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Grindstaff v. Mathes

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville

November 2, 2016

ANTHONY LEE GRINDSTAFF, # 394465, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRIS MATHES, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Thomas W. Phillips SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This pro se prisoner's civil rights action for injunctive relief and damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was brought by Anthony Lee Grindstaff (“Plaintiff”), who is now confined in the Hardeman County Correctional Facility in Whiteville, Tennessee. Defendants are Chris Mathes, former Sheriff of Carter County, Tennessee; Tom Smith, Captain and former Carter County Jail Administrator; Gene Moreland, a timekeeper; Dwight Lacey, a timekeeper; and Michael Cox, a former correctional officer. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants failed to protect him from an assault by another inmate, which occurred on August 3, 2013, while Plaintiff was housed in protective custody at the Carter County Detention Center (“CCDC”) in Elizabethton, Tennessee.

         Two motions are currently pending. Plaintiff has moved for summary judgment, and Defendants Tom Smith, Dwight Lacey, and Gene Moreland (“Defendants”)[1] have responded in opposition [Docs. 36, 44]. Likewise, Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment, which is supported by a memorandum brief and declarations submitted by each of these three Defendants [Docs. 42, 42-1, 42-2, 42-3, and 43]. Plaintiff opposes the motion [Doc. 45].

         For the reasons which follow, the Court finds that Plaintiff's summary judgment motion should be DENIED and that Defendants' motion should be GRANTED.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         These are the facts as Plaintiff portrays them in his verified complaint [Doc. 1].

         Plaintiff was placed in protective custody in the CCDC, due to his status as an informant for the drug task force. On August 3, 2013, he was beaten by Houston Hartley (“Hartley”), an inmate in disciplinary segregation, after Defendant Correctional Officer Michael Cox opened Plaintiff's cell door and allowed the assailant to enter Plaintiff's cell. As a result, Plaintiff sustained personal injuries which still affect him. Plaintiff has been beaten several times in the past in the CCDC and has had to be transferred from the CCDC to other facilities for safety reasons. Defendants Gene Moreland and Dwight Lacey are CCDC Time Keepers, who control unit to unit transfers at the facility, as well as transfers from the CCDC to other facilities. Defendants Moreland and Lacey denied Plaintiff's requests to be moved to another unit or to be transferred to another facility, though he advised them that he was in danger in the protective custody unit and also in the jail. Defendant Tom Smith denied Plaintiff's grievances about being unsafe in the jail and his requests to be transferred to another unit or facility.

         Defendant Chris Mathes has had Plaintiff transferred to other facilities in the past but has ignored Plaintiff's requests and grievances concerning Plaintiff's safety concerns. Defendant Mathes also allowed Defendant Cox to work on the unit wherein Plaintiff is housed in the months following Plaintiff's assault, even though Defendant Cox was written up for allowing Plaintiff to be assaulted. Plaintiff has been assaulted twice after making all those requests for a transfer to another unit or facility. The Court views these facts in favor of Plaintiff.

         Defendants' declarations contain facts which fill in the gaps in Plaintiff's factual scenario [Doc. 42-1, Declaration of Thomas Smith; Doc. 42-2, Declaration of Gene Moreland; Doc. 42-3, Declaration of Dwight Lacey]. On August 3, 2013, Plaintiff requested shampoo from Hartley, who was housed in a nearby cell. Based on Plaintiff's request, Defendant Cox opened Hartley's cell door and obtained the shampoo from Hartley. Defendant Cox closed Hartley's cell door, but did not make sure that the cell door was secured. Defendant Cox then opened Plaintiff's cell door to provide him with the shampoo. At that point, Hartley pushed out of his cell, burst into Plaintiff's cell, and attacked Plaintiff. Defendant Cox pulled Harley off Grindstaff, placed Hartley in handcuffs, and removed Harley from Plaintiff's cell. Defendant Cox made arrangements for Plaintiff to be provided medical care.

         Defendants did not authorize the actions of Defendant Cox in transferring the shampoo from Hartley to Plaintiff and were unaware of Defendant Cox's actions until after he took those actions. Defendant Cox's conduct violated a CCDC policy which prohibits the transfer of such items between inmates. The event was investigated, and Hartley was disciplined as a result of his attack on Plaintiff. Defendant Cox was also disciplined through written letters of counseling for his violation of CCDC procedural mandates. Plaintiff was advised, in response to a grievance he filed complaining about the attack, of the disciplinary actions taken against Hartley and Defendant Cox and further advised that no such incident should recur.

         Plaintiff was released on bond on September 4, 2013, but was rearrested on additional charges and incarcerated in the CCDC on September 16, 2013. On September 19, 2013, Plaintiff filed a grievance, complaining that he was not safe in the CCDC, and requesting a transfer to another facility. Plaintiff's request was denied; he was notified that he would be placed in protective custody; and he was subjected to no further attacks by other inmates. Plaintiff filed numerous grievances during his second incarceration in the CCDC.

         During the time at issue in this suit, Defendant Tom Smith was the CCDC Jail Administrator and he, in consultation with other CCDC officials, including Defendant Mathis, would have made the decision as to whether to transfer Plaintiff. Based on his assessment of the safety issues surrounding Plaintiff's incarceration in the CCDC, he did not believe a transfer to be necessary and believed that Plaintiff could be protected adequately through the use of protective custody.

         Defendants Gene Moreland and Dwight Lacey were CCDC time keepers and neither was a decision maker as to whether to transfer Plaintiff.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS

         Summary judgment will be granted to the movant, as long as what is before the Court by way of cited materials in the record, including documents, affidavits or declarations, admissions, interrogatory answers or other materials, demonstrate that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), (c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts contained in the record and all inferences that can be drawn from those facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Nat'l Satellite Sports, Inc. v. Eliadis, Inc., 253 F.3d 900, 907 (6th Cir. 2001). The Court cannot weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, or determine the truth of any matter in dispute. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving party does not have to offer evidence disproving the nonmoving party's claim but may carry its burden by showing an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Id. at 325.

         To refute such a showing, the non-moving party must present some significant, probative evidence indicating the necessity of a trial for resolving a material factual dispute. Id. at 322. A mere scintilla of evidence is not enough. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; McClain v. Ontario, Ltd., 244 F.3d 797, 800 (6th Cir. 2000). A plaintiff facing the prospect of summary adjudication cannot “sit back and simply poke holes in the moving party's summary judgment motion, ” Fitzpatrick v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, 916 F.2d 1254, 1256 (7th Cir. 1990); cannot rest on his pleadings or allegations; but instead, must present material evidence in support of those allegations. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324. Bare contentions will not suffice. Mitchell v. Toledo Hosp., 964 F.2d 577, 581-82 (6th Cir. 1992).

         Summary judgment is appropriate against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. To put it differently, if a court concludes that a fair-minded jury could not return a verdict in favor of a ...


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