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Bryant v. McCoig

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

September 20, 2019

JOSHUA BRYANT, Plaintiff,
v.
DUSTIN McCOIG, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         In October 2014, Joshua Bryant was allegedly assaulted by several correction officers while he was detained in Anderson County Jail. In October 2015, Bryant filed this civil rights suit against Anderson County and four correction officers, Dustin McCoig, Homer Bullman, Jason Wills, and Amber Stocks. The claims against the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Paul White, Officers Bullman and Wills were resolved, leaving McCoig as the sole remaining defendant. McCoig has not filed a notice of appearance, an answer, or any other motions or responses in this case. Bryant moves for default judgment against McCoig.

         Background

         The record shows that on October 22, 2014, Bryant was incarcerated in the Anderson County Jail, where he was being held as a state prisoner with the Tennessee Department of Correction. While playing cards with another inmate, Bryant got into a verbal confrontation with Corrections Officer Dustin McCoig, who, at that time, was a corporal employed by the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department. McCoig ordered Bryant to return to his cell and then followed him there, where he allegedly choked Bryant and slammed him to the floor. McCoig called for additional officers. Bryant states that by the time two deputies responded to McCoig’s call for backup, he was handcuffed and McCoig was on top of him, beating his head against the floor. The officers extracted Bryant from his cell and video footage from the jail camera shows McCoig strike Bryant across the face two times.

         Bryant filed an inmate grievance form pursuant to the jails’ internal grievance procedures. A couple of weeks later, on November 13, 2014, Bryant was informed that the investigation had been concluded and that McCoig’s employment with the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department had been terminated.

         Bryant filed his complaint on October 21, 2015, alleging excessive force, assault and battery [R. 1]. McCoig was served with the Summons and Complaint on November 16, 2015 [R. 39], but has not filed an appearance or filed a responsive pleading. The Clerk entered default against McCoig on December 11, 2018 [R. 74]. Bryant now moves the court for default judgment against McCoig in the amount of $25, 000 [R. 77].

         An evidentiary hearing was scheduled for April 9, 2019 to determine Bryant’s damages. McCoig did not appear. Because Bryant was incarcerated and not available to testify, the court took the matter under advisement to allow counsel to submit proof of damages.

         Analysis

         A party seeking judgment by default must show the court: (1) when and against what party the default was entered; (2) identification of the pleading to which default was entered; (3) whether the defaulting party is an infant or incompetent person; (4) that the defendant is not in military service such that the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act does not apply; and (5) that notice has been served on the defaulting party, if required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2). Disney Enterprises. v. Farmer, 427 F.Supp.2d 807, 815 (E.D.Tenn. 2006).

         Bryant has satisfied the requirements for default judgment. First, the Clerk entered default against McCoig on December 11, 2018. Second, there is no reason for the court to believe that McCoig is an infant or incompetent person, or that McCoig is in military service. Finally, because McCoig has never entered an appearance in this action, the notice requirement of Rule 55(b)(2) does not apply. As a result of the default, the factual allegations of the complaint relating to liability are taken as true. Skidmore v. Boilermaker-Blacksmith Nat’l Pension Trust, 2009 WL 1362067 at *4 (E.D.Tenn. May 13, 2009).

         A. Excessive Force

         42 U.S.C. § 1983 creates a cause of action against government officials who violate an individual’s rights:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State…. subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law.

         A prisoner’s right to be free from the use of excessive force at the hands of a corrections officer is a clearly established right under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Eighth Amendment rights of prisoners are analogized to those of detainees under the Fourteenth Amendment. Roberts v. City of Troy, 773 F.2d 720, 723 (6th Cir. 1985). The Eighth Amendment proscribes the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain against prisoners. Williams v. Curtain, 631 F.3d 380, 383 (6th Cir. 2011). Although prison discipline may require that inmates endure relatively greater physical contact, the Eighth Amendment is nonetheless violated if the “offending conduct reflects an unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” Id. To make out a claim under the Eighth Amendment, a plaintiff must satisfy both an objective and a subjective component. Id.

         The subjective component focuses on the state of mind of the prison officials. The relevant inquiry is “whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.” Hudson v. McMillian,503 U.S. 1, 6 (1992). Courts may consider “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.” Whitley v. Albers,475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986). Courts may also consider the circumstances “as ...


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