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Gonzalez v. Washington County, Arkansas

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

August 26, 2014

WASHINGTON COUNTY, ARKANSAS; TIM HELDER, Washington County Sheriff, in his individual and official capacities; and TIFFANY SCOTT, Detention Corporal, in her individual and official capacities; JOHN DOES 1 & 2, Detention Officers, in their individual and official capacities Defendants.


P. K. HOLMES, III, Chief District Judge.

Currently before the Court are Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 12) and supporting documents (Docs. 13-14), Plaintiff Christopher Gonzalez's response (Doc. 22) and supporting documents (Docs. 23-24), and Defendants' reply (Doc. 25). For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that Defendants' motion for summary judgment should be GRANTED.

I. Background

This lawsuit arises out of an incident that occurred on March 17, 2010, at which time Gonzalez was a pre-trial detainee housed in the "N-Block" at the Washington County Detention Center. Prior to that date, Gonzalez had been housed in the same block as a federal detainee, Onyebuchi Odunukwe, during which time there were threats and verbal confrontations between Gonzalez and Odunukwe. At some point, Gonzalez and Odunukwe were separated because of these issues. On March 17, 2010, Odunukwe was walking through the hallways of the detention center unescorted. When Odunukwe reached the door to the N-Block, he pressed an intercom button and requested entry to the cell block from the detention officers working in the control room. The door was opened remotely from the control room, allowing Odunukwe access to the N-Block where Gonzalez was present. Upon entry, Odunukwe attacked Gonzalez causing him injury.

Gonzalez filed his complaint on February 26, 2013, bringing claims against Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for failure to protect him in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments[1] to the United States Constitution. There is only one count-for "failure to protect"-explicitly set out in Gonzalez's complaint. That count does not mention any grounds for liability as to Defendant Washington County. In the first paragraph, however, Gonzalez states that the action is against Washington County "for failing to implement policies, practices, and procedures to prevent the use of violations [sic] of the Plaintiffs [sic] or other prisoner's [sic] right [sic] to be protected in the Washington County Detention Center."[2] (Doc. 1, ¶ 1). He also claims in that same paragraph that his claims against the remaining Defendants are for "excessive force." Id. Upon review of the complaint in the context of the full record in this case, however, the Court finds that Gonzalez has alleged the following plausible claims:

(1) Claims against Defendants Tiffany Scott[3] and Sheriff Tim Helder in their individual capacities for failure to adequately train or supervise;
(2) A claim against Scott in her individual capacity for failure to protect from an excessive risk of harm in allowing Odunukwe access to Gonzalez by opening the N-Block door; and
(3) A claim against Washington County[4] for violation of Gonzalez's constitutional rights resulting from a policy or custom of the County.

Regarding Gonzalez's second claim, the parties are now in agreement that Scott was not the control-room officer who pushed the button to open the N-Block door allowing Odunukwe access to Gonzalez. The Court finds, therefore, that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact regarding claim two and that Scott is entitled to summary judgment in her favor as to that claim. The other two claims will each be discussed below.

III. Discussion

The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of proving both the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and that the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986); Glorvigen v. Cirrus Design Corp., 581 F.3d 737, 742 (8th Cir. 2009). The Court must review the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing a motion for summary judgment and give that party the benefit of any inferences that logically can be drawn from those facts. Canada v. Union Elec. Co., 135 F.3d 1211, 1212-13 (8th Cir. 1997). "In order for there to be a genuine issue of material fact, ' the evidence must be such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Allison v. Flexway Trucking, Inc., 28 F.3d 64, 66-67 (8th Cir. 1994) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).

"In order to establish an Eighth Amendment failure-to-protect claim, a plaintiff must show that the prison official was deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of serious harm." Whitson v. Stone Cnty. Jail, 602 F.3d 920, 923 (8th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation omitted). "An official is deliberately indifferent if he or she actually knows of a substantial risk and fails to respond reasonably." Id. An official must be "both aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of harm existed, and he must also draw the inference." Walls v. Tadman, 2014 WL 3882552, at *3 (8th Cir. Aug. 8, 2014) (quotation omitted). "[T]he Due Process Clause affords pretrial detainees at least as much protection as the Eighth Amendment provides to convicted prisoners." Edwards v. Byrd, 750 F.3d 728, 732 (8th Cir. 2014).

Gonzalez did not name as a defendant in this case the control-room officer who actually pressed the button to allow Odunukwe access to Gonzalez, and the Court denied Gonzalez's motion to amend his complaint to add the officer, Joel Peterman, as untimely. Even had Peterman been added as a defendant, the record before the Court indicates that Peterman did not act with deliberate indifference when he opened the N-Block door. Instead, it appears that Peterman acted under the mistaken belief that he recognized Odunukwe's voice as that of another deputy. A mistake or misjudgment does not constitute deliberate indifference. Spann v. Roper, 453 F.3d 1007, 1008 (8th Cir. 2006) (prison nurse did not exhibit deliberate indifference when forcing inmate to take another inmate's medication as it was undisputed that the nurse made a mistake) (citing Jolly v. Knudsen, 205 F.3d 1094, 1096 (8th Cir. 2000) (to succeed on deliberate-indifference claim, plaintiff must show more than negligence or gross negligence). The Court does not make any final ...

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