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Martz v. Webb

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

April 30, 2019



          Susan O. Hickey Chief United States District Judge

         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants. (ECF No. 24). Plaintiff Hollis Dean Martz filed a Response.[1] (ECF No. 30). Defendants filed a Reply. (ECF No. 33). The Court finds this matter ripe for consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This is a civil rights action filed pro se by Plaintiff under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is currently incarcerated in the Arkansas Department of Correction (“ADC”) - Randall L. Williams Correctional Facility in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Plaintiff's claims arise from alleged constitutional violations that occurred while he was a pretrial detainee in the Sevier County Detention Center (“SCDC”).

         At approximately 9:00 p.m. on April 27, 2016, Sevier County deputies were dispatched to the home of Plaintiff's brother and sister in law in response to reports that Plaintiff was disorderly, intoxicated, and that he shot a gun. (ECF No. 26-2, p. 5). Defendants Barnes, Jackson, Webb, Dowdle, Gentry, and Simmons responded, but did not locate Plaintiff on the property.[2] Two hours later, Plaintiff's mother contacted the sheriff's office and informed officers that he was at her home. Defendants Barnes, Webb, Hundley, and Jackson arrived and found Plaintiff on his mother's front porch.

         The deputies then arrested Plaintiff, utilizing force to do so. However, the parties offer differing accounts of how the arrest occurred. Plaintiff alleges that he complied with the officers' orders, had his hands in plain view, and did not “fight” them when they arrested him. He claims that, despite his compliance, the officers slammed him to the ground, thereby injuring his face, neck, hands, spine, and ankle. (ECF No. 7, pp. 6-9). Defendant Webb submitted an affidavit stating that Plaintiff was ordered to get on the ground several times but did not comply, and when they attempted to place handcuffs on him, he pulled one of his hands back, causing Defendant Webb to fall to the ground. Defendants state that, under those circumstances, they used reasonable force to secure Plaintiff.[3] (ECF No. 26-6).

         On April 28, 2016, Plaintiff was booked into the SCDC for Criminal Mischief 1st Degree, Possession of Firearms by Certain Persons, Aggravated Assault with Deadly Weapon, and Terroristic Threatening. (ECF No. 26-2, pp. 2-3). That same day, Plaintiff was taken to the Emergency Room at the De Queen Medical Center to evaluate his claims of right ankle pain and neck injury.[4] Emergency room medical staff noted that Plaintiff “is unaware of how his ankle was injured but [states] that he was body slammed.” (ECF No. 26-8, p. 24). It was also noted that he complained of pain and there was mild swelling and bruising on his outer ankle. An x-ray showed no evidence of a fracture or dislocation of his ankle. Id. at p. 27.

         On May 6, 2016, Defendant Randall pepper sprayed SCDC inmate Jason Short, who is not a party to this case, for failure to obey orders.[5] (ECF No. 26-4, p. 13). Plaintiff claims that he was in the cell with Short at the time and was hit with some of the pepper spray, causing pain and irritation to his eyes, ears, mouth, and throat. Plaintiff also claims that the spray caused him to vomit and made it difficult to breathe. (ECF No. 7, pp. 6-9). Defendants state Plaintiff may have been housed with Short on May 6, 2016, but that Plaintiff was never directly sprayed with pepper spray. (ECF No. 26, p. 2).

         Plaintiff alleges that he then told Defendants Randall, Gentry, and Dowdle that he had been hit with pepper spray and asked for permission to shower, change his clothes, and receive medical attention. His requests were allegedly ignored because he “had access to a sink, towel, and soap all in the cell with him.” (ECF No. 33-1). At some point, Plaintiff also submitted the same request to Defendants Cravens, Wolcott, and Simmons, but they also allegedly took no action, and Plaintiff had to wait until the following day to shower. Plaintiff filed multiple grievances in May 2016, grieving that he was sprayed with pepper spray on May 6, 2016, had difficulty breathing, and was refused clean-up and medical attention. (ECF No. 26-3, pp. 4, 8, 12, 20).

