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Odom v. Thompson

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division

March 22, 2017

GLENN D. ODOM, II, Plaintiff,
v.
TABITHA THOMPSON, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Thomas B Russell Senior Judge.

         Glenn D. Odom, II, a state inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this action against Warden Randy White, Unit Administrator Hobert Huddleston, Officer Tabitha Thompson, and Officer Virgil Hughes, bringing an Eighth Amendment failure-to-protect claim vis-à-vis 42 U.S.C. § 1983, along with common-law claims for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. With discovery now closed, the prison officials move for summary judgment. Ultimately, though most of Odom's claims come up short, a reasonable jury could find that Unit Administrator Huddleston violated Odom's rights under the Eighth Amendment. Accordingly, the prison officials' Motion for Summary Judgment, [R. 78], is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I.

         A.

         During the period of time relevant to this action, Glenn D. Odom, II was incarcerated at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, Kentucky. Prior to April 24, 2013, Odom was housed in cellhouse three, which is a full-contact segregation unit. [See R. 82-2 at 2, ¶ 4 (Odom's Declaration); R. 82-10 at 31, ¶ 1 (Odom's Affidavit).] Following a series of threats from fellow inmates, Odom asked Warden Randy White, among other prison officials, to transfer him to cellhouse seven, which is a no-contact segregation unit. [See R. 82-2 at 2, ¶ 4; R. 82-5 at 1 (Letter to Warden White).] Odom's request was denied at first, [see R. 82-2 at 2, ¶ 4; R. 82-5 at 2 (Grievance No. 13-04-086-G)], and so Odom staged a suicide attempt on April 24 in an effort to secure a transfer, [see R. 82-2 at 2, ¶ 4; R. 82-5 at 12-13 (Disciplinary Report No. KSP-2013-00826)]. The ploy worked, and Odom was reassigned to cellhouse seven, C-walk that same day. [See R. 82-10 at 31, ¶ 1.]

         As previewed above, cellhouse seven differs from cellhouse three in that the former, unlike the latter, is a no-contact segregation unit. Out of concern for the safety of officers and inmates alike, Kentucky State Penitentiary policies and procedures prohibit opening one inmate's cell door while another inmate's cell door is open. [See R. 82-10 at 30 (KSP Memorandum).] To open or close a cell door, the cellhouse control officer must activate the switch corresponding to that particular cell from a control room overlooking the many walkways. [See R. 22-3 at 3 (Extraordinary Occurrence Report No. 167-13); R. 82-10 at 23, ¶ 19 (Huddleston's Response to Request for Admissions); see also R. 82-7 at 27 (Diagram).] There are reflective orange markers on the door's leading edge to help officers see the door's position, along with green and red lights to the side of each switch to indicate whether a cell door is open or closed. [R. 82-7 at 28, ¶¶ 1-2 (Odom's Affidavit); R. 82-10 at 23, ¶ 19; see also R. 82-7 at 27. But see R. 82-10 at 15-16 (Thompson's Response to Interrogatories) (acknowledging presence of lights, but denying proximity of those lights to the switches).]

         Despite those precautionary measures, Odom reported a number of instances where the cellhouse control officer simultaneously opened multiple cell doors in 2013. [See R. 82-10 at 28, ¶ 3 (Huddleston's Affidavit) (admitting that a “few incidents” occurred “in which more than one inmate's cell was open at the same time”).] On July 31, for example, Odom complained to Unit Administrator Hobert Huddleston about three separate occasions where officers had opened his cell door and those of his neighbors at the same time. [R. 1 at 10-11, ¶ 25 (Verified Complaint); R. 82-6 at 34, ¶ 1 (Inmates' Affidavit).] Unit Administrator Huddleston told Odom that the situation would be “addressed.” [R. 1 at 11, ¶ 25; R. 82-6 at 34, ¶ 2; see also R. 82-10 at 22, ¶ 11 (admitting conversation took place).] The following day, however, the same thing happened again, and so Odom wrote Warden White to complain. [R. 82-6 at 35 (Letter to Warden White); see also R. 1 at 11, ¶ 26.] It appears as if Warden White forwarded that letter to Unit Administrator Huddleston for response. [See R. 82-6 at 36 (Memorandum from Huddleston to Odom).] On August 5, Unit Administrator Huddleston confirmed, after reviewing surveillance footage, that “the sets of cell doors [Odom identified] were opened at the same time.” [Id.] He assured Odom that “[t]his inappropriate action by the staff [would] be addressed.” [Id.]

         Odom had good reason to be concerned about this pattern of containment failures. Cellhouse seven houses particularly vulnerable inmates along with some of Kentucky's most dangerous inmates too. [R. 1 at 10, ¶ 24.] Standing at five-foot, three inches tall, and weighing just under one-hundred and thirty-nine pounds, Odom fits the former description. [Id. at 7, ¶ 14.] Michael Force, an inmate who is over six feet tall and weighs more than two-hundred and fifty pounds, fits the latter. [Id., ¶ 13.]

