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Ward v. Rice

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, El Dorado Division

March 12, 2018




         This is a civil rights action filed pro se by Plaintiff, Spencer L. Ward, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 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. (ECF No. 17). Currently before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants. (ECF No. 23). Plaintiff has filed a response. (ECF No. 30). The Court finds this matter ripe for consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is currently incarcerated in the Bi-State Detention Center in Texarkana, Texas. He filed his original Complaint on January 19, 2017, against Defendants Richard Mitcham, [1] Nurse Rice, Sergeant Kevin Smith and Officer Chris Smith[2] alleging he was retaliated against for submitting grievances, denied his religious freedom, denied equal protected, subjected to numerous unlawful conditions of confinement, and was the victim of excessive force while he was incarcerated at the Union County Detention Center (“UCDC”) in El Dorado, Arkansas. (ECF No. 1). In response to this Court's order, on February 8, 2017, Plaintiff filed an Addendum to his Complaint to clarify the claims against each Defendant. (ECF No. 7). On March 1, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Supplement to his Complaint alleging an additional claim of retaliation by Defendant Rice and additional claims against Defendant Mitcham relating to Plaintiff's religious freedom and equal protection. (ECF No. 12). He is suing Defendants in both their official and individual capacities and seeks monetary damages.[3] (ECF No. 1).

         In the Addendum to his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges on or about August 23, 2016, Defendant Rice:

…was the nurse, who was telling me I couldn't get a medical visit from doctor without being charged. Even under ADC and Federal custody. She was also the nurse telling officer's I couldn't receive a food tray with no-meat diet due to the encounter she had with me. She sent officers to get me several times due to the encounter she had with me. …to discuss this matter about what type of “muslim are you” that you can't eat meat…Ms. Rice still was telling Officers not to come and answer grievances and policys while I was housed in the nurse's station…when I ringed the button to ask Officer O. Reed when [yard call and shower] are giving, Ms. Rice …told this man, “that we don't talk to him We don't even look at him he's not our friend he's just an inmate…

(ECF No. 7, p. 3). Plaintiff also claims Defendant Rice had another MCDC officer “place us, A-pod on lockdown” on February 3, 2017, after Plaintiff refused to allow Defendant Rice to take his temperature. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Rice then told the other inmates that “it was Spencer Ward's fault that the Pod was going on lock-down.” (ECF No. 12, p. 2). Plaintiff claims as a result of the actions of Defendant Rice, he was placed in danger and other inmates threatened him physically. Id.

         As for Defendant Mitcham, Plaintiff alleges he intimated and used “scare tactics” against him, when Plaintiff attempted to address various issues at the UCDC such as “freedom of religion, the diet I was requesting, Law Library not being properly working. No yard being giving. Not being able to get proper cleaning supplies for the cells and pods.” (ECF No. 7, p. 3). He also alleges Defendant Mitcham used “deorgatory language when addressing my civil rights”. Id. at 3. In addition, Plaintiff alleges Defendant Mitcham retaliated against him for filing a grievance involving his concern that the shower facilities were too close in proximity to where inmates watched television. Specifically Plaintiff claims:

On October 1, 2016 I filed a complaint about showers being in view of T.V. violating P.R.E.A. standards. The union county Jail Policies on P.R.E.A. states that anyone who have concerns, inquires about or becomes a victim or witness sexual predatory behavior, All will remain confidentiality to protect all parties, Captain Mitcheum came in A-pod 10-3-16 around 10:15 am….Captain Mitcheum told the entire A-pod that it was Spencer Ward fault that he was back here in A-pod addressing tis matter about the showers and T.V….that when the Captain threating to take the T.V. I had threats on my life, As soon as the Captain shut A-pod door…

(ECF No. 30, p. 3). Plaintiff also claims Defendant Mitcham denied him use of his prayer rug and as a Muslim “this is essential to my faith.” (ECF No. 12, p. 3). He also claims Defendant Mitcham “put my Quran somewhere and waited days later just to give me my Quran…” Id. Plaintiff asserts this conduct violated his constitutional right to freedom of religion and discriminated against him based on his religion.

