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Madden v. Grate

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

January 8, 2020

WILLIAM JOSEPH MADDEN, PLAINTIFF
v.
JONATHAN GRATE, et al., DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS B. RUSSELL, SENIOR JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on several motions. First, Plaintiff William Madden filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. [DN 21]. Second, Defendants Travis Bradley, Amy Fisher, Jonathan Grate, DeEdra Hart, and Michael Spindler filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. [DN 30]. Third, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Clarify the Record. [DN 25]. Fourth, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Extension of Time. [DN 48]. Finally, Defendants filed a Motion to Hold Scheduling Order in Abeyance. [DN 50]. Fully briefed, these matters are ripe for adjudication. For the reasons stated herein: Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, [DN 21], is DENIED; Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, [DN 30], is DENIED IN PART and GRANTED IN PART; Plaintiff's Motion to Clarify the Record, [DN 25], is GRANTED; Plaintiff's Motion for Extension of Time, [DN 48], is GRANTED; and Defendant's Motion to Hold Scheduling Order in Abeyance, [DN 50], is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is incarcerated at Kentucky State Penitentiary (“KSP”). He brought this action against five prison officials in their official and individual capacities: Kentucky Department of Corrections Acting Commissioner Jonathan Grate, KSP Warden DeEdra Hart, KSP Unit Administrators Michael Spindler and Travis Bradley, and KSP Classification Treatment Officer Amy Fisher. [DN 1]. Plaintiff claims that when he was incarcerated at Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex (“EKCC”), he was erroneously issued a green uniform that is worn only by inmates in protective custody. [DN 1 at 4]. Plaintiff wore the green uniform from approximately March 15, 2018 to June 11, 2018. [DN 44-2 at 425]. He alleges that other inmates assumed, based on this uniform, that Plaintiff was a child molester or an informant and this led to threats of extortion and violence by other prisoners. [DN 1 at 4]. Plaintiff claims that when he was transferred to Western Kentucky Correctional Complex (“WKCC”) on June 14, 2018, he continued to face extortion attempts and was assaulted on December 3, 2018. [DN 44-2 at 425]. Soon after this attack, Plaintiff was transferred to KSP. Id. In February 2019, he claims he was approached by gang members who stated “they knew what happened with [Plaintiff] at Eastern, and [Plaintiff] would have to pay them to stay on the yard” at KSP. [DN 44-5 at 594]. When Plaintiff informed them that he would not pay, they threatened to stab him. [DN 1 at 5]. After this incident, Plaintiff did not leave his cell unless it was necessary. Id. However, on March 11, 2019, Plaintiff was required to enter the prison cafeteria where he was attacked by another inmate. Id. at 5-6. Plaintiff believes this altercation was a direct result of his refusal to pay the gang members. Id. at 6.

         Subsequently, Plaintiff informed prison officials that his safety was at risk and requested protective custody to prevent further assaults. Id. Pursuant to KSP policy, Defendant Fisher opened an investigation into whether Plaintiff was in danger, but ultimately concluded the protective custody request should be denied. [DN 311 at 282]. On April 8, 2019, Defendants Spindler and Bradley conducted a hearing regarding Plaintiff's protective custody request. Id. at 283. After reviewing Fisher's investigation and taking Plaintiff's statement, the Committee denied the request. Id. On May 17, 2019, Plaintiff filed the current action claiming that Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to take reasonable measures to guarantee his safety. [DN 1].

         The Court conducted an initial review of Plaintiff's claims and dismissed his official-capacity claims for damages pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1)-(2). [DN 8]. Additionally, Plaintiff filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, [DN 6], a related motion for oral argument, [DN 15], and a motion to seal this action, [DN 13]. The Court denied each motion. [DN 22]. Subsequently, Plaintiff and Defendants filed the motions currently before the Court.

         I. Motions for Summary JUDGMENT

         A. Legal Standard

         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). 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).

         Additionally, the Court acknowledges that pro se pleadings are to be held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by attorneys. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972). The duty to be less stringent with pro se complainants, however, “does not require [the Court] to conjure up unpled allegations, ” McDonald v. Hall, 610 F.2d 16, 19 (1st Cir. 1979) (citation omitted), nor to create a claim for a pro se plaintiff, Clark v. Nat'l Travelers Life Ins. Co., 518 F.2d 1167, 1169 (6th Cir. 1975).