         Force was housed two cells away from Odom. While incarcerated at KSP, he displayed a particular aptitude for obtaining “dangerous contraband, ” such as razor blades and shards of metal, [1] and, fittingly, has a long history of assaulting his fellow inmates too.[2] He is a “white supremacist, ” [id.; see also R. 82-8 at 10, ¶ 4 (Phelps' Affidavit)], and does not hide that fact either. He refers to other inmates, such as Odom (who is black), using racial slurs, [R. 1 at 9-10, ¶ 21], and has gone through the trouble of tattooing “white” and “power” on his left and right arms, respectively, [id. at 7, ¶ 13].

         Unfortunately, it seems as though Odom's concerns about the pattern of inmate containment failures went unheeded until August 6, 2013. On that morning, Force was returning to his cell after showering. [R. 22-4 at 2 (Information Report).] Officer Tabitha Thompson opened Force's cell door from the control tower, watched him walk inside, and then activated the switch to close Force's cell door. [Id.] She turned to open a cell door on D-walk before turning back to open Odom's cell door. [Id.] After she activated Odom's cell door, Officer Thompson noticed that Force's cell-door indicator light showed “open.” [Id.] While Odom claims that Officer Thompson maliciously left Force's cell door open, [see R. 1 at 12-13, ¶ 33; R. 82-2 at 3, ¶ 6], Officer Thompson says Force “trapped” his cell door, i.e., obstructed it so as to prevent it from closing properly, [see R. 22-4 at 1, ¶ 3 (Thompson's Affidavit); see also R. 22-5 at 2, ¶ 4 (Huddleston's Affidavit)].[3] In any event, Force exited his cell and attacked Odom. [R. 1 at 13-14, ¶¶ 33-36.] He stabbed Odom nine times, [id. at 13, ¶ 34], with a metal “shank, ” [R. 82-2 at 3, ¶ 5]. Odom sustained six puncture wounds requiring seven stitches to close. [R. 1 at 17, ¶ 49.] The altercation ended once Officer Virgil Hughes, accompanied by other guards, intervened.

         B.

         Proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, Odom filed this action against Warden White, Unit Administrator Huddleston, Officer Thompson, and Officer Hughes, bringing a failure-to-protect claim under the Eighth Amendment, along with common-law claims for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. [See R. 1 at 1-3.] With discovery now closed, the prison officials move for summary judgment. [See R. 78 (Motion for Summary Judgment).] Odom opposes that motion.[4] [See R. 82-4 (Response).]

         II.

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, reveals “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute of material fact exists where “there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The Court “may not make credibility determinations nor weigh the evidence when determining whether an issue of fact remains for trial.” Laster v. City of Kalamazoo, 746 F.3d 714, 726 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Logan v. Denny's, Inc., 259 F.3d 558, 566 (6th Cir. 2001); Ahlers v. Schebil, 188 F.3d 365, 369 (6th Cir. 1999)). “The ultimate question is ‘whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'” Back v. Nestlé USA, Inc., 694 F.3d 571, 575 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52).

         As the party moving for summary judgment, the prison officials must shoulder the burden of showing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact as to at least one essential element of Odom's claims. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Laster, 746 F.3d at 726 (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). Assuming the prison officials satisfy their burden of production, Odom “must-by deposition, answers to interrogatories, affidavits, and admissions on file-show specific facts that reveal a genuine issue for trial.”[5] Laster, 746 F.3d at 726 (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324).

         III.

         The prison officials move for summary judgment on Odom's § 1983 claim, along with his common-law claims for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. [See R. 78.] Each of those claims, the prison officials say, fails on its merits. [See R. 22-1 at 8-11, 13-18 (Memorandum in Support).] In the alternative, the officials claim protection under the aegis of qualified immunity. [See Id. at 11-13.] The Court will address each claim (and the prison officials' defense) in turn. Ultimately, though most of Odom's claims come up short, a reasonable jury could find that Unit Administrator Huddleston violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment.

         A.

         To begin, Odom sues Warden White, Unit Administrator Huddleston, Officer Thompson, and Officer Hughes under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating his Eighth Amendment rights. [See R. 1 at 3.] Section 1983 creates a private right of action “against officials who, under the color of state law, deprive individuals of their constitutional rights.” Brown v. Chapman, 814 F.3d 447, 457 (6th Cir. 2016) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1983). There is no genuine dispute that the prison officials were acting under the color of state law at the time of Odom's assault. Instead, the officials maintain that none of them deprived Odom of his rights under the Eighth Amendment. [See R. 22-1 at 8-11.] Viewing the record in the light most favorable to Odom, the Court disagrees- though not entirely.

         “The Eighth Amendment prohibits the imposition of ‘cruel and unusual punishments' upon prisoners.” Cordell v. McKinney, 759 F.3d 573, 580 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting U.S. Const. amend. VIII). To establish liability under the Eighth Amendment for a claim based on a failure to protect, the type of claim Odom presses in this action, Odom must show that the prison officials “acted with ‘deliberate indifference' to a substantial risk” of serious harm befalling him. Curry v. Scott, 249 ...


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