United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division
January 29, 2015
WAYNE ROOKS, JR., PLAINTIFF
DAVID BRADLEY, et al., DEFENDANTS
Wayne Rooks, Jr, Plaintiff, Pro se, Fairfield Bay, AR.
For David Bradley, Main elected Deputy Sheriff, Van Buren County, Randy Murry, head detention Jailer and Jail Supervisor, Kenny Dunham, second level head Jailer Supervisor, Brandon Ragland, Jailer (originally named as John Doe), Andy Hensley, Defendants: Colin P. Wall, Rainwater, Holt & Sexton P.A., Little Rock, AR.
PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
JEROME T. KEARNEY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
The following partial recommended disposition has been sent to United States District Judge D. P. Marshall Jr. Any party may serve and file written objections to this recommendation. Objections should be specific and should include the factual or legal basis for the objection. If the objection is to a factual finding, specifically identify that finding and the evidence that supports your objection. An original and one copy of your objections must be received in the office of the United States District Court Clerk no later than fourteen (14) days from the date of the findings and recommendations. The copy will be furnished to the opposing party. Failure to file timely objections may result in waiver of the right to appeal questions of fact.
If you are objecting to the recommendation and also desire to submit new, different, or additional evidence, and to have a hearing for this purpose before the District Judge, you must, at the same time that you file your written objections, include the following:
1. Why the record made before the Magistrate Judge is inadequate.
2. Why the evidence proffered at the hearing before the District Judge (if such a hearing is granted) was not offered at the hearing before the Magistrate Judge.
3. The detail of any testimony desired to be introduced at the hearing before the District Judge in the form of an offer of proof, and a copy, or the original, of any documentary or other non-testimonial evidence desired to be introduced at the hearing before the District Judge.
From this submission, the District Judge will determine the necessity for an additional evidentiary hearing, either before the Magistrate Judge or before the District Judge.
Mail your objections and " Statement of Necessity" to:
Clerk, United States District Court
Eastern District of Arkansas
600 West Capitol Avenue, Suite A149
Little Rock, AR 72201-3325
Plaintiff Wayne Rooks filed this pro se action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 while incarcerated at the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC) (Doc. No. 1). He alleges excessive force, denial of adequate medical care and treatment, and unconstitutional conditions of confinement while he was incarcerated at the Van Buren County Detention Center (Jail) from June 3, 2013, until his transfer to the ADC on January 4, 2014. Plaintiff asks for damages from Defendants.
This matter is before the Court on the Defendants' Motion for partial Summary Judgment, Brief in Support and Statement of Facts (Doc. Nos. 48-50). Plaintiff has filed responses to the Motion (Doc. Nos. 53-57).
II. Plaintiff's Complaint
In his Complaint, Plaintiff states that on June 4, 2013, Defendant Brandon shot him with a taser, despite knowing that Plaintiff suffered from a brain injury and other mental conditions. On June 7, 2013, after Plaintiff cut his wrist with a shard from a bowl he broke in his cell, Defendant Dunham bandaged his wrists and put him in a restraint chair for hours, unmonitored. Although Dunham told him that the Jail contacted Plaintiff's mom to bring his medications and was trying to get him placed in the state hospital, Plaintiff was never taken to the hospital. Plaintiff claims he was denied medical treatment for days, despite requests to Defendants Bradley, Murry, and Dunham. He also was deprived of a shower and water in the toilet for several days. Finally, Plaintiff complains the jailers are not certified to distribute medications, and that Defendants denied him medical and mental health treatment.
III. Summary Judgment Motion
Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), summary judgment is appropriate if the record shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Dulany v. Carnahan, 132 F.3d 1234, 1237 (8th Cir. 1997). " The moving party bears the initial burden of identifying 'those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.'" Webb v. Lawrence County, 144 F.3d 1131, 1134-5 (8th Cir. 1998) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (other citations omitted)). " Once the moving party has met this burden, the non-moving party cannot simply rest on mere denials or allegations in the pleadings; rather, the non-movant 'must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 1135. Although the facts are viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, " in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the non-movant cannot simply create a factual dispute; rather, there must be a genuine dispute over those facts that could actually affect the outcome of the lawsuit." Id.
