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Wells v. Paul Payment

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division

September 26, 2014

WILLIE WELLS, ADC # 100985, Plaintiff,
v.
PAUL PAYMENT, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

KRISTINE G. BAKER, District Judge.

The Court has received Proposed Findings and Recommendations from United States Magistrate Judge Jerome T. Kearney (Dkt. No. 68). After a review of those Proposed Findings and Recommendations, and the timely objections received thereto, as well as a de novo review of the record, the Court adopts the Proposed Findings and Recommendations in their entirety as this Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law. Plaintiff Willie Wells filed timely objections to the Proposed Findings and Recommendations. For the following reasons, the Court overrules the objections.

I. Factual Background

Mr. Wells filed this pro se action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 while incarcerated at the Crittenden County Detention Facility ("Jail"), alleging excessive force and failure to protect by defendants. Mr. Wells reported his release from incarceration on March 5, 2013, (Dkt. No. 49), but as of the date of the February 12, 2014, evidentiary hearing before Magistrate Judge Kearney, Mr. Wells was again in custody (Dkt. No. 65). The sole claim before the Court is that defendant, Officer Paul Payment, used excessive force against Mr. Wells on October 31, 2012. Mr. Wells seeks monetary relief from Officer Payment.

In the Proposed Findings and Recommendations, Judge Kearney recommended that this Court enter judgment in favor of Officer Payment and dismiss Mr. Wells's complaint with prejudice (Dkt. No. 68). Judge Kearney found that Mr. Wells did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Officer Payment acted in an excessive manner under the Fourth Amendment. Judge Kearney determined that Officer Payment reasonably inferred harm from Mr. Wells based on Mr. Wells's demeanor, loud voice, and aggressive actions; Mr. Wells's significant height advantage over Officer Payment; the limited space in the cell where the incident occurred; Mr. Wells's failure to obey Officer Payment's direct orders on two other occasions; and Mr. Wells's actions in the cell, including failure to obey orders.

Mr. Wells submitted to the Court a notice of proof on February 24, 2014, claiming that Officer Payment pointed a taser at Mr. Wells on October 9, 2012, and alleging that the Jail refused to produce a video of the incident (Dkt. No. 67). Mr. Wells filed objections to the Proposed Findings and Recommendations on March 17, 2014. In his objections, Mr. Wells first claims that he did not have "access to any legal materials... to help him prepare his Rebuttal to the Proposed Findings and Recommendations Instructions." Next, Mr. Wells argues that the February 12, 2014, hearing was unfair because the administrator of the facility where he was incarcerated prevented him from having his evidence and legal documents at the hearing and denied him access to contact witnesses. Mr. Wells also disputes Officer Payment's testimony that he tripped in the cell and objects to Judge Kearney's finding that Mr. Wells's actions and the cell's limited space justified Officer Payment's tasing of Mr. Wells. The Court overrules each of Mr. Wells's objections and will examine each objection in turn.

II. Standard Of Review

This Court "shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). The Court is not required to review, under a de novo or any other standard, the factual or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge as to those portions of the findings or recommendation to which no objections are addressed. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985). When reviewing proposed findings and recommendations de novo, the Court will consider the fact that Plaintiff is acting pro se and give his pleadings a liberal construction. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); see also Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir. 2004).

III. Access To Legal Materials For Objections To Proposed Findings And Recommendations

It is unclear whether Mr. Wells's objection regarding access to legal materials in preparation of his "rebuttal" to the Proposed Findings and Recommendation is independent from his objections to not having access to legal materials and evidence at the February 12, 2014, hearing. Mr. Wells does not provide any specific details about his alleged inability to access legal materials. To the extent that this objection is independent from his other objections, the Court overrules the objection.

Prisons have an affirmative obligation to provide access to the courts. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351 (1996). Nonetheless, if a prison fails to provide adequate access to the courts by failing to provide adequate access to legal materials, an "inmate... must go one step further [beyond claiming an inadequate library or inadequate legal assistance] and demonstrate that the alleged shortcomings in the library or legal assistance program hindered his efforts to pursue a legal claim." Id. at 351. "Although prisoners have a constitutional right of meaningful access to the courts, prisoners do not have a right to any particular means of access...." Aswegan v. Henry, 981 F.2d 313, 314 (8th Cir. 1992). The Jail need only provide access that is "adequate, effective, and meaningful when viewed as a whole." Id. (citing to Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 823, 832 (1977)). For a prisoner to establish that he was denied meaningful access to the courts, he must submit evidence showing that he suffered an "actual injury" as a result of the defendants' actions. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 348-49; see also White v. Kautzky, 494 F.3d 677, 680 (8th Cir. 2007). An "actual injury" is "actual prejudice with respect to contemplated or existing litigation, such as the inability to meet a filing deadline or to present a claim." Lewis, 518 U.S. at 348.

Mr. Wells has made general allegations that he did not have access to legal materials, but he has failed to point to any specific shortcoming in the Jail or elsewhere and has not demonstrated how any alleged shortcoming has hindered his efforts to pursue a legal claim. Mr. Wells has made numerous arguments and submitted evidence to this Court throughout the progress of his case, and nothing in the record indicates that the Jail has prevented him from adequately pursuing his claims. Therefore, the Court overrules Mr. Wells's objection regarding his access to legal materials in preparation of his objections to the Proposed Findings and Recommendations.

IV. Objections To Evidentiary Hearing

Mr. Wells first alleges that the evidentiary hearing held before Judge Kearney on February 12, 2014, was unfair because Mr. Wells had neither "his evidence nor his legal documents." Mr. Wells claims that, prior to the hearing and while Mr. Wells was incarcerated, an administrator denied him access to legal documents, including two inmate-witnesses' notarized affidavits, which Mr. Wells had previously submitted to the Court (Dkt. No. 43). Mr. Wells also claims that the administrator denied him access to the phone and refused to give him "any ...


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