016) (citing Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 485 n.5 (2008)).

         B. The Parties' Arguments

         In their Motion, Defendants first argue that Coles is entitled to reconsideration because his application of force through the use of chemical munitions was not excessive. (ECF No. 67 at 1.) In support of their argument regarding Coles, Defendants assert that because the court “does not dispute that the use of munitions may have been necessary” (see ECF No. 62 at 7), its decision to deny Coles summary judgment on qualified immunity and Plaintiff's excessive force claim is erroneous due to the amount of munition deployed by Coles. (ECF No. 67 at 2.) More specifically, Defendants assert that Coles' use of 4 grams of munition does not amount to either excessive force or a violation of Plaintiff's clearly established rights. (Id. at 1-2 (citing Bailey v. Turner, 736 F.2d 963, 969 (4th Cir. 1984) (observing that excessive force analysis based on the use of chemical munitions focuses on “the totality of the circumstances, the provocation, the amount of gas used, and the purposes for which the gas was used.”)) & 6.) Accordingly, Defendants request that the court “reconsider its decision and grant Defendant Coles summary judgment on Plaintiff's excessive force claim, or, in the alternative, qualified immunity.” (Id. at 2.)

         Defendants next argue that even though “Mincey's use of force was (a) subsequent to Defendant Coles' and (b) was larger by a factor of 40” (ECF No. 67 at 2), “there was no clear legal precedent” such that Mincey “would have been reasonably put on notice” that the deployment of 163 grams of chemical munition into Plaintiff's cell was in violation of his clearly established rights. (Id. at 4.) Additionally, Defendants observe that any argument that the deployment of 163 ...


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