A. Official Capacity Liability
Plaintiff does not dispute Defendants' argument that a suit against them in their official capacities is a suit against their County employer, Van Buren County. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-6 (1985). Nor does he dispute that in order to establish liability by the County, the law requires a showing of an unconstitutional policy or procedure, or a widespread pattern of unconstitutional conduct. Doe v. Washington County, 150 F.3d 920, 922 (8th Cir. 1998); Jane Doe A v. Special School District of St. Louis County, 901 F.2d 642, 646 (8th Cir. 1990). Plaintiff does not offer proof of an unconstitutional policy or practice and appears to claim that the Jail did not abide by its policies in failing to obtain timely and adequate medical treatment for him, and with respect to the use of excessive force.
B. Individual Capacity Liability
Defendants state they are protected from liability in their individual capacities by qualified immunity, on all claims except the excessive force/taser claim against Defendant Ragland. Qualified immunity protects officials who act in an objectively reasonable manner, and may shield a government official from liability when his or her conduct does not violate " clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Qualified immunity is a question of law, not a question of fact. McClendon v. Story County Sheriff's Office, 403 F.3d 510, 515 (8th Cir. 2005). Thus, issues concerning qualified immunity are appropriately resolved on summary judgment. See Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985) (the privilege is " an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability; and like an absolute immunity, it is effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial.").
To determine whether defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, the courts generally consider two questions: (1) whether the facts alleged or shown, construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, establish a violation of a constitutional or statutory right; and (2) whether that right was so clearly established that a reasonable official would have known that his or her actions were unlawful. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009). Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity only if no reasonable fact finder could answer both questions in the affirmative. Nelson v. Correctional Medical Services, 583 F.3d 522, 528 (8th Cir. 2009).
Since Plaintiff was a pretrial detainee at the time of his incarceration, the due process standard of the Fourteenth Amendment applies to determine the constitutionality of his conditions of confinement. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 (1979). In the Eighth Circuit, however, the standards applied to such claims are the same as those applied to Eighth Amendment claims. Whitnack v. Douglas County, 16 F.3d 954, 957 (8th Cir. 1994).
In order to support a claim for an Eighth Amendment violation, Plaintiff must prove that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). However, even negligence in diagnosing or treating a medical condition does not constitute a claim of deliberate indifference. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105-06 (1976). Rather, the " prisoner must show more than negligence, more even than gross negligence, and mere disagreement with treatment decisions does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation, " Estate of Rosenberg v. Crandell, 56 F.3d 35, 37 (8th Cir. 1995). See also Smith v. Marcantonio, 910 F.2d 500, 502 (8th Cir. 1990) (holding that a mere disagreement with a course of medical treatment is insufficient to state a claim for relief under the Eighth Amendment). Furthermore, prison physicians are entitled to exercise their medical judgment, and " do not violate the Eighth Amendment when, in the exercise of their professional judgment, they refuse to implement a prisoner's requested course of treatment." Long v. Nix, 86 F.3d 761, 765 (8th Cir. 1996). In addition, an inmate who complains that a delay in medical treatment constitutes a constitutional violation must provide " verifying medical evidence" in the record to establish the detrimental effect of the delay, in order to succeed on his claim. Beyerbach v. Sears, 49 F.3d 1324, 1326 (8th Cir. 1995) (overruled in part on other grounds). Finally, " [i]n the face of medical records indicating that treatment was provided and physician affidavits indicating that the care provided was adequate, an inmate cannot create a question of fact by merely stating that [he] did not feel [he] received adequate treatment."
Dulany v. Carnahan, 132 F.3d at 1240.
