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Morphis v. Smith

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

March 24, 2017




         This is a civil rights action filed by Plaintiff, Kenneth Ray Morphis, Jr., pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff proceeds pro se and in forma pauperis, and he is currently incarcerated in the Marion United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois.

         The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a Magistrate Judge to conduct any and all proceedings in this case, including conducting the trial, ordering the entry of a final judgment, and conducting all post-judgment proceedings. (Doc. 12) Pursuant to this authority, the Court held a bench trial on April 26, 2016, and now issues the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.


         Plaintiff filed his original Complaint on February 5, 2014. (Doc. 1) The events that are the subject of this lawsuit occurred while Plaintiff was incarcerated in the Logan County Detention Center (LCDC), located in Paris, Arkansas. Plaintiff was booked into the LCDC on November 15, 2013, and he remained at that facility until he was transferred to the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC) on February 12, 2014.

         After summary judgment proceedings, the issues remaining for bench trial included: (1) unsanitary conditions of confinement, specifically the toilet water running through his cell the entire 89 days he was confined in LCDC, as well as no hot or cold running water for drinking and hygiene; (2) unsafe conditions of confinement due to LCDC's inoperable sprinkler system and lack of fire extinguishers within the cell blocks; (3) denial of medical care for his Hepatitis C and after a health incident on December 24, 2014; and, (4) denial of access to news media.

         At the bench trial, Plaintiff testified on his behalf by videoconference. (Doc. 58) The testimony of the following witnesses was heard on behalf of Defendants: (1) Defendant Sheriff Steven Smith; (2) Defendant Jail Administrator David Spicer; and, (3) former LCDC Correctional Officer Dustin Stark. (Doc. 58)

         Plaintiff filed a proposed Exhibit (Doc. 54) on April 1, 2016. The Exhibit consisted of Plaintiff's patient record from River Valley Care Services, and it was received in evidence at trial. Plaintiff was also directed to provide copies of the LCDC jail logs which he referred to in his testimony to the Court within 14 days of trial. These were received in evidence as Plaintiff's Exhibit Two. The jail logs were filed on May 12, 2016. (Doc. 60) Plaintiff also requested leave to submit a newspaper article concerning LCDC, as well as several witness statements. (Docs. 19-22) Objections to these proposed exhibits were sustained.

         Defendants submitted two Exhibits at trial, which were received in evidence. (Doc. 66)


         A. Unsanitary Conditions of Confinement: Plumbing Issues

         In his complaint and summary judgment response, Plaintiff states that the plumbing was never working properly during his incarceration at the LCDC. Plaintiff's Response (hereinafter Plff's Resp.)(Doc. 32) at ¶ 5. He alleges toilet water ran through his cell, and he had to go without hot or cold water for drinking and hygiene. (Id. at ¶¶ 2-3) Plaintiff states maintenance never came to fix the plumbing. Id. at ¶ 6. Plaintiff agreed with Defendant Spicer that the seals were broken on the toilets; however, he maintains it was sewage that was leaking, and that it produced an awful smell. Id. at ¶¶ 7 & 9. He maintains it was unsanitary and offensive. Id. at ¶ 8. Plaintiff states he was unable to clean his hands or cell properly, and he worried about contracting a serious illness and the effect on his Hepatitis C. Id. He also maintains he became ill with fever and diarrhea and was bed-ridden for three days. Id. at ¶ 9. Plaintiff admits that the jailers would bring water; however, he contends they did so on their own schedule and not when the water was needed. Id. at ¶ 6.

         Defendant Spicer by affidavit states they “do have issues with the plumbing at the jail” from time to time, and the County maintenance man, Barron Bates, is called when they are made aware of a problem. Defendants' Exhibit (hereinafter Defts' Ex.) B at ¶ 4. In the meantime, Spicer states “we accommodate the inmates in these cells as best as possible by providing them with mops and towels to control the water leakage and having jailers bring them water during time periods in which their sinks are not functioning.” Id. at ¶ 5. Moreover, Spicer asserts that the “leaks in the toilets are the result of damage to the seals around the bottom of the toilets caused by inmates standing on the toilets. The water that leaks out of these seals is clean water, not sewage.” Id. at ¶ 6.