         B. Discussion

         Plaintiff filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment claiming Defendants had knowledge of a risk to his safety but failed to take reasonable measures to guarantee his safety. [DN 21-2 at 157]. In response, Defendants filed their own Motion for Summary Judgment. [DN 31-1]. Defendants assert they are entitled to qualified immunity because Plaintiff has presented no objective evidence that he was incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of harm. Id. at 285, 287. Alternatively, Defendants contend they responded reasonably to any risk of harm. Id. at 287-89.

         i. Qualified Immunity Defense

         Pursuant to the doctrine of qualified immunity, “government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded 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.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). The question of whether qualified immunity is available to a defendant involves a two-step process: “[f]irst, the court must determine whether, based upon the applicable law, the facts viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs show that a constitutional violation has occurred.” Bell v. Johnson, 308 F.3d 594, 601 (6th Cir. 2002). Then, “if a violation could be made out on a favorable view of the parties' submissions, the next, sequential step is to ask whether the right was clearly established.” Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001). In order for a law to be deemed as “clearly established, the contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right.” Bell, 308 F.3d at 602. In other words, “the unlawfulness [of the action] must be apparent.” Id. “Qualified immunity shields an officer from suit when she makes a decision that, even if constitutionally deficient, misapprehends the law governing the circumstances she confronted.” Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 198 (2004). “Because the focus is on whether the officer had fair notice that her conduct was unlawful, reasonableness is judged against the backdrop of the law at the time of the conduct. If the law at the time did not clearly establish that the officer's conduct would violate the Constitution, the officer should not be subject to liability or, indeed, even the burdens of litigation.” Id.

         As a threshold matter, the Court notes that Plaintiff's right to be free from deliberate indifference to his safety was clearly established. “The Supreme Court has held that ‘prison officials have a duty . . . to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.'” Bishop v. Hackel, 636 F.3d 757, 765-66 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 833 (1994)). Moreover, the Sixth Circuit has recognized “an inmate's right to be free from prison violence as clearly established.” Id. (collecting cases). Therefore, Plaintiff's constitutional right to be free from deliberate indifference to his safety was clearly established at the time of the alleged constitutional violation. Thus, the main issue in this case is whether Defendants violated Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights.

         The Eighth Amendment requires prison officials to “take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates” in their custody. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 832 (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27 (1984)). “It is not, however, every injury suffered by one prisoner at the hands of another that translates into constitutional liability for prison officials responsible for the victim's safety.” Id. at 834. “A prison official violates an inmate's rights only if the official is ‘deliberately indifferent to inmate health or safety.'” Mangum v. Repp, 674 Fed.Appx. 531, 537 (6th Cir. 2017) (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). “To raise a cognizable constitutional claim for deliberate indifference to an inmate's safety, an inmate must make a two-part showing: (1) the alleged mistreatment was objectively serious; and (2) the defendant subjectively ignored the risk to the inmate's safety.” Bishop, 636 F.3d at 766 (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). “On balance, the deliberate indifference analysis is ‘fact-bound and dependent on both witness credibility and those inferences that a jury can reasonably draw from the relevant circumstances. This inquiry ‘is therefore ill-suited for summary judgment in all but the clearest cases.'” McCracken v. Haas, 324 F.Supp.3d 939, 947 (E.D. Mich. 2018) (quoting Doe v. District of Columbia, 215 F.Supp.3d 62, 77 (D.D.C. 2016)).

         a. Objective Component

         “To establish a constitutional violation based on failure to protect, a prison inmate first must show that the failure to protect from risk of harm is objectively ‘sufficiently serious.'” Bishop, 636 F.3d at 766 (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 833). The objective component is satisfied if the plaintiff is “incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm.” Curry v. Scott,249 F.3d 493, 506 (6th Cir. 2001). The Sixth Circuit “analyze[s] the objective component ‘in the abstract.'” Richko v. Wayne Cty., Mich., 819 F.3d 907, 916 (6th Cir. 2016) (quoting Clark-Murphy v. Foreback, 439 F.3d 280, 286-87 (6th Cir. 2006)). “In the abstract, one prison inmate's threat to the health and safety of another inmate is ‘sufficiently serious' to satisfy [the objective] requirement.” Williams v. McLemore, 247 Fed.Appx. 1, *9 (6th Cir. 2007); see also Williams v. Wells, No. 02-74530, 2006 WL 800788, at *7 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 29, 2006) (“A threat of bodily harm is sufficiently serious to satisfy the objective component of a deliberate indifference claim. Curry, 249 F.3d at 506.”). For example, in Richardson v. Bauman, an inmate claimed he was approached and threatened by members of the MS-13 gang and subsequently received two physical wounds. Richardson v. Bauman,702 Fed.Appx. 402, 404 (6th Cir. 2017). Prison officials denied Richardson's repeated requests for protection on the basis that he could not identify the prisoners who were threatening him and thus, the “need for protection could not be substantiated.” Id. Upon reviewing the record in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, the Sixth Circuit found that Richardson faced a substantial risk of serious harm, despite the fact that “Richardson was less than forthcoming with prison officials when requesting protection about why the MS-13 gang would have targeted him, ” and the fact that there was “no proof, other than hearsay, that the MS-13 ...


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