1) Restraint Chair
According to the affidavit of Jail Administrator Randy Murray, Plaintiff was arrested on June 3, 2013, on charges of criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, public intoxication, and terroristic threats. (Doc. No. 50-1, p. 2; Doc. No. 50-2) On June 4, 2013, Plaintiff threw water under the door of his cell, threatened officers, and ripped the video camera from the ceiling. (Doc. No. 50-1, p. 3) Plaintiff was then temporarily placed into the restraint chair at 8:45 a.m. and released at 9:30 a.m. (Id., Doc. No. 50-2, p. 2) During that time, jailers checked on Plaintiff twice, at 9:00 a.m. and 9:12 a.m., and recorded in the restraint chair log that Plaintiff was screaming on both those occasions. (Doc. No. 50-2, p.2) Jailers returned Plaintiff to the chair at 1:45 p.m. for beating his head against the wall. (Id.) According to the log, Plaintiff was screaming profanity at 2:00; at 2:15, he rolled the chair to the wall to beat his head against the wall; and at 2:30 and 2:45 he was yelling. (Id.) Plaintiff was released from the chair the second time at 3:06 p.m. (Id.)
Murray states that on both occasions, Plaintiff was restrained pursuant to the Jail's restraint chair policy, was observed pursuant to policy, and remained restrained only until he calmed down and no longer represented a threat to himself or others. (Doc. No. 50-1, p. 3; Doc. No. 50-4)
The records presented by Defendants (and Plaintiff, in his response to the Motion), clearly show that despite his claim in his Complaint, he was restrained on both occasions for short periods of time, and frequently was monitored. (Doc. No. 50-2, p. 2; Doc. No. 55, p. 3) Plaintiff provides no evidence that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his needs for health and safety, and does not dispute the facts set forth by Defendants which served as a basis for their decision to restrain him. Absent such evidence, the Court finds that no reasonable person in the Defendants' position would find a violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights.
2) Denial of medications/mental health treatment
According to the medical records provided by Defendants, Plaintiff was treated for mental health issues prior to his incarceration at the Jail in 2013. (Doc. No. 50-7, pp. 14-44) One day after he was booked into the Jail, Plaintiff was evaluated by Health Resources of Arkansas for possible placement at the Arkansas State Hospital. (Doc. No. 50-7, p. 10) Noted during the assessment was Plaintiff's history of alcohol abuse, disorderly conduct, and terroristic threatening, together with recent superficial cutting on his wrists. (Id.) Plaintiff denied homicidal ideation and did not understand why he could not be released into general population. (Id.) The assessment also referred to a traumatic brain injury Plaintiff suffered in a motor vehicle accident several years before, and that Plaintiff was taking several medications for anxiety and nerve damage. (Id., pp. 10-11) Following the assessment, the counselor concluded that Plaintiff should not be allowed into general population and referred him for inpatient psychiatric services at Arkansas State Hospital. (Id., p. 11)
Plaintiff's medical records show that he received medications on a daily basis while incarcerated at the Jail. (Doc. No. 50-3) During his incarceration, Defendant Hensley prepared daily medications for each shift and guards on each shift passed out the medications, at which time the inmate signed a receipt for the medication. (Doc. No. 50-1, p. 2) In August, 2013, Health Resources of Arkansas re-evaluated Plaintiff and conducted a review of his mental-health medications (Neurontin, Lithium, Depakote ER, and Klonopin), concluding that he was not a candidate for in-patient treatment at that time. (Doc. No. 50-7, pp. 2-9)
Pursuant to a referral from the Van Buren Circuit Court on June 20, 2013, Plaintiff was evaluated on October 1, 2013, by Dr. Mark Peacock, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Arkansas State Hospital. (Doc. No. 50-8) Following his examination of Plaintiff and review of Plaintiff's medical history, Dr. Peacock concluded that Plaintiff's " self-reported symptoms (of major mood swings and paranoia)...appear contrived and invalid." (Id., p. 11) Dr. Peacock also noted that although Plaintiff blamed many of his symptoms and actions on his traumatic brain injury, Jail officials reported to him that Plaintiff was more violent and troublesome prior to his brain injury. (Id., p. 13) Dr. Peacock diagnosed Plaintiff as " malingering, " with severe alcohol use disorder and depressive disorder, and concluded that he " possesses intact rational and factual understanding of criminal proceedings and of assisting in his own defense and that his currently reported deficits were invalid." (Id.)
