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Crockett v. Stults

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

January 29, 2018




         By Order entered February 21, 2017 (Docket Entry No. 6), this prisoner civil rights action was referred to the Magistrate Judge for pretrial proceedings under 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(A) and (B), Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the Local Rules of Court.

         Presently pending is the motion for summary judgment (Docket Entry No. 21) of Defendants Zebulon Stults and Cory Cottrell. Plaintiff has not responded to the motion. For the reasons set out below, the undersigned Magistrate Judge respectfully recommends that the motion be granted and this action be dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Antonio Crockett (“Plaintiff”) is an inmate of the Tennessee Department of Correction (“TDOC”) who is currently confined at the West Tennessee State Prison (“WTSP”) in Henning, Tennessee. On January 6, 2017, he filed this action pro se and in forma pauperis under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking damages and injunctive relief based on allegations that his constitutional rights were violated at the South Central Correctional Facility (“SCCF”) in Clifton, Tennessee, where he was confined at the time he filed the lawsuit and prior to being transferred to WTSP.[1]

         On October 28, 2016, Plaintiff was being escorted from the shower area in his housing unit at the SCCF back to his cell by Correctional Officers Zebulon Stults (“Stults”) and Cory Cottrell (“Cottrell”). As per the institutional policy for his unit, Plaintiff was restrained in handcuffs and a belly chain at the time of being escorted. Plaintiff alleges that Stults attacked him from behind and slammed his head into the ground, causing him to lose consciousness. He alleges that Stults and Cottrell then used their knees to apply all of their weight onto Plaintiff's head and lower back. Plaintiff contends that his wrists were cut and swollen as a result of the attack and that he has suffered constant migraine headaches and back pain since the attack occurred. He alleges that Stults and Cottrell charged him with disciplinary offenses after the incident, but that he was not convicted of the charges. He further alleges that the officers were not reprimanded after the assault and that other prison staff tried to “cover up” the incident. See Complaint (Docket Entry No. 1).

         By the order of referral, the Court found that Plaintiff had alleged colorable claims that Stults and Cottrell violated his Eighth Amendment rights.[2] Upon Defendants' joint answer to the Complaint, see Docket Entry No. 17, a scheduling order was entered. See Docket Entry No. 18.


         Defendants seek summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. They acknowledge that an incident occurred on October 28, 2016, during which they used physical force to bring Plaintiff to the ground and to restrain him. However, they assert that such force was necessary because Plaintiff had repeatedly attempted to pull away from the officers while being escorted, had ignored verbal orders to stop his behavior, and had attempted to use his body to shove Cottrell down the stairs in the unit. They contend that the use of force was limited and reasonable and was no more than was necessary under the circumstances. They assert that once Plaintiff stopped physically resisting, he was taken to be examined by the medical staff, who, 1) noted no injuries other than redness and an abrasion to Plaintiff's right wrist, and, 2) directed that Plaintiff's handcuffs be loosened and that he be returned to his cell. Defendants contend that an internal investigation of the incident occurred and resulted in a finding that their use of force was necessary and justified.

         Defendants argue that the claim brought against them in their official capacities must be dismissed because such a claim is essentially a claim against Corrections Corporation of America (“CCA”), who was a private company that administered the TTCC and was their employer at the time, but that the Court already dismissed claims brought against CCA in its initial review of the Complaint. With respect to the claims brought against them individually, Defendants argue that the undisputed facts do not support a claim that they used excessive force against Plaintiff in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. In support of their motion, Defendants rely upon the declarations of Cottrell (Docket Entry No. 21-3), SCCF Health Services Administrator Jammie Garner (Docket Entry No. 21-4), SCCF Unit Manager Ryan Deatherage (Docket Entry No. 21-5), and Stults (Docket Entry No. 21-6), and a statement of Undisputed Material Facts (Docket Entry No. 21-2).

         Plaintiff was notified of the motion and given a deadline of October 27, 2017, to file a response. See Order entered September 18, 2017 (Docket Entry No. 22). To-date, no response has been filed by Plaintiff.


         Summary judgment is appropriate if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). A “genuine issue of material fact” is a fact which, if proven at trial, could lead a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). In considering whether summary judgment is appropriate, the Court must “look beyond the pleadings and assess the proof to determine whether there is a genuine need for trial.” Sowards v. Loudon Cnty., 203 F.3d 426, 431 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 875, 121 S.Ct. 179, 148 L.Ed.2d 123 (2000). The Court must view the evidence and all inferences drawn from underlying facts “in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.” See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., Ltd., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Gribcheck v. Runyon, 245 F.3d 547, 550 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 896, 122 S.Ct. 217, 151 L.Ed.2d 155 (2001).

         The moving party has the burden of showing the absence of genuine factual disputes from which a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, at 249-50. “Once the moving party has presented evidence sufficient to support a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party is not entitled to trial merely on the basis of allegations; significant probative evidence must be presented to support the complaint.” Goins v. Clorox Co., 926 F.2d 559, 561 (6th Cir. 1991). In other words, to defeat summary judgment, the party opposing the motion must ...

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