         Plaintiff states Defendant K. Smith “is a minister of some sort” who would voice his dislike for Muslims and Islam. (ECF No. 7, p. 4). Plaintiff alleges he would speak with Defendant K. Smith about his concerns relating to “hygiene”:

and how the pods tray for food on top were uncovered exposed to open air. My Tray for food being on top with no lid, was the issue's I informed Mr. Smith about. He would just say ‘Mr.Ward you want the tray or not'. I would declain the tray and asked to speak with the Lt. Sometimes nobody came and I went without food……he took it upon himself while I was housed in the nurse's station to put me in cell located in booking for no reason other than saying I couldn't push the intercom button located in my cell while all this played out Mr. Smith denied me my yard-call, my law library, no phone asscess and the kiosk machine which was the only way I could document this things… Id.

         Finally, Plaintiff alleges Officer C. Smith used excessive force against him on August 22, 2016, when he:

twisted my arm behind my back with the force of dislocated my shoulder, He put the handcuffs on me so tight the marks around my wrist could be seen 5 five hours later. Now remember this is all just over my food tray being uncovered. The hand cuffs were on me less than 6 six minutes and this was pain like I never felt before. This Officer did this while other Officer was present and no one step in to correct him on his demeanor.

(ECF No. 7, p. 4).

         Defendants argue they are entitled to summary judgment because: 1) Plaintiff has not alleged a custom or policy of Union County which resulted in a violation of his constitutional rights; 2) Plaintiff was not engaged in a protected activity and therefore his claim for retaliation fails as a matter of law; 3) Plaintiff was not denied his right to exercise his religious freedom; 4) Plaintiff was not subjected to any unlawful conditions of confinement; and 5) the force used by Defendant Smith was reasonable.


         Summary judgment is appropriate if, after viewing the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986), the record "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "Once a party moving for summary judgment has made a sufficient showing, the burden rests with the non-moving party to set forth specific facts, by affidavit or other evidence, showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists.” National Bank of Commerce v. Dow Chemical Co., 165 F.3d 602, 607 (8th Cir. 1999).

         The non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. "They must show there is sufficient evidence to support a jury verdict in their favor." National Bank, 165 F.3d at 607 (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986)). "A case founded on speculation or suspicion is insufficient to survive a motion for summary judgment." Id. (citing, Metge v. Baehler, 762 F.2d 621, 625 (8th Cir. 1985)). “When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).


         A. Official Capacity Claims

         Section 1983 provides a federal cause of action for the deprivation, under color of state law, of a citizen's "rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws" of the United States. In order to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiff must allege that a defendant acted under color of state law and they violated a right secured by the Constitution. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42 (1988); Dunham v. Wadley, 195 F.3d 1007, 1009 (8th Cir.1999).

         Under section 1983, a defendant may be sued in either his individual capacity, or in his official capacity, or claims may be stated against a defendant in both his individual and his official capacities. Gorman v. Bartch, 152 F.3d 907, 914 (8th Cir. 1998). With respect to the official capacity claims, they are “functionally equivalent to a suit against the employing governmental entity.” Veatch v. Bartels Lutheran Home, 627 F.3d 1254, 1257 (8th Cir. 2010). In other words, Plaintiff's official capacity claims against Defendants are treated as claims against Union County. See Murray v. Lene, 595 F.3d 868, 873 (8th Cir. 2010).

         “[I]t is well established that a municipality [or county] cannot be held liable on a respondeat superior theory, that is, solely because it employs a tortfeasor.” Atkinson v. City of Mountain View, Mo., 709 F.3d 1201, 1214 (8th Cir. 2013). To establish Union County's liability under section 1983, “plaintiff must show that a constitutional violation was committed pursuant to an official custom, policy, or practice of the governmental entity.” Moyle v. Anderson, 571 F.3d 814, 817 (8th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). To establish the existence of an unconstitutional policy, the Plaintiff must point to “a deliberate choice of a guiding principle or procedure made by the municipal official who has final authority regarding such matters.” Mettler v. Whiteledge, 165 F.3d 1197, 1204 (8th Cir. 1999).

         Giving Plaintiff's pleadings the most liberal reading, there are two possible policies of Union County he alleges resulted in a violation of his constitutional rights. The first is his allegation relating to his discussion with Defendant Rice “the nurse, who was telling me I couldn't get a medical visit from doctor without being charged. Even under ADC and Federal custody.” (ECF No. 7, p. 3). The law on this issue is clear. Union County's policy requiring inmates to pay for their own medications or treatment, if they can afford to do so, is not a federal constitutional violation. Roberson v. Bradshaw,198 F.3d 645, 647 (8th Cir. 1999). There is no summary judgment evidence Plaintiff was denied medications or treatment ...

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