         SCDC policy instructs its officers that detainees have certain rights, including the entitlement to necessary and timely medical care. SCDC detainees are permitted to submit medical complaints daily for review by qualified medical personnel (ECF No. 36, p. 3) and all jailers are required to fill out and/or submit any and all inmate medical reports. (ECF No. 26-5, p. 1). SCDC policy also provides that all detainees should be provided access to necessary health care through routine sick call procedures and that no county employee or official may interfere with a detainee's access to sick call. Id. at p. 5.

         On April 5, 2018, Plaintiff filed suit against the following Defendants: Deputy Matthew D. Webb, Deputy Michael Barnes, Deputy Thomas Jackson, Deputy Kris Hundley, Deputy Troy Cravens, Deputy Chad Dowdle, Investigator Robert Gentry, Deputy Wendell Randall, and Deputy Christopher Wollcot. (ECF No. 1). Plaintiff also named several ADC officers as defendants for alleged constitutional violations that occurred at the North Central Unit of the ADC, located in Calico Rock, Arkansas, which is within the Eastern District of Arkansas, Northern Division. On April 5, 2018, the Court granted Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis and transferred his claims against the ADC defendants to the Eastern District of Arkansas for adjudication. (ECF No. 3).

         On April 9, 2018, the Court ordered Plaintiff to file an Amended Complaint to clarify his claims against each of the Sevier County Defendants. (ECF No. 6). On April 18, 2018, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 7). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Webb, Barnes, Jackson, and Hundley used excessive force against him when he was arrested on April 28, 2016, and that they subsequently denied him medical care.[6] Plaintiff also alleges that on May 6, 2016, Defendants Randall, Gentry, Cravens, Dowdle, Wolcott, and Simmons used excessive force against him when he was hit with pepper spray, and that they denied him medical care. Plaintiff sues Defendants in both their official and individual capacities. He seeks compensatory and punitive damages, asks that his “criminal 67-CR-16-53-2” be removed and nolle prossed, and further requests appropriate medical care. Id. at p. 16.

         On January 25, 2019, Defendants filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing: (1) there is no proof of any personal involvement by Defendants; (2) Plaintiff was not subjected to excessive force; (3) Defendants were not deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's medical needs; (4) Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity; and (5) there is no basis for official capacity liability.[7] (ECF Nos. 24, 25).


         Summary judgment is appropriate if, after viewing the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, 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); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). “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.” Nat'l Bank of Commerce v. Dow Chem. 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.” Nat'l 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).


         As noted above, Defendants argue they are entitled to qualified immunity. When a defendant asserts qualified immunity at the summary judgment stage, the plaintiff must produce evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue of fact regarding whether the defendant violated clearly established law. Johnson v. Fankell, 520 U.S. 911, 915 (1997). Qualified immunity “is an immunity from suit rather than merely a defense to liability.” Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985) (emphasis in original). Determining whether a defendant is entitled to qualified immunity requires a two-step inquiry. Jones v. McNeese, 675 F.3d 1158, 1161 (8th Cir. 2012). First, the Court must determine whether the facts demonstrate a deprivation of a constitutional right. Id. (citing Parrish v. Ball, 594 F.3d 993, 1001 (8th Cir. 2010)). If so, the Court must decide whether the implicated right was clearly established at the time of the deprivation. Id.

         To determine if Plaintiff's right was clearly established at the time of the alleged deprivation, the Court “must . . . examine the information possessed by the governmental official accused of wrongdoing in order to determine whether, given the facts known to the official at the time, a reasonable government official would have known that his actions violated the law.” Langford v. Norris, 614 F.3d 445, 461 (8th Cir. 2010). “This is not to say that an official action is protected by qualified immunity unless the very action in question has previously been held unlawful; but it is to say that in the light of preexisting law the unlawfulness must be apparent.” Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987). In other words, the Court must ask whether the law at the time of the events in question gave the officers “fair warning” that their conduct was unconstitutional. Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 741 (2002).

         Because the issue of qualified immunity turns in part on whether the facts indicate that a constitutional deprivation has occurred, the Court will address Defendants' qualified immunity claims ...

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