         At trial, Plaintiff testified the sink and toilet were a single stainless steel unit. He did not see anyone stand on, shake, or otherwise “mess with” the toilets. The units were broken when he was arrested and booked into the jail. The only water working in the cell was in the toilet for using the toilet. There was no hot or cold water from the sinks. He did not request or move to have the water that was coming out of the unit tested to determine if it was coming from the clean water input or the sewage line. He did not do so because, “it is not rocket science that water from a toilet is dirty.” He testified no one came to repair the toilet in cell nine during his 89 day incarceration at LCDC. He has worked in construction, and in his experience plumbing issues were always fixed first. He testified he became ill as a result of exposure to the toilet water. He had diarrhea and cramps for three days, and he “felt bad” for six or seven days after that. He felt this was due to the toilet water, and the circumstances were “just inhumane.”

         Dustin Stark testified the water in the cell nine sink was working when he started employment at the jail sometime in the second half of November, 2013. He worked at LCDC until the second half of June, 2014. Plaintiff's incarceration predated his employment at LCDC. When he got there, the sink in cell nine was working, but there was a leak in the sink. The inmates complained they could hear the leak when they were trying to sleep. The fresh water in cell eight never worked while he was at LCDC. Water was taken back to the inmates when they asked for it. The only time he refused to bring water to inmates was after 10:30 p.m., and then he only refused hot water. He refused because they used the hot water to make coffee and stay up at night. He helped the Logan County repairman, Barron Bates, work on the units in cells seven, eight, and nine. The units had been broken by the inmates. He was “in the floor” helping repair the inlet water for the units in these cells. He did not remember the exact dates of the repair work. He was aware of the existence of grades of water, such as “gray water.” The leak did not contain any urine or feces. There was only one repair person for the county, and things were fixed as time allowed. He did not recall if he had logged when Bates came to do the plumbing work in the cells. He testified they did not log everything. The logs were used more to indicate items about the inmates as opposed to maintenance. He had sometimes logged maintenance, such as when it required moving inmates from cell to cell so that Bates could work. He did not recall Plaintiff handing him grievances about the water, but they received many grievances, including about the water. He never threw any grievances away.

         Defendant Spicer testified the toilets are one-piece stainless steel units with a sink at the top and toilet at the bottom. Pipes come into the basins to supply fresh water, and there is a sewage line out. He examined the leaking units. “Not one single time was there a need to repair a leaking sewage line.” The only leak he saw was in the supply line. If the silicone seal broke, then water ran onto the floor. The seal was broken when inmates stood on the units to communicate to other cells through vents in the wall. They had Adams Plumbing and other companies out to work on it. They also had a wet/dry vacuum to use to clean the leak. He never smelled sewage water, feces, or urine. The jail was never cited for sewage on the floor or unsanitary leaks. He freely admitted LCDC had been cited for other issues, but a sewage leak in the cells was not one of those issues.

         Defendant Smith testified the jail logs should show when Bates or other plumbers came to work on the plumbing - if the logs were done as they were supposed to be done. He was not sure this was the case, as it was not a “perfect situation.” He tried to call Bates first for repairs because he was a county employee and easier on the budget than an outside plumbing company. He told Bates there was a leak and no hot or cold water. Bates worked on a number of things, and a plumber was called if Bates could not get to the repair quickly or didn't have the skills to fix it. He was told parts were hard to get for the toilet-sink units, and this caused delays in the repairs. He did not personally put in any orders for parts because he was not a plumber or maintenance personnel. He did remember that at times they could not get parts and had to use other things.

         At no time did Defendant Smith see or smell sewage. The leak appeared to be clean water from the input to the units. In his experience, if there were feces or urine in the water, these substances would have a visual effect on the water and an odor. No repair person ever told him there was a sewage leak, and the only repairs done were for fresh water leaks. LCDC was never written up for sewage on the floor. There were other write-ups, but not for that. He was never told any inmate was thirsty because they were refused water. The water running in the cell was not constant, but they were always working on something at LCDC. He could not remember a time when they were not working on something at LCDC. He remembered complaints about water not being brought, but never an inmate saying he or she was thirsty.

