United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Columbia Division
WILLIAM L. JENKINS
TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION, et al.
REPORT AND RECOMENDATION
JULIET GRIFFIN, Magistrate Judge.
TO: Honorable WILLIAM J. HAYNES, Senior District Judge
By Order entered December 12, 2014 (Docket Entry No. 81), this action was referred to the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(A) and (B) and Rule 72 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to hear and determine any pretrial issues and motions, to conduct any necessary conferences and hearings, and to submit a report and recommendation for disposition of any motion filed under Rules 12, 15, 56, and 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Presently pending is the Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Docket Entry No. 88), to which the Plaintiff has not filed a response. For the reasons set out below, the Court recommends that the motion be granted and this action be dismissed.
The Plaintiff is an inmate in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Correction ("TDOC") who is currently confined at the Morgan County Correctional Complex in Wartburg, Tennessee. On April 16, 2014, he filed this action pro se and in forma pauperis against eighteen defendants seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his constitutional rights alleged to have occurred during his confinement at the South Central Correctional Facility ("SCCF") in Clifton, Tennessee in 2013.
The Plaintiff was stabbed with a weapon during a fight with several other inmates that occurred on September 1, 2013. He suffered serious injuries to his face, chest, and right arm in the attack and asserts that the attack has also caused him to suffer from mental health problems. He contends that the fight was the culmination of gang-related violence at the SCCF that had been escalating during the preceding two months. The Plaintiff alleges that several of the Defendants were aware of, but recklessly disregarded, the serious and imminent risk of harm to the Plaintiff posed by other inmates because of the gang violence at the SCCF and that this disregard resulted in the attack upon him.
Specifically, the Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant SCCF officials were aware of rumors of a possible gang riot at the SCCF but failed to take steps to avert such a riot and, instead, met with and relied upon the intervention of prison inmates who were known to be involved in gang activity in order to control inmate behavior. The Plaintiff avers that the disclosure of information about a possible gang riot to the Plaintiff and other inmates was reckless and placed the Plaintiff and those inmates at a greater risk of danger to their personal safety. In addition, the Plaintiff alleges that disclosure of the rumor of an impending gang riot increased the level of tension between the two gangs and "alerted and alarmed both gangs into a heightened state of panic and fear of being attacked by opposing gangs." See Complaint (Docket Entry No. 1), at ¶ 11. The Plaintiff asserts that this fear caused some inmates to arm themselves for protection and led some inmates to "feel the need to attack before being attacked which is essentially what happened." Id. at ¶ 12.
Upon the Court's initial review of the Plaintiff's complaint in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court concluded that the Plaintiff stated colorable constitutional claims under the Eighth Amendment against Defendants Derrick Schofield, CCA, Gregory Keeton, Hank Inman, Robin Todd, Amber Bass, Daniel Johnson, Christopher McClain, and Arvil Chapman based upon his allegations that they acted with deliberate indifference to a serious risk of harm to his personal safety. See Memorandum and Order entered May 13, 2014 (Docket Entry Nos. 3 and 4). The Court also concluded that the Plaintiff stated a viable Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Tommy Mize in his individual capacity based upon allegations that Mize acted with deliberate indifference to the Plaintiff's serious medical needs in the aftermath of the attack, as well as a colorable First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendants Leigh Staggs and Richard Burke based on allegations that they retaliated against the Plaintiff for filing a grievance by interfering with the grievance process at the SCCF. However, the Court dismissed the Plaintiff's claims against the TDOC, Jessica McElroy, Wendy Ashe, Clarence Potts, and the SCCF Medical Department for failure to state a claim. See Docket Entry No. 4, at 2-3.
After a period of pre-trial activity occurred, the Court granted Defendant Schofield's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and dismissed Schofield from the action with prejudice. See Docket Entry No. 68. The Court also granted the motion dismiss filed by Defendants Johnson and Mize and dismissed them from the action without prejudice for failure to be properly served with process. See Docket Entry No. 69.
II. MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
The remaining Defendants move for summary judgment on the ground that there are no genuine issues of material fact and they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In support of their motion, the Defendants rely upon their Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (Docket Entry No. 90), the Declaration of Amber Bass (Docket Entry No. 91), the Declaration of Richard Burke (Docket Entry No. 92), the Declaration of Arvil Chapman (Docket Entry No. 93), the Declaration of Hank Inman (Docket Entry No. 94), the Declaration of Gregory Keeton (Docket Entry No. 95), the Declaration of Christopher McClain (Docket Entry No. 96), the Declaration of Jessica McElroy (Docket Entry No. 97), the Declaration of Leigh Staggs (Docket Entry No. 98), and the Declaration of Robin Todd (Docket Entry No. 99).
The Defendants first raise the technical argument that the Plaintiff has not met the exhaustion requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) ("PLRA") for his Eighth Amendment claim because he failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies at the SCCF for this claim. With respect to the Plaintiff's retaliation claim, Defendants Staggs and Burke assert that there is no evidence showing that they took any actions against the Plaintiff that would support a retaliation claim.
With respect to the merits of the Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim, the Defendants contend that there are no facts supporting a claim that any of the Defendants acted with deliberate indifference toward a serious risk to the Plaintiff's personal safety and that there is likewise no evidence showing that an official policy at ths SCCF was the cause of the inmate attack that injured the Plaintiff. The Defendants acknowledge that a series of fights involving inmates who were members of gangs occurred at the SCCF on September 1, 2013, and that the Plaintiff was injured in one of these fights. However, the Defendants contend that the fights began suddenly and without warning and that prison officials immediately took safety measures to bring the incidents under control. The Defendants assert that they had not received information prior to the fight that placed any of them on notice that the Plaintiff was at a risk of harm, that none of the inmates involved in the fights, including the Plaintiff, had requested protective custody or informed any of the Defendants of a planned or potential gang fight prior to the incident, and that Plaintiff never expressed to any of the Defendants a personal fear for his safety. The Defendants further assert that the Plaintiff was an active participant in the fight in which he was involved, caused life-threatening wounds to another inmate, and was found guilty in a prison disciplinary proceeding of assaulting another ...