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Harris v. Forrester

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

October 4, 2019

JARON HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
SGT. FORRESTER, ET AL., Defendants.

          GUYTON J.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          REEVES J.

         Defendants Sgt. Forrester, Troy Dollar, Craig Murwin, J. McCracken, and Michael Moody (“Defendants”) have filed a motion for summary judgment in this pro se prisoner's civil rights action for violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 [Doc. 36]. Plaintiff has failed to respond to the motion, and the deadline to do so has passed. Upon consideration of the parties' pleadings, the summary judgment evidence, and the applicable law, the Court finds that summary judgment should be GRANTED in favor of Defendants[1], and this action should be DISMISSED.

         I. PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

         Plaintiff alleges that on August 31, 2017, Sgt. Forrester, Cpl. Dollar, and Correctional Officer Murwin, along with other correctional officers, entered Plaintiff's cell to conduct a search [Doc. 1 p. 6]. Plaintiff states that the officers used abusive, sexually threatening language to him in directing him to remove his clothing, “spread, ” and show the officers his rectum [Id.]. Plaintiff complied, but when directed by Cpl. Dollar to turn around slowly and repeat the move, he refused [Id.]. Plaintiff advised the officers that he felt “intimidated by the unprofessional and sexually aggressive remarks, ” so he placed his hands in the air, refused further search, and requested to be placed in a dry cell[2] [Id.]. Plaintiff contends that Sgt. Forrester told Plaintiff “to give them what he had or he would go inside” Plaintiff and get it [Id.]. Plaintiff again advised that he was refusing the search and requested to be placed in a dry cell [Id.].

         Thereafter, Plaintiff asserts, Sgt. Forrester instructed Cpt. Dollar and other correctional officers to restrain Plaintiff face-down on the bed [Id. at 7]. Once restrained, Plaintiff's boxer briefs were ripped off, and he “felt a[n] object penetrate [his] anal cavity” [Id.]. Sgt. Forrester told Plaintiff to “scream all you want, we gave you a chance to do things the easy way, but you wanted it the hard way” [Id.].

         Afterwards, Plaintiff contends, he attempted to report the incident to the Prison Rape Eliminate Act (“PREA”) hotline, but by direct order from Counselor Moody, Correctional Officer Parks denied Plaintiff's request [Id.]. Several hours later, Plaintiff was escorted to the medical center, where he assumed he would be examined and provided the opportunity to report the officers' misconduct to PREA [Id.]. Instead, he claims, he was advised by Sgt. McCracken and Counselor Mrs. Dixon that they would be acting on behalf of PREA, and that PREA would “not accept or engage this issue” [Id. at 7-8]. Plaintiff requested to see a medical examiner and a PREA representative but was denied both requests [Id. at 8].

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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.” In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. McLean v. 988011 Ontario Ltd, 224 F.3d 797, 800 (6th Cir. 2000). Summary judgment is proper if the evidence, taken in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, shows that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Hartman v. Great Seneca Fin. Corp., 569 F.3d 606, 611 (6th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         The moving party has the burden of conclusively showing the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. Smith v. Hudson, 600 F.2d 60, 63 (6th Cir. 1979). In order to successfully oppose a motion for summary judgment, a party “‘must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial'” and “‘may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading.'” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 47 U.S. 242, 248 (1986) (quoting First Nat'l Bank of Arizona v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968)).

         A district court cannot grant summary judgment in favor of a movant simply because the adverse party has not responded, however. Stough v. Mayville Cmty. Sch., 138 F.3d 612, 614 (6th Cir. 1998). Rather, the court is required to, at a minimum, examine the motion to ensure that the movant has met its initial burden. Id. In doing so, the court “must not overlook the possibility of evidentiary misstatements presented by the moving party.” Guarino v. Brookfield Twp. Trs., 980 F.2d 399, 407 (6th Cir. 1992). The court must “intelligently and carefully review the legitimacy of [] an unresponded-to motion, even as it refrains from actively pursuing advocacy or inventing the riposte for a silent party.” Id. In the absence of a response, however, the Court will not “sua sponte comb the record from the partisan perspective of an advocate for the non-moving party.” Id. at 410. If the court determines that the unrebutted evidence set forth by the moving party supports a conclusion that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the court will determine that the moving party has carried its burden, and “judgment shall be rendered forthwith.” Id. (alteration omitted).

         III. SUMMARY JUDGMENT EVIDENCE

         On August 31, 2017, officers at the Northeast Correctional Complex (“NCCX”) conducted a search of the Security Management Unit (“SMU”) where Plaintiff was housed [Doc. 37-4 ¶ 3; Doc. 37-3 ¶ 3]. Plaintiff's cell was on a list of “hot cells, ” so his was one of the first to be searched [Doc. 37-4 ¶ 5]. When officers Dollar and Murwin entered his cell and requested that he remove his clothing for a strip search, Plaintiff refused [Id. at ¶ 7, 8]. Forrester, who was overseeing the operation, was summoned for assistance, and after Plaintiff refused his orders to remove his clothing, Forrester gave Plaintiff the option of removing his clothing or being placed in a dry cell [Id. at ¶ 8, 9]. Plaintiff removed his boxer shorts to squat and cough, at which time officers observed contraband partially concealed in his buttocks [Id. at ¶ 11; Doc. 37-2 ¶ 8]. Plaintiff was asked to squat and cough again, and when he coughed, a package of what was determined to be marijuana and Suboxone, fell to the floor [Doc. 37-4 ¶ 13; Doc. 37-1 p. 5]. Forrester picked up the package and turned it over to another officer so that it could be logged into evidence [Doc. 37-4 ¶ 14]. When the search of the cell was completed, Plaintiff returned to his cell [Doc. 37-3 ¶ 11; Doc. 37-8 ¶ 5].

         After the search of Plaintiff's cell was complete and he was returned to his cell, he motioned for Officer Parks to come to his cell door and informed Parks that he wanted to make a PREA complaint [Doc. 37-8 ¶ 5, 6]. Pursuant to PREA protocol, Parks informed his supervisor, Corporal Rick Arnold, of Plaintiff's request [Id. at ¶ 9]. The next step in the PREA protocol would have been for Corporal Arnold to report the complaint to the shift officer in charge, who would in turn notify the PREA coordinator on shift [Id. at ¶ 10]. On August 31, 2017, the PREA coordinator was Angel Dixon [Doc. 37-7 ¶ 3; Doc. 37-5 ¶ 6]. Dixon did, in fact, receive Plaintiff's PREA complaint, as she and McCracken conducted a PREA interview, prepared a PREA report, and ensured that Plaintiff was ...


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