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Curtis v. Hardin

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

May 30, 2018




         Plaintiff Tori T. Curtis, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against Defendants Randy White, Jill Robertson (misidentified in Plaintiff's complaint as “Jill Roberts”), Troy Belt, Skyla Grief (misidentified in Plaintiff's complaint as “Skylar Grief”), and Benjamin Mitchell (misidentified in Plaintiff's complaint as “Michael Mitchell”) alleging failure to protect in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[1] [DN 1; DN 9; DN 10.] Defendants moved for summary judgment on this claim in February 2018, [DN 21], and Curtis never responded. For the reasons discussed in detail below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED. A separate Order and Judgment shall issue contemporaneous with this Memorandum Opinion.


         Curtis alleges that, on December 4, 2016, another inmate, Johnathan Towery, raped him in the bathroom at Kentucky State Penitentiary (KSP), where they were both inmates. [DN 1 at 9 (Complaint).] According to Curtis, Towery and other inmates threatened to injure Curtis if he did not comply with Towery's demands for sex. [Id. at 9-10.] Later that day, Curtis reported what happened to KSP officials, who began a Prison Rape Elimination Act (“PREA”) investigation. [Id. at 12.] Curtis was taken to the Internal Affairs office, where KSP employee and a police officer interviewed him. [Id.] They also reviewed with Curtis the video footage that showed Curtis entering the restroom earlier that day and then Towery entering shortly after. [Id.] Next, Curtis was taken to a hospital where a rape kit was administered. [Id.] Upon his return, he was placed in protective custody segregation. [Id.] For the remainder of the investigation, both inmates were kept in administrative segregation. [DN 21-11 at 2 (Amanda Scott Affidavit).]

         A few days later, Curtis was interviewed by Lieutenant Derek Roberts and Sergeant Benjamin Mitchell regarding a letter KSP officials found in Towery's cell which, following handwriting comparisons, was found to have been written by Curtis. [Id.] This letter, attached as an exhibit to Defendants' motion for summary judgment, is addressed to “Big Daddy” and purports to offer the recipient “beautiful head” and “good pussy” in exchange for $10.00. [DN 21-5 (Letter).] Curtis next writes “I'd like the money either before or right after we finish, we can do our think either tomorrow or Sunday so hit me back?? It's a better price then I said then last time.” [Id.] Curtis initially denied writing the letter at all, [DN 21-4 at 5], but later stated that he wrote this letter not to Towery, but to Towery's neighbor “as a joke for recreation for laughs.” [DN 1 at 12-13.] Curtis says that the only way he can think of that Towery could have gotten the letter is if the neighbor gave it to him. [Id. at 13.]

         Defendants tell a different version of events, however. According to Defendants, when they interviewed Towery on December 6, “he admitted he had attempted to have sex with Curtis, but [stated that he] had been unable to do so. Towery stated that at no point during the attempt to have sex did Curtis tell him to stop.” [DN 21-1 at 5.] After officials found the letter in Towery's cell while packing his belongings, they asked Towery if there was anything to corroborate his story. [Id.] Towery responded

that Curtis had written him a letter about having sex. Sgt. Mitchell then showed Towery the letter that had been found in his cell. Towery stated that the letter was given to him by Curtis on Friday. Towery stated that he had given Curtis two bags of coffee and a bag of Jack-Mac on Saturday as payment for sex. Towery informed Sgt. Mitchell that on Sunday at about 9:00 A.M., Curtis approached him to see if they were still going to do it.

[Id. (internal citations omitted).] On December 7, “Lt. Roberts and Sgt. Mitchell began reviewing surveillance footage to see if they could corroborate Towery's story that Curtis had approached him about sex. Their review of the surveillance video revealed that on December 4, Curtis approached Towery in the weight room. Curtis got Towery off to the side and spoke with him just as Towery had stated.” [Id. (internal citations omitted).]

         Ultimately, Sgt. Mitchell found that there was no evidence to support Curtis's allegation of rape and that the encounter was consensual. [Id.] Curtis received disciplinary write-ups for inappropriate sexual behavior and for offering sex in exchange for money. [Id. at 6.] On January 5, 2017, the Adjustment Committee found Curtis guilty of both inappropriate sexual behavior and prostitution. [Id.] Curtis did not appeal either decision. [DN 21-6 at 5; DN 21-7 at 5.]

         On January 20, 2017, “Towery was transferred out of administrative segregation and back to general population.” [Id.] Curtis was transferred back into the general population on February 3, 2017. [Id.] However, on March 11, 2017, Curtis was briefly placed in the Restrictive Housing Unit after he reported “fearing for his personal safety” because “Towery . . . and his buddies were giving him a hard time due to a PREA investigation involving himself and Inmate Towery.” [DN 21-8 at 1 (Protective Custody Form).] However, when the officer “asked if they were extorting him or threatening to physically harm him he said the threats were non-specific.” [Id.] Ultimately, the Classification Committee did “not recommend [protective custody] placement” because the “committee [wa]s unable to substantiate any of the inmate's claims.” [Id. at 3.] Curtis did not appeal the decision. [Id. at 4.]

         On May 31, 2017, Curtis filed his complaint in the instant lawsuit. [DN 1.] Therein, he alleges that Defendants Randy White, Jill Robertson, Troy Belt, Skyla Grief, and Benjamin Mitchell[2] violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment by failing to protect him from a substantial risk of harm. [Id. at 15-17.] Specifically, Curtis alleges that Defendants led Curtis to believe they had put in a request for him to be transferred to a different prison, but that this was untrue. [Id. at 15.] Next, Curtis alleges that Defendants falsely told him that the “inmate was transferred who [Curtis] did have some problems with, ” so that it was safe for Curtis to be released back into the general prison population. [Id.] Curtis says that, though he signed a “conflict resolution” form affirming that he did not have any problems with any inmates in the yard, he only did this under the belief that Towery had been transferred. [Id. at 16.] However, Curtis alleges that this was untrue, and that he was released back into the general population along with Towery. [Id.]

         Curtis states in his complaint that he was “scared to death going back out to general population around Towery and his friends plus [with] everyone else knowing [he] came to correctional officers for help.” [Id.] According to Curtis, shortly after he was released, Towery told Curtis that he needed to pay him in canteen items once a week and that if he could not, “he was going to beat [Curtis's] face off.” [Id.] In sum, Curtis alleges that all five Defendants put his life and safety in jeopardy by releasing him into the general population along with Towery, and that this violated his Eighth Amendment rights. All Defendants have moved for summary judgment.


         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 ...

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