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Cecil Coleman v. Victor Presciti

November 7, 2011



I. Status

This matter comes before the Court upon review of the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #122, Mot. SJ), filed on behalf of Defendants Coleman, Navarro, and Presciti on September 1, 2011. Defendants submit supporting exhibits (Docs. #122-1, Defs' Exhs. AO; #122-2, Defs' Exhs. P-Y), including inter alia: the use of force reports prepared by Defendants Presciti and Navarro on the day of the incident, December 16, 2005 (Exh. A); Declarations of Defendants Presciti and Navarro (Exhs. B, C); Deposition of Defendant Navarro (Exh. D); Declaration of Nurse Tomaszewski who examined Plaintiff immediately after the use of force (Exh. E); Deposition of Defendant Coleman (Exh. F); Declaration of Defendant Coleman (Exh. G); Declaration of Officer Kozlowski (Exh. H); disciplinary report log number 510-05268 issued against Plaintiff stemming from use of force (Exh. I) and guilty finding related thereto (Exh. K); excerpt from Plaintiff's medical documents while in DOC (Exhs. K-M); Declaration from the director of dental services for the Department of Corrections, Thomas Shields, and photograph of Plaintiff's face and mouth showing missing teeth (Exh. N); Deposition of Plaintiff (Exh. P); Plaintiff's medical records from Shand's Hospital dated July 2007 (Exh. Q); expert witness report prepared by Eugene Atherton finding use of force was reasonable under the circumstances (Exh. R); Plaintiff's response to Defendants' first set of interrogatories (Exh. S); Declaration of C.A. Sames of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, who arrested Plaintiff in October 2007, and the arrest report related thereto (Exh. T); 2008 judgment finding Plaintiff guilty of felony battery, fleeing or attempting to elude a law enforcement officer, driving with suspended licence, possession of ecstasy, introduction and/or possession of contraband into county detention facility, giving false name or identification, and resisting officer without violence (Exh. U); Plaintiff's inmate grievance, dated March 2010, and response thereto indicating that Plaintiff does not require a wheelchair or a medical orderly because he is capable of walking, based upon correspondence from the doctor in the institutional medicine program opining that Plaintiff can walk and requires no special assistance (Exh. W); Plaintiff's DOC medical form dated February 15, 2008, showing that Plaintiff refused to have an MRI of the spine and refused a neurological exam (Exh. W); response to inmate grievance dated June 28, 2010, showing that no pass for a wheelchair was issued to Plaintiff because his paralysis is subjective and no physical findings support his purported paralysis (Exh. X); and, Declaration of Doctor W. Rummel (Exh. Y). Defendants also refer the Court to the fixed-wing video footage that was previously submitted under seal on August 25, 2010, which captured the use of force from three different angles.*fn1

Plaintiff filed a response (Doc. #124, Response) in opposition to the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and attached supporting exhibits (Docs. #124-1 through #124-3; Pl's Exhs. A-D), including, inter alia, a copy of a portion of Plaintiff's Deposition (Doc. #124-1), a copy of the fixed-wing video that captured the use of force,*fn2 Charlotte Correctional's written reprimand of Defendant Presciti (Doc. #124-2), the Inspector General's Report related to the incident sub judice (Doc. #124-2), and Defendant Presciti's letter of resignation dated August 30, 2006 (Doc. #124-3). Pursuant to the Court's Order, Defendants were permitted to file a limited brief in Reply (Doc. #128, Reply). This matter is ripe for review.

II. Background

Cecil Coleman, an inmate in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections, initiated this action by filing a pro se Civil Rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on October 2, 2008. On November 1, 2010, counsel entered his appearance on behalf of Plaintiff. Plaintiff, through counsel, is proceeding on his Third Amended Complaint (Doc. #109, Third Complaint), filed May 5, 2011, against Defendants Victor Presciti, Douglas Coleman, and Leonardo Navarro, in their individual capacities.

The Third Complaint alleges that Defendants violated Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment while Plaintiff was incarcerated in Charlotte Correctional Institution. Third Complaint at 6. In particular, the Third Complaint alleges that, on December 16, 2005, Defendants Navarro and Presciti punched and kicked Plaintiff when he refused to allow the correctional officers to borrow his personal wheelchair to transport another inmate. Third Complaint at 2. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Sergeant Coleman, as the "supervisory officer," "orchestrated" the use of excessive force. Id. at 4. Plaintiff also alleges that each of the individual Defendants could have intervened to stop the excessive application of force, but did not. Id. at 5. As relief, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, prejudgment interest on all economic losses and post-judgment interest, and attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and costs of litigation. Id. at 7.

