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Mitchell v. Staley

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

June 24, 2016




         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Jason Mitchell is a state inmate incarcerated at the Tucker Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC). He filed this pro se action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging excessive force while he was incarcerated at the Lonoke County Detention Center (Jail) in August, 2015 (Doc. No. 4). Plaintiff asks for injunctive relief (Id., p. 5).[1]

         Defendants Lopez and Doe were dismissed from this action on October 16, 2015 (Doc. No. 13). Currently pending before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment, Brief in Support, and Statement of Facts, filed by remaining Defendant John Staley (Doc. Nos. 19-21). Plaintiff did not respond, and by Order dated May 25, 2016, this Court cautioned Plaintiff that his failure to respond to the Motion within fifteen days of the date of the Order would result in either all the facts set forth in the Motion being deemed admitted by him, or dismissal of the action, without prejudice, for failure to prosecute (Doc. No. 22). As of this date, Plaintiff has not responded to the Motion and has not otherwise corresponded with the Court.

         II. Amended Complaint

         Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Staley called him to the day room on August 13, 2015, and said he would be charged with a felony for introducing contraband into the Jail. (Doc. No. 4, p. 6) Plaintiff denied knowledge of this and Staley ordered him back to his cell. (Id.) Staley then entered Plaintiff's cell, pushed him against the back wall, threw property everywhere, tore Plaintiff's mail and bent his pictures. (Id.) Staley also hit Plaintiff in his face three or four times before he walked out of the cell and slammed the cell door. (Id.) Plaintiff was taken to the "hole" in a flooded cell with no mat or blankets. (Id., p. 7)

         III. Summary Judgment

         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 (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.

         In addition, "[a]ll material facts set forth in the statement (of undisputed material facts) filed by the moving party...shall be deemed admitted unless controverted by the statement filed by the non-moving party...." Local Rule 56.1, Rules of the United States District Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Arkansas. Failure to properly support or address the moving party's assertion of fact can result in the fact considered as undisputed for purposes of the motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2).

         A. Official Capacity

         The Court agrees with Defendant that any monetary claim against him in his official capacity should be dismissed, because Plaintiff did not allege that his actions were taken pursuant to an unconstitutional policy, practice, or custom, or any widespread pattern of unconstitutional conduct. A suit against a county official in his official capacity is the equivalent of a suit against the county itself. Liebe v. Norton, 157 F.3d 574, 578-9 (8th Cir. 1998). In order for a county to be held liable for the unconstitutional acts of its officials, Plaintiff must allege and prove that a written county policy or pattern of widespread unconstitutional conduct was the moving force behind the unconstitutional actions. Jane Doe A v. Special School District of St. Louis County, 901 F.2d 642, 646 (8th Cir. 1990). Absent such an allegation, or a response from Plaintiff, the Court finds the monetary claim against Defendant in his official capacity should be dismissed.

         B. Individual Capacity

         Defendant also asks the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's excessive force claim against him in his individual capacities, based on qualified immunity, which protects officials who act in an objectively reasonable manner. It 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).[2] Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity only if no ...

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