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Matthews v. Copeland

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

October 6, 2017

BRANDON COPELAND, et al., Defendants.

          Crenshaw Judge.


          JEFFERY S. FRENSLEY United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. Introduction and Background

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Docket No. 62. Along with their Motion, Defendants have contemporaneously filed a supporting Memorandum of Law (Docket No. 63) and a Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (Docket No. 64), along with the Affidavits of Ronald McBay (“McBay Aff.”)(Docket No. 65), Brandon Copeland (“Copeland Aff.”)(Docket No. 66), and Roger Tidwell (“Tidwell Aff.”)(Docket No. 67).

         Plaintiff has filed a “Motion in Opposition to the Defendants [sic] Motion for Summary Judgment” and a supporting “Memorandum” (Docket Nos. 70, 71), both of which the Court will construe as Plaintiff's Response to the instant Motion.[1] Plaintiff has additionally filed his Affidavit (“Plaintiff's Aff.”). Docket No. 72. Plaintiff, however, has not responded to Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, nor has he filed his own Statement of Undisputed Material Facts.

         Defendants have filed a Reply. Docket No. 73.

         Plaintiff, who, at all times relevant to the case at bar, was an inmate in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Correction (“TDOC”) housed at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex (“BCCX”), but who has since been transferred to the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, filed this pro se, in forma pauperis action pursuant to 42 U.S.C . §1983, alleging in his Amended Complaint that Defendants violated his rights by utilizing excessive force against him when an unknown Officer “put leg shackles on him excessively tight sadistically and maliciously to inflict pain and cause suffering” before transporting him to the Lois DeBerry Special Needs Facility (“DSNF”) on the bus. Docket No. 32. Plaintiff sues Brandon Copeland and Ronald McBay seeking compensatory and punitive damages. Id. Plaintiff does not specify the capacity in which he sues Defendants Copeland and McBay; accordingly, Plaintiff is deemed to sue them solely in their official capacity.[2] Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 592-594 (6th Cir. 1989) (plaintiffs, including pro se prisoners, are required to specify in their §1983 actions that they are suing state defendants in their individual capacities for damages; if a plaintiff does not specify the capacity in which a defendant is sued, the Court presumes that the defendant is being sued in his official capacity).

         Defendants filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment and supporting materials on March 6, 2017, arguing that because Plaintiff cannot identify the Officer who allegedly placed restraints on his ankles too tightly, he cannot state a claim against them for the alleged use of excessive force, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983. Docket Nos. 62-67. Defendants additionally argue that Plaintiff has alleged that he suffered only de minimis injuries, if any at all, such that he has failed to state a claim for relief under §1983. Id. Finally, Defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity. Id.

         Plaintiff responds by reiterating the factual allegations of his Amended Complaint and arguing that genuine issues of material fact exist that preclude granting summary judgment. Docket Nos. 70-72.[3] Addressing first the objective component of his claim, Plaintiff argues that his allegations that: (1) he was placed in “significantly confining restraints during the transport trip on September 14th, 2015, that caused him to suffer extreme swelling in his ankles, and that when the restraints were removed, he had bruising, scarring, and lacerations/cuts”; (2) he suffered “extremely sever [sic]” pain; and (3) the unknown Officer “refused to take any corrective action to relieve the tightness or manner of the restraints despite the Plaintiff's cries to adjust these restraints & despite the obvious signs of physical pain that were being caused by the restraints, ” sufficiently “raise a genuine issue of material fact regarding the objective component of [his] claim.” Id. at 5-6. Plaintiff further contends that his Affidavit is in direct contradiction with the Affidavits of Defendants Copeland and McBay such that the “conflicting versions of the events at issue raises a credibility question which is not appropriately resolved in the stance of determining summary judgment and is best left to the trier of fact.” Id. at 6. Plaintiff also responds that his assertions of numbness, pain, swelling, lacerations/cuts and bleeding are evidence of more than just a de minimis injury. Id.

         Turning to the subjective component of his claim, Plaintiff argues that “determination of this issue requires consideration of factors such as ‘the need for the application of force, the relationship between the need and the amount of force that was used, and the extent of injury inflicted.'” Id. at 7, citing Whitley, 475 U.S. at 320-21. Plaintiff argues that genuine issues of material fact exist with regard to the relationship between the need and the amount of force that was used, the extent of injury inflicted on Plaintiff, the threat to the safety of staff and other prisoners as reasonably perceived by the Transportation officers on the basis of the facts known to them, and any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response. Id. at 8. Plaintiff argues that “resolution of these underlying factual disputes is necessary to determining whether an Eighth Amendment violation occurred, ” such that Defendants motion must be denied. Id.

         As to the identity of the Officer who shackled him, Plaintiff responds that he “has proffered since the inception of this litigation that ‘one' of the two (2) Officers placed excessively tight leg restraints on him'” and that he “has been unable to secure the legal name of the individual responsible for such action” due to the concealment of the Officer's official nametag. Id. at 9. Plaintiff argues that he has diligently attempted to ascertain the identity of the unknown Officer but has been unable to do so due to TDOC's unresponsiveness, his inability to obtain the video footage of the day in question, and Defendants' deliberate “stonewall[ing]” of his attempts to do so, thereby “creating unavoidable circumstances beyond his control.” Id. at 10. Plaintiff maintains that in “regard to his current inability to presently and promptly identify this unknown officer, he has presented evidence that at least one (1) of the Defendants caused him to suffer significant pain and injuries that necessitated medical attention and that such actions were excessive, gratuitous and malicious in nature, thus establishing culpability of excessive force.” Id. at 11. Plaintiff asserts that both Defendants Copeland and McBay have been put on notice of Plaintiff's intentions to hold at least one of them liable for the actions of which he complains and he argues that he can visually identify which Officer caused him harm. Id. at 12.

