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Collins v. Cissell

July 11, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wm. R. Wilson, Jr. United States District Judge


On May 24, 2006, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment and brief in support,*fn1 seeking to dismiss Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint on the grounds that he failed to establish a failure to protect claim and, alternatively, that he is entitled to the protections of sovereign and qualified immunity. Defendant also filed a statement of undisputed material facts in support of his motion according to Local Rule 56.1 of the Rules of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.*fn2 Counsel, on behalf of Plaintiff, responded.*fn3

I. Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."*fn4 The Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, giving him the benefit of all reasonable factual inferences.*fn5 A moving party is nevertheless entitled to summary judgment if the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of his case with respect to which he will have the burden of proof at trial.*fn6

To avoid summary judgment, the non-movant must go beyond the pleadings and come forward with specific facts, "by [his] own affidavit" or otherwise, showing that a genuine, material issue for trial exists.*fn7 A non-movant has an obligation to present affirmative evidence to support his claims.*fn8

II. Analysis

In a nutshell, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant allowed several gang member inmates into his barracks where they attempted to kill him by stabbing him numerous times.*fn9 This incident took place in response to an earlier verbal altercation between Plaintiff and a gang member inmate in the law library.

In order to make out his Eighth Amendment claim for failure to protect, Plaintiff must show that Defendant was deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of serious harm to him.*fn10 However, not every injury suffered by one prisoner at the hands of another translates into constitutional liability for prison officials responsible for the victim's safety.*fn11 Rather, to show deliberate indifference, Plaintiff must prove both that Defendant's acts objectively caused a sufficiently serious deprivation and that Defendant had a subjectively culpable state of mind.*fn12

With respect to the subjective part of the analysis, Plaintiff must show that Defendant was aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm existed and that he drew that inference.*fn13 This subjective element is critical to a successful "failure to protect" claim because "only the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain implicates the Eighth Amendment."*fn14 An official's failure to alleviate a risk that he should have perceived, but did not, is not sufficient for a finding of liability.*fn15

"Whether a prison official had the requisite knowledge of a substantial risk is a question of fact . . . including inference from circumstantial evidence, . . . and a factfinder may conclude that a prison official knew of a substantial risk from the very fact that the risk was obvious."*fn16

Prison officials may avoid liability by showing that they were unaware of any risk to inmate health or safety or that, although aware of the underlying facts indicating a sufficiently substantial danger, they believed that the risk was "insubstantial or nonexistent."*fn17 Additionally, "prison officials who actually knew of a substantial risk to inmate health or safety may be found free from liability if they responded reasonably to the risk, even if the harm ultimately was not averted."*fn18

According to Defendant's recitation of the facts, in January 2004, Plaintiff was housed at the Grimes Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction. On January 12, 2004, Plaintiff got into a verbal altercation with inmate Dennis Davis regarding gang affiliations. The conversation between Plaintiff and inmate Davis continued for about five minutes, at which time the two seemed to square off. Other inmates intervened and prevented the altercation from becoming physical. Plaintiff decided to leave the law library and return to his barracks, which was the #14 barracks. Plaintiff did not report the incident involving inmate Davis to Defendant or any other officers.*fn19

When Plaintiff arrived at the #14 barracks, he spoke to Defendant who at the time was standing in the central hub of the barracks. Defendant marked the log, and yelled upstairs to the control booth to open the door to the #14 barracks so Plaintiff could enter. Defendant was not able to open the door to the barracks, it had to be done by the control booth. Upon entering the barracks, Plaintiff began talking with one of his friends about the incident with inmate Davis. As Plaintiff and his friend were talking, he saw the door to the #14 barracks open and approximately ten inmates entered the cell, roughly six of whom were returning from church. According to Defendant, when inmate Davis entered the barracks, Plaintiff grabbed a broom handle and struck him. Inmate Davis then stabbed Plaintiff several times with a handmade shank. Both inmates were injured.*fn20

Plaintiff was returned to the unit approximately four hours later (from the hospital in Newport) and was placed in Administrative Segregation. He was transferred to the North Central Unit three days later. Defendant contends that Plaintiff did not have any prior problems with inmate Davis (in fact, Defendant claims they socialized together)*fn21 and ...

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