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Raudenbush v. Taylor

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

August 14, 2017

GEORGE RAUDENBUSH, Plaintiff,
v.
SHARON TAYLOR, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          J. RONNIE GREER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on defendants' Sharon Taylor, Jesse Gregg, Harold Angel, Kevin Hampton, Randy Lee, Misty Hardin Gregg, and Jeffrey Chance (“defendants”) motion for summary judgment. [Doc. 79]. The plaintiff filed a response, [Doc. 86], opposing the motion. The matter is ripe for review.

         I. FACTS

         The plaintiff was sentenced to serve four years in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Corrections (“TDOC”) for convictions of felony evading arrest and reckless endangerment. [Doc. 87 ¶ 1]. The plaintiff began serving his sentence at the South Central Correctional Facility and was later transferred to the Northeast Correctional Complex (“NECX”) where the incident giving rise to this suit occurred. [Id. ¶ 2]. At all relevant times, the plaintiff was classified by TDOC as a minimum security inmate. [Id. ¶ 3]. The plaintiff was housed in the NECX Annex (“Annex”) prior to September 20, 2013. [Amended Complaint ¶ 16]. On September 20, 2013, the plaintiff was involved in an interaction or altercation with another inmate while standing in line in the Annex dining facility. [Id. ¶ 4].

         According to the defendants, defendant Misty Hardin Gregg (“Hardin Gregg”) offered the plaintiff and the other inmate the opportunity to complete a work sanction in lieu of a disciplinary report. [Hardin Gregg Depo. at 18-19]. Defendant Hardin Gregg testified that the plaintiff refused the work sanction and, upon his refusal, she called her supervisor, Captain Henson, who made the decision to send the plaintiff to the compound from the Annex pursuant to TDOC policy. [Id. at 19]. Defendant Hardin Gregg completed the disciplinary report. [Id.]. The plaintiff testified in his deposition that he did not refuse the work sanction but readily accepted it. [Raudenbush Depo at 110]. The plaintiff further testified that his acceptance of the work sanction angered defendant Hardin Gregg and she told him he would be going to the compound. [Id. at 111].

         While the plaintiff argues in his response to the motion that defendant Hardin Gregg “ordered” and made the decision for him to be sent to the compound, the plaintiff testified in his deposition that prior to defendant Hardin Gregg completing the disciplinary report that she made two or three phone calls in his presence which he believed were to her supervisors. [Id. at 112]. The plaintiff further testified that “nobody leaves the annex without [the unit manager's] permission” according to his understanding of TDOC policy. [Id. at 114, 115]. According to the plaintiff, defendant Kevin Hampton was the unit manager and the plaintiff went to him and asked him to not send the plaintiff to the compound but defendant Hampton failed to intervene. [Id.]. The plaintiff admitted that he did not know if defendant Hampton was responsible for sending him to the compound. [Id. at 116].

         While housed in the compound, the plaintiff's cellmate was inmate Christian. [Doc. 87 ¶ 9]. On September 24, 2013, the defendant sent a letter to the warden, defendant Sharon Taylor, stating that he faced a potential threat from his cellmate, inmate Christian. [Id. ¶ 11]. The plaintiff testified he sent this letter in a sealed envelope addressed to Warden Taylor through the in-house mail system. [Raudenbush Depo. at 121]. The plaintiff testified he sent one prior letter to Warden Taylor in the same manner but had no other evidence of such a letter. [Id.]. No other inmate was listed as a threat to the plaintiff in the September 24, 2013 letter to the warden. [Doc. 87 at ¶11]. The letter states that inmate Christian had “robbed” him by stealing some of his belongings in the cell and had shown him a knife “to scare” him but that he “was not scared because my faith is in Christ.” [Id.]. The plaintiff wanted to be moved to a different unit or pod because he believed the unit he was placed in was a gang unit for violent inmates. [Id.]. The same day the letter was written, defendant Taylor wrote at the top of the letter, “Mr. McCracken, Have a member of your team talk to this man-move him if necessary. S. Taylor.” [Id.].

         In the early morning hours of the following day, September 25, 2013, the plaintiff was attacked in his cell by inmate House. [Doc. 87 at ¶ 13]. The plaintiff testified that he believed the attack occurred at 6:00 in the morning or earlier. [Raudenbush Depo. at 20]. The plaintiff testified the attack occurred as follows, “Inmate Christian opened the door . . . and let Inmate House in and that's when Inmate House started to assault me while I was still in bed.” [Id. at 22].

         The plaintiff testified that during the time he was housed in the compound prior to the September 25, 2013 attack he informed defendants Chance and Lewis, correctional officers, that he was in fear for his life. [Id. at 123]. The plaintiff gave no specific day that he talked with these officers but said that he told the officers he feared for his safety because inmate Christian, his cellmate, had a knife. [Id. at 123-24]. The plaintiff testified that defendants Chance and Lewis responded to this notice by performing a cell search “shortly after, ” or “a day maybe” after he talked to them but no knife was located. [Id. at 124-25].

