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Brooks v. Jacumin

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

August 3, 2017

Altony Brooks, Plaintiff,
v.
Captain Jacumin, Officer Fludd, and Berkeley County Sheriff's Office, Defendants.

          ORDER

          PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's objections to Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant's Report and Recommendation (“R & R”) (ECF Nos. 217, 214, & 204). In his R & R, Magistrate Judge Marchant recommends granting Defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated herein, the Court adopts the R & R and grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action arises out of a September 2013 incident at the Hill-Finklea Detention Center (“HFDC”). Plaintiff Altony Brooks alleges that he was lured out of his cell at HFDC, taken to the booking area, and told that he needed to have his picture taken. Plaintiff resisted having his picture taken by moving his head repeatedly to prevent a clear picture. After the detention officers spent seven and a half minutes trying to convince Plaintiff to comply with HFDC's photograph policy, the officers warned Plaintiff that if he kept resisting he would be tased. Despite that warning, Plaintiff continued to resist, so Sergeant Johnston fired her taser. According to Defendants, Plaintiff continued to resist even after being tased, so Sergeant Johnston tased him again. Surprisingly, however, Plaintiff still continued to resist. Sergeant Johnston then tased Plaintiff a third time, and at that point he allowed the officers to take his photograph. Although it is undisputed that Plaintiff was tased three times, the parties' versions of the facts diverge as to whether Plaintiff continued to resist after being tased the first time. According to Plaintiff, he stopped resisting after the first use of the taser. As a result, he now sues, claiming that Captain Jacumin and Officer Fludd are liable under § 1983 for use of excessive force, and raising various state-law causes of action against the Berkeley County Sheriff's Office.[1]

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The R & R has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility for making a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). Parties may make written objections to the R & R within fourteen days after being served with a copy of it. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). This Court must conduct a de novo review of any portion of the R & R to which a specific objection is made, and it may accept, reject, or modify the Magistrate Judge's findings and recommendations in whole or in part. Id. Additionally, the Court may receive more evidence or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. Id. A party's failure to object is taken as the party's agreement with the Magistrate Judge's conclusions. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140 (1985). Absent a timely, specific objection-or as to those portions of the R & R to which no specific objection is made-this Court “must ‘only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.'” Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note).

         Pro se filings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), and federal district courts must construe such pleadings liberally to allow the development of potentially meritorious claims, see Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980) (per curiam). The liberal construction requirement, however, does not mean courts can ignore a clear failure to allege facts that set forth claims cognizable in federal district court. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).

         ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff filed two separate sets of objections to the Magistrate Judge's R & R. In his first objection (ECF No. 214), Plaintiff requests that the Court consider an additional response in opposition to Defendants' motion for summary judgment when reviewing the R & R. Plaintiff attached that response as an exhibit to his objection. Plaintiff's “objection” does not make any specific objection to the R & R and is therefore improper. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b) (“a party may serve and file specific, written objections to the [Magistrate Judge's] proposed findings and recommendations”). Moreover, even counting Plaintiff's response in opposition to Defendants' motion for summary judgment as mailed on January 17, 2017, as Plaintiff claims it should be, that response would still have been filed more than two weeks after the December 31, 2016 deadline. See Local Civ. Rule 7.06 (D.S.C.). For both of those reasons, Plaintiff's first “objection” is overruled.

         The majority of Plaintiff's second set of objections (ECF No. 217) either rehash arguments made to the Magistrate Judge, or fail to specifically object to the R & R. However, Plaintiff does make one relevant objection to the Magistrate Judge's qualified-immunity analysis. In the R & R, the Magistrate Judge concluded that Plaintiff continued to resist even after Sergeant Johnston first used her taser. Plaintiff objects, claiming that he stopped resisting after the first tasing. The R & R references the video of the incident submitted by Defendants, and the Magistrate Judge concludes the video shows that Plaintiff did continue to resist. As a result, the Magistrate Judge also explicitly concluded that no constitutional violation occurred. After carefully examining the video, the Court agrees that Plaintiff continued resisting having his picture taken after the first two times he was tased. The Magistrate Judge also states that even assuming, without deciding, that a constitutional violation occurred in this case, Defendants would still be entitled to qualified immunity because the law concerning the use of tasers against inmates was not settled at the time of the incident. The Court need not reach the qualified immunity analysis because it concludes that no constitutional violation occurred.

         As the Magistrate Judge thoroughly described in his R & R, law enforcement officer bystanders may be held liable for another officer's act of excessive force if the bystanders possess the power to prevent it but fail to do so. Randall v. Prince George's County, 302 F.2d 188, 203 (4th Cir. 2002). For such liability to attach here, Defendants Fludd and Jacumin must have: (1) known that Sergeant Johnston was violating Plaintiff's constitutional rights, (2) had a reasonable opportunity to prevent the harm, and (3) purposefully chosen not to act. Id. at 204. At the time of the incident, Plaintiff was incarcerated at HFDC while awaiting a post-conviction relief hearing. As a result, his claims fall under the Eighth Amendment. See Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 318 (1986). In determining whether an officer's use of force violates the Eighth Amendment, the Court must determine whether the “force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline or maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.” Id. at 320-21. In making that determination,

courts should consider the necessity for the application of force; the relationship between the need for force and the amount of force used; the extent of the injury inflicted; the extent of the threat to the safety of the staff and other prisoners as reasonably perceived by prison officials based on the facts known to them at the time; and the efforts, if any, taken by the officials to temper the severity of the force applied.

Boone v. Stallings, 583 F. App'x 174, 176 (4th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (citing Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7 (1992)).

         Even viewed in the light most favorable to him, Plaintiff was refusing to obey the detention officers' commands that he allow them to take his picture until after he was tased for the third time. The Court bases its opinion on Plaintiff's allegations and on its numerous painstaking reviews of the video of the incident.[2] As a result, the Court lays out the incident as can be seen in the video. The first seven and a half minutes of the video show the detention officers attempting to convince Plaintiff to let them take his picture. There is no evidence of the use of force against Plaintiff during this time frame, and the detention officers calmly warn Plaintiff that he would be tased if he continued to resist having his picture taken. Throughout the incident, Plaintiff was restrained in handcuffs and was being held by two detention officers. After the detention officers attempted to reason with Plaintiff and after warning him that continued ...


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