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Cordle v. Clark

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

February 20, 2018

DANNY CLARK, et al., Defendants.



         The defendants have moved for summary judgment regarding all claims asserted by Plaintiff Michael Cordle. [Record No. 31] For the reasons outlined below, the defendants' motion will be granted and this matter will be dismissed, with prejudice.


         At times relevant to this action, Plaintiff Cordle was serving a state sentence for a parole violation. Cordle was transferred to the Leslie County Detention Center (“LCDC”) on December 21, 2015. The LCDC has 17 cells, including “five big cells” in which multiple inmates are housed. [Record No. 43');">43');">43');">43');">43');">43');">43');">43, p17');">p. 171-72; 100] The five big cells are divided into: (i) the work cell; (ii) state inmates and Knox County inmates; (iii) state inmates and McCreary County inmates; (iv) inmates who have violent charges and inmates who can get along with them; and (v) inmates who are sex offender, although over half of the inmates in this cell are not sex offenders because certain people can get along with them. Id. at p. 100.

         Defendant Danny Clark is the jailer of Leslie County. Clark separates the McCreary and Knox County inmates based on his belief that the inmates from Knox County are generally more aggressive, better fed, and in better shape. Id. at 101. However, he does not separate inmates by county if it would violate the classification policy. Id. at 169. The classification policy involves the use of information such as the inmate's charges and background. This may include medical issues and problems with other inmates. Id. at pp.38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38-39.

         Cordle was placed in the second cell which housed state inmates and Knox County inmates. At the time of his intake into LCDC, he was the 25th person housed in the 20-bed cell. Id. at p. 46. Since all the bunks were taken when Cordle arrived, he choose to settle on a place on the floor next to the door to the work cell. [Record No. 32');">32');">32');">32, p. 40-42]

         According to Cordle, in January 2016, he began to notice inmates in the work cell passing tobacco to Knox County inmates Eric Johnson and Chris Evans. Id. at p. 41. He did not report this activity to jail officials, however, because he did not feel that it was any of his business. Id. at p. 42. Cordle alleges that interactions occurred with Johnson and Evans regarding his spot in front of the door, to the point where he interpreted the statements coming from the inmates as threats. Id. at p. 43');">43');">43');">43');">43');">43');">43');">43. However, he did not report the threats to the jail staff. Id. He stated that he did not make reports because he figured the jail staff knew contraband was coming through the door and figured they would do something about it. Id. He also thought the jail personnel knew of the activity because a strip was put over the door and the smell of smoke was present. None of the defendants was aware of any alleged contraband tobacco trade coming through the door of the work cell into Cordle's cell. See Record Nos. 33, p. 9; 34, pp. 12-14; 35, p. 15; 36, pp. 12-13, 17; 43');">43');">43');">43');">43');">43');">43');">43, pp. 112-14.

         Cordle claims that Johnson and Evans attacked an inmate inside the cell in early February 2016. [Record No. 32');">32');">32');">32, p. 58] All of the defendants, however, deny knowledge of this alleged attack. [Record Nos. 33, p. 12; 34, pp. 15-16; 35, 19');">p. 19; 43');">43');">43');">43');">43');">43');">43');">43, pp. 115-16] Cordle contends that in the early hours of February 6, 2016, Johnson demanded that he pack his stuff and leave the spot obstructing Johnson's access to tobacco. [Record No. 32');">32');">32');">32, p. 45] Cordle supposedly refused and moved to an area visible to surveillance cameras so the cameras could record what was happening. Id. When Cordle walked back towards his spot, he was allegedly attacked by Johnson, which resulted in him being wrestled to the ground and rendered unconscious. Id. at p. 48. Cordle states that when he regained consciousness, he witnessed Evans approach from behind and strike him in the back of the head. Id. Cordle alleges that as he attempted to stand, Charles Gray (another Knox County inmate) hit him, again causing a loss of consciousness. Id. at 55-56. Cordle states that when he awoke, he remembers guards standing in the cell but at a distance. Id. He claims it took a long time for the guards to respond but relies on other inmates in estimating the duration of the fight. Id. at 54. Baker and Napier, the guards who responded to the incident, state that they ran to the cell and arrived in under a minute, after being notified by Coots who was in the control room monitoring the cameras. [Record Nos. 36, p. 18, 21; 35, 19');">p. 19] Cordle was removed from the cell, allowed to shower, and sent to a local hospital's emergency room for examination and treatment. [Record No. 36, p. 20]

         After reviewing the video of the incident, Baker and Clark determined that Johnson appeared to be the only inmate involved in the altercation with Cordle. [Record Nos. 36, p. 19; 43');">43');">43');">43');">43');">43');">43');">43, 142');">p. 142] Unfortunately, the LCDC could not save video in the system and it was deleted after thirty days. [Record No. 43');">43');">43');">43');">43');">43');">43');">43, 125');">p. 125]

         Cordle makes two federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. [Record No. 1-1] In Count I, he seeks to recover damages based on the defendants' alleged deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm. Id. at 6. In Count II, he asserts a deliberate indifference standard not recognized by the Sixth Circuit to extend, modify, or revise existing law, or establish new law. Id. at 6-7. Cordle also makes two claims under state law. He asserts a state law negligence in Count III of his Complaint. And in Count IV, he alleges a claim of negligence per se against Danny Clark, in his official capacity. Id. at 8.


