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Flemons v. Devane

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

July 23, 2018




         Plaintiff, Aaron Flemons, proceeds in this matter pro se and in forma pauperis pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Currently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 48).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint on February 24, 2016. (ECF No. 1). He filed his Amended Complaint on March 28, 2016. (ECF No. 6). Plaintiff alleges excessive force was utilized against him on two occasions during his incarceration in the Sebastian County Detention Center (“SCDC”). (Id. at 6-18). Plaintiff alleges the first incident occurred on February 12, 2014, while he was being escorted to his barracks by Defendants Steele, Woods, and Hobbs. (Id. at 11-13). Plaintiff alleges Defendant Steele pushed him through the barracks gate, forced him to the ground, and instructed Defendant Woods to pepper-spray him. Plaintiff alleges he was not resisting during the incident. (Id. at 11-12). Plaintiff alleges Defendant Hobbs was present and failed to protect him from the other deputies. (Id. at 13). Plaintiff alleges Defendants Devane, Taulbee, and Jackson failed to properly train their deputies in the use of force. He further alleges they adopted a custom or practice of improperly training deputies, inadequately supervising deputies, failing to investigate excessive force claims, and maintaining a “Code of Silence” regarding the misuse of force. (Id. at 14-15).

         Plaintiff alleges the second incident occurred on July 1, 2015, when he was scheduled for a court appearance. (Id. at 15). Plaintiff alleges he was called to go to court earlier than his paperwork indicated. He alleges he asked Defendant Frazier to check the times, and Frazier became upset with him. While Plaintiff was gathering his paperwork for court, Defendant Frazier stood in the cell doorway and aimed the infrared laser sight of the taser at his stomach and chest. (Id. at 15). When he reached the barracks gate, Defendant Frazier pushed him, causing him to drop his paperwork, pointed the taser at him again, and then charged at him swinging fists at his head. (Id. at 15-16). Plaintiff alleges a Deputy John Doe was present and instructed to place him in handcuffs, and failed to protect him from the other deputies. (Id. at 16-17). Plaintiff alleges Defendant Partain then tased him after he had been handcuffed. (Id. at 17-18). Plaintiff alleges several other John Doe Deputies were present and failed to protect him. (Id. at 18). Plaintiff alleges he submitted to the restraints and did not resist. (Id. at 16). The John Does were later identified as Defendants Bunn, Fuller, Bates, Adams, Curry, Lindberg, and Dumas. (ECF No. 19, 20).

         Plaintiff alleges Jane Doe medical personnel was called after the tasing. Plaintiff alleges this Defendant denied him any medical care after the incident. (ECF No. 6 at 18-19). Jane Doe was later identified as S. Overstreet, LPN. (ECF Nos. 19, 20). Plaintiff alleges Defendants Miller, Taulbee, and Jackson failed to supervise and investigate force incidents. (ECF No. 6 at 19).

         Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment on December 15, 2017. (ECF No. 48). On December 18, 2017, the Court entered an Order (ECF No. 51) directing Plaintiff to file his Response to the Motion for Summary Judgment, which he did on February 9, 2018. (ECF No. 56). A Report and Recommendation was filed on December 18, 2017 recommending that Defendants Steele, Hobbs, Woods, L.P.N. Overstreet, Bunn, Fuller, and Lindberg be dismissed without prejudice from the case because the Plaintiff was unable to effect service of the Complaint upon them. (ECF No. 52). The Report was adopted on January 8, 2018.[1] (ECF No. 53).


         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).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Defendants argue summary judgment should be granted in their favor because: (1) Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity for Plaintiff's individual capacity excessive force claims because the videos and other exhibits contradict Plaintiff's allegations of excessive force; (2) due to the extensive training and supervision procedures of SCDC, Defendants Devane, Miller, Taulbee, and Jackson were not aware of any risk to detainees, and alternatively, Plaintiff's claims against these Defendants are based on vicarious liability; and, (3) Plaintiff alleged no official capacity claims. (ECF No. 49).

         Plaintiff argues the videos do not show the entirety of the incidents (ECF No. 57 at 19-21), but the footage is still sufficient to support his claim and survive summary judgment. (Id. at 3). For both incidents, Plaintiff alleges the guards attempted to provoke him (Id. at 5-6), and his actions were misinterpreted as resistance (Id. at 4-8).

         “Whenever prison officials stand accused of using excessive physical force in violation of the Eighth Amendment, the ‘core judicial inquiry' is whether the force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.” Jones v. Shields, 207 F.3d 491, 495 (8th Cir. 2000) (citing Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 5 (1992)). “Because the use of force is sometimes required in prison settings, guards are liable only if they are completely unjustified in using force, i.e., they are using it maliciously and sadistically.” Irving v. Dormire, 519 F.3d 441, 446 (8th Cir. 2008). Relevant factors to be considered for this inquiry include “the need for application of force, the relationship between that need and the amount of force used, the threat ...

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