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Ratliff v. Baun

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

September 28, 2017



          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge United States District Court.

         This matter is before the Court on six pending motions. First, Plaintiff and Defendants filed competing motions for summary judgment. [R. 35; R. 40; R. 42; R. 43.] Second, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave to File Excess Pages. [R. 54]. Last, Defendants Donnie Hall, Jr., Mandy Graves, and Ballard County, Kentucky (hereinafter “County Defendants”) filed a Motion for Leave to Re-file their Motion to Exclude Plaintiff's Expert Witness, Kevin Minor. [R. 59.] Fully briefed, this matter is now ripe for adjudication. For the reasons stated herein, Defendant De Baun's Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 35] is GRANTED, Defendant County Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 40] is GRANTED, Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Against De Baun [R. 42] is DENIED, Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Against Hall [R. 43] is DENIED, Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Excess Pages [R. 54] is DENIED AS MOOT, and Defendant County Defendants' Motion for Leave to Re-file their Motion to Exclude Plaintiff's Expert Witness, Kevin Minor [R. 59.] is DENIED AS MOOT. The Court will enter a separate Order and Judgment consistent with this Memorandum Opinion.


         On March 17, 2015, Plaintiff James Ratliff was incarcerated in Ballard County Jail (“the Jail”). [R. 35-2 at 10:9-11 (Deposition of Ratliff)]. On May 29, 2015, Deputy Jailer Jo Ann De Baun moved Ratliff and his cellmates to a different cell, the “drunk tank, ” for approximately two hours while an electrical problem was being addressed in their normal cell. [Id. at 19:5-6.] As the inmates left the “drunk tank, ” Ratliff noticed that De Baun had a stun gun. [Id. at 19:18-19.] He then told De Baun that he used to play with similar devices with his brother. [Id. at 19:22-23.] De Baun responded that Ratliff would not be able to handle being shocked by her stun gun. [Id. at 19:24.] Ratliff disagreed, saying, “Hit me with it, ” and stuck his arm out for De Baun to “tase”[1]him.[2] [Id. at 20:1.] In hindsight, Ratliff testified that he was “[s]howing off in front of the inmates, ” [Id. at 70:14], and he did not think she would actually do it, [Id. at 84:18]. Nevertheless, De Baun did in fact “tase” him, causing Ratliff to drop the bedding he was holding and fall to one knee. [Id. at 73:3-5.][3] Ratliff testified that the other inmates laughed immediately, [Id. at 23:9], but he did not find it comical until they started walking back to their cell, [Id. at 72:2-4].

         Ratliff testified that later on the same day, May 29, 2015, Deputy Jailer Adam Carpenter shined a laser, either from a laser pointer or from one of the Jail's X26 Tasers, on Ratliff while he was showering. [Id. at 74:2-21]. This made Ratliff uneasy because of the incident with De Baun that occurred earlier. [Id.]

         Ratliff testified that he asked De Baun for medical treatment for the two burns left from the stun gun that evening of May 29, to which she responded, “I'll see what I can do, ” but she never returned to his cell. [Id. at 77:15-21.] Ratliff testified that he asked De Baun the next day for a grievance form on two different occasions to which she responded, “I'll bring it back to you, ” but never returned.[4] [Id. at 78:6-14]. After these attempts, Ratliff asked no one else in the Jail about medical treatment for his arm or a grievance form. [Id. at 78:19-22.]

         In fact, the incident did not come up again until a couple days afterward when Ratliff asked Carpenter for some antibiotic ointment for his arm, showed him the two marks, and Ratliff explained what happened. [Id. at 102:25-103:8.] Ratliff recalls that in response to his retelling of the incident, Carpenter repeatedly told him “You need to think about what you're doing.” [Id. at 81:11-20.] Ratliff testified that he later told Deputy Jailer Corey Butrum as well, who laughed at Carpenter's statements. [Id. at 101:20-102:3.]

         Chief Deputy Jailer Lamanda Graves testified Butrum reported the “taser” incident to her the day after it occurred. [R. 42-5 at 23:15-21 (Deposition of Graves).] Then, Graves informed Jailer Donnie Hall, Jr., who was on vacation at the time, [R. 42-6 48:22 (Deposition of Hall)], about the incident via text message. [Id. at 44:11-16.] When Hall returned from vacation, he met with De Baun, who admitted that she “tased” an inmate. [Id. at 50:23-51:2.] Hall then told De Baun that Kentucky State Police would be investigating the incident and she was terminated from her position at the Jail. [Id. at 51:6-7.]

