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Vega-Sanchez v. McElroy

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

September 6, 2017




         Currently before the Court is the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") (Doc. 59) of the Honorable Erin L. Wiedemann, United States Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Arkansas, submitted in this case on July 21, 2017, regarding a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 45) filed by Defendant Tyranny Ray, who is a licensed practical nurse employed by Southern Health Partners, an entity that contracts with the Benton County Detention Center ("BCDC") to serve the medical needs of its inmates; and a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 48) filed by Defendants Sergeant McElroy, Deputy Kelley, Corporal Scott, and Captain Jeremy Guyll. The Magistrate Judge recommends granting Defendant Ray's Motion. She also recommends granting the remaining Defendants' Motion with respect to claims against Defendant Guyll and all official-capacity claims against Defendants' employer, Benton County, Arkansas, but denying the Motion as to the individual claims against Defendants McElroy, Kelley, and Scott. None of the Defendants filed objections to the R&R, but on August 3, 2017, Plaintiff Francisco Vega-Sanchez filed objections (Doc. 60).[1]

         The Court has conducted a de novo review as to all specified proposed findings and recommendations to which Mr. Vega-Sanchez has raised objections. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). As is explained in further detail below, the objections are OVERRULED, and the R&R is APPROVED AND ADOPTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The R&R recites the facts of the case in such detail that there is no need to restate them all here. Suffice it to say that Mr. Vega-Sanchez makes two separate claims regarding the alleged violation of his constitutional rights while he was an inmate at the BCDC. First, he maintains that he was subjected to an excessive use of force by certain BCDC officials while he was escorted from one pod to another, immediately following an altercation with an inmate on December 31, 2015. The Magistrate Judge recommends denying summary judgment to Defendants McElroy, Kelley, and Scott, with regard to the excessive-force claims. These Defendants did not object to this recommendation, and these claims will be set for trial by separate order.

         The second claim is that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated as a result of the care he received at the BCDC after he returned from the hospital following the December 31 incident. He was treated at the hospital for a broken rib and a cut over his left eye. When he returned to jail, officials placed him in disciplinary segregation for a period of 30 days, as punishment for his involvement in the fight with the other inmate. It is the BCDC's policy to limit the number of hours that an inmate in disciplinary segregation may have a sleeping mat. The mat is available eight hours a day, but only during the evening hours, and is otherwise removed from the inmate's cell.

         Mr. Vega-Sanchez explains that he submitted multiple requests to be allowed to keep his mat all day, every day, for the 30 days he was in disciplinary segregation, as he believed that he needed to lie on his mat during the day to speed the healing of his broken rib. He accuses Captain Guyll of wrongly referring his grievances to Nurse Ray, instead of dealing with the grievances himself. He accuses Nurse Ray of being deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs in denying his requests for an all-day mat. In his deposition, Mr. Vega-Sanchez testified that he continues to experience pain in his ribcage area when he works out, moves forcefully, or lies on his side, and he blames Nurse Ray for these lasting injuries.

         The Magistrate Judge in the R&R recommended granting summary judgment to Nurse Ray, finding that nothing in the summary judgment record supported Mr. Vega-Sanchez's claim that he had a serious medical need that warranted having a mat during the daytime hours. According to the Magistrate Judge, it was clear that Nurse Ray's decision with regard to the all-day mat request did not deviate from the applicable standard of care or indicate deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. Mr. Vega-Sanchez disagrees with the Magistrate Judge, and in his objections to the R&R argues that Nurse Ray should stand trial for her decision to deny him the all-day mat while he was in disciplinary segregation. As for Mr. Vega-Sanchez's claims against Captain Guyll, it appears that he agrees Captain Guyll was not personally involved with any of the events that occurred on December 31 that comprise the excessive force claim. Instead, Mr. Vega-Sanchez alleges that Captain Guyll should remain in the lawsuit because he is "the administrative taskmaster, supervisor and officer responsible for implementation of the policies and customs of the jail." (Doc. 60, p. 6). Finally, Mr. Vega-Sanchez objects to the dismissal of the official-capacity claims against Benton County, arguing that further discovery is needed in order to determine whether the officers' use of excessive force was pursuant to a County custom or policy. All of these objections to the R&R will be addressed below.


         The standard of review for summary judgment is well established. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." The Court must review the facts in the light most favorable to the opposing party and give that party the benefit of any inferences that logically can be drawn from those facts. Canada v. Union Bee. Co., 135 F.3d 1211, 1212-13 (8th Cir. 1997). The moving party bears the burden of proving the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Matsushita Bee. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986); Natl Bank of Commerce of El Dorado, Ark. v. Dow Chem. Co., 165 F.3d 602 (8th Cir. 1999). Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must "come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)).

         In order for there to be a genuine issue of material fact, the non-moving party must produce evidence "such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Allison v. Flexway Trucking, Inc., 28 F.3d 64, 66 (8thCir. 1994) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). "The nonmoving party must do more than rely on allegations or denials in the pleadings, and the court should grant summary judgment if any essential element of the prima facie case is not supported by specific facts sufficient to raise a genuine issue for trial." Registerv. Honeywell Fed. Mfg. & Techs., LLC, 397 F.3d 1130, 1136 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)).


         A. Dismissal of Nurse Ray

         Mr. Vega-Sanchez argues in his objections that the Magistrate Judge misunderstood his claim against Nurse Ray. To the contrary, it appears to the Court that the relevant facts set forth in the R&R exactly match those that Mr. Vega-Sanchez lists in his objections, namely that: (1) he suffered a broken rib, and (2) Nurse Ray decided that his medical condition did not warrant deviating from the routine housing ...

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