Other than his claims in his Complaint that Defendants denied him mental health medication and treatment, Plaintiff provides no evidence to contradict the medical records provided by Defendants, which show that Plaintiff received daily mental health medications and was assessed on several occasions by outside mental health professionals. Plaintiff does not dispute that Defendants are not medical professionals, and any act attributable to them with respect to dispensing his medications amounts to no more than negligence. As noted above, however, an allegation of negligence does not support a constitutional claim for relief. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. at 105-06. Furthermore, Plaintiff has presented no evidence that he suffered a detrimental effect from any delay in treatment, as set forth in
Beyerbach v. Sears, 49 F.3d at 1326. And, " [i]n the face of medical records indicating that treatment was provided and physician affidavits indicating that the care provided was adequate, an inmate cannot create a question of fact by merely stating that [he] did not feel [he] received adequate treatment."
Dulany v. Carnahan, 132 F.3d at 1240.
Therefore, the Court also finds that Defendants acted reasonably under the circumstances, and that no reasonable fact finder could find that the facts alleged or shown, construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, established a violation of a constitutional or statutory right.
3) Denial of adequate Medical treatment by Defendant Dunham
Plaintiff claims he cut his wrists in a suicide attempt and that although Defendant Dunham bandaged his wrists, he failed to take him for medical treatment. However, the assessment conducted by the Health Resources of Arkansas on June 4, 2013, indicates that Plaintiff had " superficial" cuts on his wrists. (Doc. No. 50-7, p. 10) Absent any additional allegations or evidence in support, the Court finds Plaintiff fails to show that Dunham acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, and therefore, fails to support a constitutional claim for relief against him.
Plaintiff claims he was denied a shower for three days and that the toilet in his cell lacked water for three days. He does not specifically allege any involvement by the named Defendants, and he does not allege how these conditions deprived him of a single human need. " Conditions of confinement, however, constitute cruel and unusual punishment 'only when they have a mutually enforcing effect that produces the deprivation of a single, identifiable human need such as food, warmth, or exercise....Nothing so amorphous as 'overall conditions' can rise to the level of cruel and unusual punishment when no specific deprivation of a single human need exists." Whitnack v. Douglas County, 16 F.3d at 957 (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 511 U.S. 294, 305 (1986)). Therefore, to support an Eighth Amendment violation, Plaintiff must prove the existence of objectively harsh conditions of confinement, together with a subjectively culpable state of mind by prison officials in condoning or creating the conditions. Choate v. Lockhart, 7 F.3d 1370, 1373 (8th Cir. 1993). The " defendant's conduct must objectively rise to the level of a constitutional violation, ... by depriving the plaintiff of the 'minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.'... The defendant's conduct must also reflect a subjective state of mind evincing deliberate indifference to the health or safety of the prisoner." Revels v. Vincenz, 382 F.3d 870, 875 (8th Cir. 2004) (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 342 (1981), and
Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. at 104)). " To be cruel and unusual punishment, conduct that does not purport to be punishment at all must involve more than ordinary lack of due care for the prisoner's interest or safety...." Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. at 298-9 (quoting Whitley v.
Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986)). Furthermore, " discomfort compelled by conditions of confinement, without more, does not violate the amendment." Smith v. Coughlin, 748 F.2d 783, 787 (2d Cir. 1984) (quoting Jackson v. Meachum, 699 F.2d 578, 581 (1st Cir. 1983)).
Having reviewed the parties' submissions, the Court finds that Plaintiff's vague allegations support a finding of negligence at best, and that no reasonable person in the Defendants' position would find a violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights.
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Dunham verbally threatened to tase him and place him in the restraint chair, and that Defendant Ragland threatened to point a taser at his head. (Doc. No. 1, pp. 6, 8) However, " [g]enerally, mere verbal threats made by a state-actor do not constitute a § 1983 claim." King v. Olmsted County, 117 F.3d 1065, 1067 (8th Cir. 1997) (quoting Hopson v. Fredericksen, 961 F.2d 1374, 1378 (8th Cir. 1992)). Therefore, these allegations also should be dismissed.
IT IS, THEREFORE, RECOMMENDED that:
1) Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 48) be GRANTED.
2) All Plaintiff's claims, except for the excessive force claim against Defendant Ragland, be DISMISSED with prejudice.
3) Defendants Bradley, Murry, Dunham, and Hensley be DISMISSED.
IT IS SO RECOMMENDED