         Ratliff initially filed a complaint pro se against Graves and Hall on June 29, 2015. [R. 1.] He later filed an amended complaint through counsel on September 17, 2015 against De Baun, Hall, Graves, Ballard County Jail, and Ballard County, Kentucky. [R. 5.] He alleges violations of the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments under § 1983; violations of the Kentucky Constitution sections 10, 11, and 17; violations of KRS 71.020, 71.040, 71.060, 441.025, 552.030, 520.060; charges of intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, battery, vicarious liability, and negligence; and asks for an award of punitive damages. [R. 5 at 3-15]. On July 20, 2016, Ballard County Jail was dismissed from the suit as a defendant. [R. 21.] De Baun and Hall, Graves, and Ballard County (hereinafter “County Defendants”) both filed motions for summary judgment, [R. 35 (De Baun's Motion for Summary Judgment); R. 40 (County Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment], to which Ratliff responded, [R. 51 (Response to County Defendants); R. 52 (Response to De Baun], and both defendants replied [R. 56 (De Baun's Reply); R. 67 (County Defendants' Reply).] Also, Ratliff filed a Partial Motion for Summary Judgment against De Baun, [R. 42], and Hall, [R. 43], to which both defendants responded [R. 44 (De Baun's Response); R. 45 (Hall's Response)], and Ratliff replied, [R. 57 (Reply to Hall); R. 58 (Reply to De Baun)].


         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).

         When the parties have filed competing motions for summary judgment, as is the case here, the Court “must evaluate each motion on its own merits and view all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Hensley v. Grassman, 693 F.3d 681, 686 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Wiley v. United States, 20 F.3d 222, 224 (6th Cir. 1994)). The moving party must shoulder the burden of showing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact as to at least one essential element of the nonmovant's claim or defense. 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 moving party satisfies its burden of production, the nonmovant “must-by deposition, answers to interrogatories, affidavits, and admissions on file-show specific facts that reveal a genuine issue for trial.” Laster, 746 F.3d at 726 (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324).


         In their competing motions for summary judgment, the parties dispute several different areas of law, including the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), sovereign immunity, qualified immunity, constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, various state law claims, and punitive damages. Both De Baun and County Defendants submit that summary judgment is appropriate because Ratliff did not exhaust all available remedies before filing his federal claims, as required by the PLRA. [R. 35-1 at 7; R.40-1 at 9.] Ratliff retorts that exhaustion was not necessary because administrative remedies were not actually available to him. [R. 52 at 4; R. 51 at 4.] The Court finds that there were administrative remedies available to Ratliff, yet he did not exhaust them. Consequently, the Court dismisses his federal claims and declines, in its discretion, to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over his remaining state law claims.

         I. The Prisoner Litigation Reform Act

         The PLRA states: “No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” Prisoner Litigation Reform Act of 1995, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) (2013). This statute requires a prisoner to exhaust all available administrative remedies before filing any action “with respect to prison conditions” under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or any other federal law. Id. In order to bring a sharp rise of prisoner litigation in the federal courts under control, Congress fortified the PLRA with provisions like a mandatory requirement of exhaustion, § 1997e(a), and a required showing of physical injury, § 1997e(e). See Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 84 (2006). These requirements cultivate a more efficient system in which prisoners have “an effective incentive to make full use of the prison grievance process” and prisons gain “a fair opportunity to correct their own errors.” Id. at 93-94.

         A. Exhaustion Requirement

         The PLRA requires that a prisoner must exhaust all available administrative remedies before he or she may bring a federal action related to prison conditions. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) (2013). This requirement “applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong.” Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002); accord Freeman v. Francis, 196 F.3d 641, 644 (6th Cir. 1999). To properly exhaust administrative remedies, the prisoner must comply with the deadlines and procedures of the specific prison involved. See Woodford 548 U.S. at 90; Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007); accord Lee v. Wiley, 789 F.3d 673, 677 (6th Cir. 2015). Under the PLRA, the prisoner's failure to exhaust available, administrative remedies prior to filing suit is an affirmative defense, and, therefore, the defendants bear the burden of proof on exhaustion. See Surles v. Andison, 678 F.3d 452, 455 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing Bock, 549 U.S. at 1216); Napier v. Laurel Cty., 636 F.3d 218, 255 (6th Cir. 2011).

         As both De Baun and the County Defendants argue for summary judgment on these grounds, the Court will address their motions together. Here, De Baun and the County Defendants are entitled to summary judgment because they have shown that Ratliff failed to exhaust the established grievance procedures in place at the Jail. The Jail's grievance procedure clearly states that in order to file a complaint regarding a condition of the prisoner's confinement, the prisoner must “[a]ttempt to alleviate the problem through verbal communication with the person he believes is responsible for the condition. If that person does not alleviate his concern, then he may request an Inmate Grievance Form.” [R. 40-7, Ex. F (Grievance Policy).] The prisoner must then “[c]omplete and submit a written grievance to the Chief Deputy, within five (5) calendar days of the incident about which he is complaining.” [Id.] It is undisputed by all parties that Ratliff failed to complete and submit a written grievance form as required by the Jail's grievance procedure. Specifically, Ratliff claims that he asked De Baun for a grievance form more than once but she never retrieved one for him. [R. 35-2 at 78:6-14.] The Sixth Circuit previously addressed situations similar to the one at hand and dismissed the complaints of those prisoners. See Lyle v. Jackson, 49 F. App'x 492 (6th Cir. 2002); Martin v. Johnson, 72 F. App'x 256, 257-58 (6th Cir. 2003) (holding that a prisoner's allegation that he requested a grievance form but did not receive one is insufficient to establish exhaustion); Anderson v. Meeks, 79 F. App'x 113, 114 (6th Cir. 2003) ...

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