         The plaintiff brought suit against defendants Sharon Taylor, Kevin Hampton, Misty Hardin Gregg, Harold Angel, Randy Lee, Jesse Gregg, Officer Chance, and Officer Lewis. The plaintiff alleges violations of his civil rights under Title 42, United States Code § 1983 (“§ 1983”) and state law claims for the beating that occurred on September 25, 2013. [Doc. 9]. The Court previously dismissed other defendants relating to a § 1983 claim for allegedly failing to provide medical care. [Docs. 38, 58]. The plaintiff's state law claim for negligence or gross negligence has also been dismissed. [Doc. 58]. The only remaining claims are against the above listed defendants for alleged § 1983 violations, intentional infliction of emotional distress[1], and assault and battery.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is proper where the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). 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. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). 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). This Court's role is limited to determining whether the case contains sufficient evidence from which a jury could reasonably find for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49; Nat'l Satellite Sports, 253 F.3d at 907. If the non-moving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If this Court concludes that a fair-minded jury could not return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party based on the evidence presented, it may enter a summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52; Lansing Dairy, Inc. v. Espy, 39 F.3d 1339, 1347 (6th Cir. 1994).

         The party opposing a Rule 56 motion may not simply rest on the mere allegations or denials contained in the party's pleadings. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. Instead, an opposing party must affirmatively present competent evidence sufficient to establish a genuine issue of material fact necessitating the trial of that issue. Id. Merely alleging that a factual dispute exists cannot defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment. Id. A genuine issue for trial is not established by evidence that is merely colorable, or by factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary. Id. at 248-52.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. § 1983 Claim

         The plaintiff brought suit pursuant to Title 42, United States Code § 1983 for alleged failure to protect him from a threat of serious harm. In order to state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must establish that he was deprived of a federal constitutional right by a person acting under color of state law. Black v. Barberton Citizens Hosp., 134 F.3d 1265, 1267 (6th Cir. 1998); O'Brien v. City of Grand Rapids, 23 F.3d 990, 995 (6th Cir. 1994); Russo v. City of Cincinnati, 953 F.2d 1036, 1042 (6th Cir. 1992); see also Braley v. City of Pontiac, 906 F.2d 220, 223 (6th Cir. 1990) (stating that “Section 1983 does not itself create any constitutional rights; it creates a right of action for the vindication of constitutional guarantees found elsewhere”).

         1. Respondeat Superior

         The defendants first argue that they are entitled to summary judgment on the § 1983 claim because they cannot be held liable for § 1983 claims based solely on respondeat superior liability. Section 1983 liability “will not be imposed solely on the basis of respondeat superior” or the right to control employees. Bellamy v. Bradley, 729 F.2d 416, 421 (6th Cir. 1984). There must be a showing that the “supervisor encouraged the specific incident of misconduct or in some other way directly participated in it.” Id. At a minimum, the plaintiff is required to show that the supervisory official “at least implicitly authorized, approved or knowingly acquiesced in the unconstitutional conduct of the offending subordinate.” Id. (citing Hays v. Jefferson County, 668 F.2d 869, 872-74 (6th Cir. 1982)). Furthermore, § 1983 liability must be based on “active unconstitutional behavior and cannot be based upon a ‘mere failure to act.'” Shehee v. Luttrell, 199 F.3d 295, 300 (6th Cir. 1999) (quoting Salehpour v. University of Tennessee, 159 F.3d 199, 206-07 (6th Cir. 1998), cert. denied, 526 U.S. 1115 (1999)).

         According to the defendants, the plaintiff has failed to allege any personal, active involvement of defendants Taylor, Hampton, Hardin Gregg, Angel or Lee that would be sufficient to provide a basis for § 1983 liability. The defendants move the Court to dismiss the § 1983 claim against them. The plaintiff argues that he is not relying on respondeat superior liability to hold any defendant liable under § 1983 but instead has alleged personal involvement in the alleged unconstitutional conduct. Each defendant will be addressed individually.

         a. Kevin Hampton

         The plaintiff testified that defendant Hampton's allegedly unconstitutional actions consisted of “as unit manager, Mr. Hampton was obligated and responsible over me as an inmate and when I brought an issue to his attention, he ignored it.” [Raudenbush Depo. at 117]. The plaintiff testified that he told defendant Hampton that he may be sent to the compound and defendant Hampton's response was that ‘he'll deal with it when he gets back and he never did.” [Id. at 114]. The plaintiff argues this failure to act provides the basis for § 1983 liability. [Doc. 86 at 3]. Defendant Hampton cannot be held liable under § 1983 based solely on his supervisory role over defendant Hardin Gregg or “as unit manager” over the inmate.

         b. Sharon Taylor

         Regarding defendant Sharon Taylor, the plaintiff argues that she was directly involved in the deprivation of his constitutional rights because she ignored actual knowledge of threats to harm the plaintiff. [Doc. 86 at 4]. The plaintiff argues that defendant Taylor was aware of a potential risk to the plaintiff but acted deliberately indifferent despite the multiple letters and warnings communicated to her. [Id.]. The plaintiff further states that defendant Taylor made a handwritten, signed note on the letter he sent her regarding the potential threat prior to the attack by inmate Christian. [Id. at 9]. The Court finds the evidence presented is ...


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