         Summary judgment is appropriate when there are no genuine disputes regarding a material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 17');">477 U.S. 317, 32');">32');">32');">322-23 (1986); Chao v. Hall Holding Co., 15');">285 F.3d 415, 424 (6th Cir. 2002). A dispute over a material fact is not “genuine” unless a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. That is, the determination must be “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.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986); see Harrison v. Ash, 539 F.3d 510, 516 (6th Cir. 2008).

         A party seeking for summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating conclusively that no genuine issue of material fact exists. CenTra, Inc. v. Estrin, 38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38 F.3d 402');">538');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38 F.3d 402, 412 (6th Cir. 2008). Once the moving party meets this production burden, the nonmoving party must come forward with significant probative evidence to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment. Chao v. Hall Holding Co., 15');">285 F.3d 415, 424 (6th Cir. 2002). In deciding whether to grant summary judgment, the Court views the facts and inferences drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).


         A. Federal Claims

         State governments are not subject to liability under § 1983. Howlett ex rel. Howlett v. Rose, 356');">496 U.S. 356, 376 (1990). However, the exclusion for state governments does not extend to municipal corporations and other similar governmental entities. Id. Accordingly, Leslie County and its employees are potentially liable under the statute. Nevertheless, liability is limited. Qualified immunity is available under certain circumstances for government employees sued in their individual capacities. See Henry v. Metro. Sewer Dist., 32');">32');">32');">32');">922 F.2d 332');">32');">32');">32, 339 (6th Cir. 1990). And governmental entities are not subject to vicarious liability under § 1983 for the actions of their employees. Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978).

         “The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials ‘from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). Once the defense is raised, the plaintiff has the burden to prove that the official is not entitled to immunity. Binay v. Bettendorf, 601 F.3d 640, 647 (6th Cir. 2010). Thus, viewing the facts in a light most favorable to Cordle, the Court must determine whether he has sufficiently shown that the defendants have violated his clearly established constitutional rights. See id.

         Cordle contends that the defendants violated his Eight Amendment rights because they were aware of a substantial risk of harm posed by his fellow inmates, but failed to respond effectively. [Record No. 38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38, 17');">p. 17] Prison officials have a duty to “take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of . . . inmates.” Farmer v. Brennan, 11 U.S. 825');">511 U.S. 825, 832');">32');">32');">32 (1994). However, not every injury suffered by one prisoner at the hands of another results in constitutional liability for the prison officials responsible for the victim's safety. Id. at 834. To establish a claim for failure-to-protect, an inmate must demonstrate that prison officials acted with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm. Curry v. Scott, 249 F.3d 493, 506 (6th Cir. 2001).

         Deliberate indifference has an objective and a subjective component. Id. The objective component requires that a prisoner “show that he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm, ” while the subjective component requires an inmate offer proof that a defendant knew that the plaintiff faced “a substantial risk of serious harm and disregard[ed] that risk by failed to take reasonable measures to abate it.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834, 847. As a judge of this court recently noted, “[t]here is some tension in Sixth Circuit case law on how to frame [the] objective inquiry.” Holder v. Saunders, Pikeville Civ. No. 7: 13-38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38-ART, 2014 WL 7177957, at *5 (E.D. Ky. Dec. 16, 2014). “In one set of cases, the court looks only at whether the inmate suffered a sufficiently sever injury.” In other cases, “the Sixth Circuit examines whether there was an objectively substantial risk of harm to the inmate before the injury occurred.” Id. (citing Curry, 249 F.3d at 506; Bishop v. Hackel, 36 F.3d 757');">636 F.3d 757, 766 (6th Cir. 2011)).

         A prisoner can meet his burden regarding the subjective inquiry by demonstrating that: (i) a prison official was aware of a substantial risk to a particular inmate, even if the official was unaware of who would commit the assault; or (ii) a prison official was aware that a particular inmate posed a substantial risk to a large class of inmates, even if the official was unaware of the exact prisoner at risk. Greene v. Bowles, 361 F.3d 290');">361 F.3d 290, 294 (6th Cir. 2004). The prison official “must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. In analyzing the subjective component, the Court must consider each defendant's knowledge individually. See Bishop, 636 F.3d at 767 (citing Phillips v. Roane Cnty., Tenn., 1');">534 F.3d 531, 542 (6th Cir. 2008); Garretson v. City of Madison Heights, 407 F.3d 789, 797 (6th Cir. 2005)).

         Regarding Count II, Cordle argues that a new standard should apply to deliberate indifference under the Eighth Amendment. [Record No. 38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38');">38, p. 35] For support, he cites several cases that have adopted an objective standard for Fourteenth Amendment pretrial detainee failure-to-protect cases. While Cordle correctly notes that the Sixth Circuit has yet to address whether an objective standard similar to that adopted in Kingsly v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2446');">135 S.Ct. 2446 (2015), also applies to a ...

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