         The jail logs submitted by Plaintiff after the trial focus primarily on whether routine chores were accomplished, such as feeding of inmates, organization of showers for inmates, booking inmates in and out, garbage detail, cleaning detail, administration of medication, etc. Although some notations concerning repairs were included, there did not seem to be any regularity of the inclusions, and some of the handwritten notations in the logs are difficult to read. There were no notations concerning water leaks specifically. Repair notations did appear for a clogged shower drain, broken cameras, glass replacement, a cell door, a hole in the wall between cells, and bunks. (Doc. 60, pp. 45, 62, 65, 82, 90, 94, 103, 105, 135)

         Based on the evidence of record, I find the sink in Plaintiff's cell did not work, so that there was no running water available on demand from the sink in his cell. The silicone seal at the base of the toilet was broken by inmates standing on it. Repairs were very slow because it was difficult to get parts for the toilet-sink units, but repairs were attempted on the units in cells seven, eight, and nine while Plaintiff was incarcerated at LCDC. There is no dispute that water leaked from the broken toilet seal at least part of the time. The leak was fresh water from the input supply line. It did not contain sewage. LCDC provided mops and towels to inmates to clean up the leak. The facility also used a wet/dry vacuum to clean up the leak. Jailers provided hot and cold water to the cells on a regular basis and at the request of the inmates. Only hot water was ever denied, and this was late at night so that inmates would not misuse it. Plaintiff made no allegation that the toilet was non-functional, or that he was not able to flush the toilet on demand. Plaintiff does not allege he was denied access to regular showers. Plaintiff also does not allege meals were served without some form of liquid to drink.

         B. Unsafe Conditions of Confinement: Fire Equipment

         Plaintiff alleges that inmates started a fire in the hallway during a jail riot. Resp. at ¶ 40. Plaintiff states no alarms or sprinklers went off. Id. Plaintiff asserts that his lungs were seared from the fire, and he also states all the inmates were maced. Id. at ¶ 41. Plaintiff maintains there were no fire extinguishers in the cell areas where the inmates were housed. Resp. at ¶¶ 38-39.

         Defendant Spicer admits that the sprinkler system in the jail is inoperable; however, he maintains the jail is equipped with fire extinguishers and fire detection equipment. Id. at ¶ 7.

         At trial, Plaintiff testified he was present when the fire occurred. A jailer came and maced the inmates, then closed the bean-hole to the cell.[1] After about 45 minutes to an hour, they were let out of the cell for fresh air. Plaintiff had to wet his shirt with water from the toilet in order to breathe. No alarms or sprinklers went off, and there were no fire extinguishers in the back living quarters. Plaintiff testified this fire seared his lungs, making them dry and uncomfortable. He was also maced. He requested medical attention for his lungs on several occasions and did not receive any.

         Plaintiff stated he had medical evidence his lungs were seared, he just did not have that evidence with him the day of the trial. Plaintiff agreed, however, that he had been in a methamphetamine lab explosion prior to his incarceration at LCDC. This explosion had been strong enough to shift the house off its foundation. He testified this meant that LCDC was aware of the condition of his lungs. He testified that he did not start the fire, and he did not tamper with the camera. Plaintiff stated the inmates were maced and made to sit for 30 to 45 minutes until they were permitted out of the cell for fresh air.

         During cross-examination, Plaintiff testified the fire was on a different occasion than the day on which a riot or “tumult” occurred. During this riot, inmates broke a bunk off the wall of a cell and used it to batter down the door to cell seven. Plaintiff was not sure if there was a fire during the riot, but the fire that seared his lungs was not during the riot. The fire that burned his lungs was caused when books thrown from cell seven were set on fire in the hallway. He did not throw the books, and he was not sure if they were thrown through the open door to cell seven. Plaintiff testified he could not supply any medical records concerning treatment or examination of his lungs. He did not have medical records, he only had grievances. On re-direct, Plaintiff testified he did not know the dates of the fire when the door was knocked off its hinges, and it was not his job to know. He did know they were two different occasions.

         Dustin Stark testified he was present during the riot. There was a fire during the riot. At the time, only one smoke detector in the hallway worked. That detector did not work when he left because an inmate had tampered with it. The sprinkler system was not functional when he began his employment at LCDC. The system was there, but it was not functional. Stark testified the riot started because he told inmates they could not have hot water for coffee after 10:30 p.m. He called the other deputies for help. They broke down the door and started a small fire which was put out quickly. There was not enough heat or smoke to sear lungs. The fire was caused by someone throwing a lit Bible through a bean-hole. It was not on fire for long because the Bible was still in “halfway decent shape.” In his opinion, it could not have been a health hazard, even to someone with lung problems. Fire extinguishers were not kept in the cell or the cell blocks for security reasons. Instead, they were kept outside the cell block so that inmates could not reach them. Stark did not recall any other fires in the jail.

         On cross-examination by Plaintiff, Stark testified the riot was when the door was beaten off the hinges in cell seven. This was also when the cell eight inmates were ...

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