         Regarding the unknown Officer's mental state, Plaintiff argues that the dismissive response he received when he notified the unknown Officer that his leg restraints were too tight “validates that the defendant(s) actions were done in a malicious and gratuitous manner to cause pain.” Id. at 14. Plaintiff maintains that “a dismissive response from an officer is sufficient to meek the second prong of a claim for excessively forceful handcuffing.” Id.

         Addressing his injury, Plaintiff contends that he has established that he suffered more than a de minimis injury. Id. at 15-16. Plaintiff further contends that a prisoner alleging an Eighth Amendment violation need not prove that he suffered a serious physical injury, but rather, demonstrate instead that the infliction of pain was unnecessary and wanton; Plaintiff maintains that he has done so. Id.

         Plaintiff argues also that Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity because the law was clearly established that excessive cuffing is tantamount to excessive force. Id. at 16-20.

         Defendants, in their Reply, maintain that there are no disputed facts in this case and that they are entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Docket No. 73. Substantively, Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to identify which Officer placed the shackles upon him, despite the facts that the Officers were wearing nametags and Defendants provided Plaintiff with the names of every Officer who was in the vicinity on the date of the incident in question. Id. at 2-3.

         Defendants further reply that the names of the Officers provided were obtained from a shift roster found in the prison's human resources department, not any video, because, since no investigation was warranted or undertaken, no video was preserved, and any video that had been originally taken was taped over in the normal course of business, long before the Complaint was ever filed in this case. Id. at 3. Defendants reiterate their contention that because Plaintiff cannot or will not identify the individual responsible for restraining him on that date, his claim must fail. Id. at 4.

         For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned finds that there are no genuine issues as to any material fact and that Defendants are entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. The undersigned therefore recommends that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 32) be GRANTED.

         II. Undisputed Facts[4]

         A. Affidavit of Ronald McBay

         At all times relevant to the instant action, Ronald McBay was employed by the Tennessee Department of Correction (“TDOC”) as a Correctional Corporal at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex (“BCCX”). Docket No. 65, ¶¶ 2, 3. While a TDOC employee, Cpl. McBay has never been disciplined for the mistreatment of an inmate. Id., ¶ 4.

         On the date of the alleged incident, Cpl. McBay was working in the BCCX transportation yard and was wearing his nametag on his uniform, as required by TDOC policy. Id., ¶¶ 5, 6. Inmates are searched and shackled prior to getting on their assigned bus. Id., ¶ 7. It is common practice during that process for different members of the transportation team to assist with the different tasks, including placing the appropriate restraints on each inmate. Id., ¶ 8.

         On the date of the alleged incident, there were 33 inmates leaving from BCCX, traveling to other destinations. Id., ¶ 9. Cpl. McBay cannot recall whether he personally shackled Plaintiff, nor can he identify the officer who did, but if Cpl. McBay did place restraints on Plaintiff, he had no intent to cause him harm or to injure him in doing so. Id., ¶¶ 10, 21.

         Cpl. McBay always places the shackles on the inmates using the same routine: sliding an index finger between the inmate's leg and the restraint to ensure that there is adequate room to move freely, but without enough room to slip out of the restraints. Id., ¶ 11. If an inmate complains that his shackles are too tight, Cpl. McBay always double checks the restraints and loosens their fit if indicated. Id., ¶ 12.

         It is especially important to properly secure prisoners when they are being transported from one prison to another, as they could present a security risk to the general public once they have left the prison complex. Id., ¶ 13. Placing restraints over inmates' pants is prohibited as it is a known security risk and Cpl. McBay could not have allowed Plaintiff to be transported with restraints that gave him an opportunity to escape. Id., ¶ 14. Inmates must wear socks that are rolled up their legs during transportation and the restraints are placed over the socks and not directly against the skin. Id., ¶ 15.

         Cpl. McBay does not recall any specific conversation with Plaintiff, including the alleged statements attributed to him by Plaintiff in his Amended Complaint: “Stop you-ins f-ing winning [sic] and get on the f-ing bus.” Id., ¶ 16. Cpl. McBay did not make such a statement to Plaintiff or anyone else on that date, nor would he ever. Id.

         Cpl. McBay has no recollection of Plaintiff complaining that his shackles were too tight after they were placed, nor of Plaintiff telling him that he was injured or that his restraints were causing him pain or injury. Id., ¶ 17. Had Cpl. McBay witnessed such an injury or had Plaintiff reported such an injury to him, Cpl. McBay would have loosened his cuffs if it could have been done safely, and ensured that he received proper medical care. Id., ¶ 18. At no time did Cpl. McBay deny Plaintiff medical care, nor did he stop anyone else from providing medical care to Plaintiff. Id., ¶ 19.

         Cpl. McBay had no malice toward Plaintiff. Id., ¶ 20.

         B. Affidavit of ...

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