III. Applicable Law

"Summary judgment is appropriate only if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Moton v. Cowart, 631 F.3d 1337, 1341 (11th Cir. 2011)(internal quotations and citations omitted). See also, Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). "The moving party may meet its burden to show that there are no genuine issues of material fact by demonstrating that there is a lack of evidence to support the essential elements that the non-moving party must prove at trial." Moton, 631 F.3d at 1341 (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). The standard for creating a genuine dispute of fact requires the court to "make all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing summary judgment," Chapman v. AI Transp., 229 F.3d 1012, 1023 (11th Cir. 2000)(en banc)(emphasis added), not to make all possible inferences in the non-moving party's favor.

To avoid the entry of summary judgment, a party faced with a properly supported summary judgment motion "bears the burden of persuasion" and must come forward with extrinsic evidence, i.e., affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and/or admissions, and "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 529 (2006)(citations omitted); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Hilburn v. Murata Elecs. N. Am., Inc., 181 F.3d 1220, 1225 (11th Cir. 1999). If there is a conflict in the evidence, the non-moving party's evidence is to be believed and "all justifiable inferences" must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. Beard, 548 U.S. at 529 (citations omitted); Shotz v. City of Plantation, Fl., 344 F.3d 1161, 1164 (11th Cir. 2003). "A court need not permit a case to go to a jury, however, when the inferences that are drawn from the evidence, and upon which the non-movant relies, are 'implausible.'" Cuesta v. School Bd. of Miami-Dade County, 285 F.3d 962, 970 (11th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). Nor are conclusory allegations based on subjective beliefs sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact. Leigh v. Warner Bros., Inc., 212 F.3d 1210, 1217 (11th Cir. 2000). "When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

In cases where there is video evidence, the Court accepts the video's depiction over the opposing party's account of the facts where the video obviously contradicts the version of the facts. Pourmoghani-Esfahni v. Gee, 625 F.3d 1313, 1315 (11th Cir. 2010)(per curiam)(quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007)). Even where the entire series of events is recorded, video evidence is not obviously contradictory where it fails to convey spoken words or tone, or fails to provide an unobstructed view of the events. Id.; See also Logan v. Smith, No. 11-10695, 2011 WL 3821222 (11th Cir. Aug. 29, 2011)(unpublished).

A. Section 1983 Elements

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege: (1) defendants deprived him of a right secured under the United States Constitution or federal law, and (2) such deprivation occurred under color of state law. Arrington v. Cobb County, 139 F.3d 865, 872 (11th Cir. 1998); U.S. Steel, LLC v. Tieco, Inc., 261 F.3d 1275, 1288 (11th Cir. 2001). In addition, a plaintiff must allege and establish an affirmative causal connection between the defendant's conduct and the constitutional deprivation. Marsh v. Butler County, 268 F.3d 1014, 1059 (11th Cir. 2001); Swint v. City of Wadley, 51 F.3d 988 (11th Cir. 1995); Tittle v. Jefferson County Comm'n, 10 F.3d 1535, 1541 n.1 (11th Cir. 1994). A defendant who occupies a supervisory position may not be held liable under a theory of respondeat superior in a § 1983 action. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 690-692 (1978); Quinn v. Monroe County, 330 F.3d 1320, 1325 (11th Cir. 2003); Farrow v. West, 320 F.3d 1235 (11th Cir. 2003).

B. Eighth Amendment

The Eighth Amendment, which applies to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, can give rise to claims challenging the excessive use of force. Thomas v. Bryant, 614 F.3d 1288, 1304-05 (11th Cir. 2010)(reviewing categories of claims under the Eighth Amendment). An excessive-force claim requires a two-prong showing:

(1) an objective showing of deprivation or injury that is "sufficiently serious" to constitute a denial of the "minimal civilized measure of life's necessities"; and, (2) a subjective showing that the official had a "sufficiently culpable state of mind." Id. (citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994)(other citations omitted). It is the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain" caused by force used "maliciously and sadistically" for the very purpose of causing harm that constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 322 (1986). Thus, where an Eighth Amendment claim is based upon allegations of excessive force, the question turns on whether the prison guard's "force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline or maliciously or sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm." Bozeman v. Orum, 422 F.3d 1265, 1271 (11th Cir. 2005). To determine whether force was applied "maliciously and sadistically," courts consider the following factors: "(1) the extent of injury; (2) the need for application of force; (3) the relationship between that need and the amount of force used; (4) any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response; and (5) the extent of the threat to the safety of staff and inmates, as reasonably perceived by the responsible officials on the basis of facts known to them." Campbell v. Sikes, 169 F.3d 1353, 1375 (11th Cir. 1999)(quotations and citations omitted). It must be noted that although the extent of the injury is a relevant factor in determining whether the use of force could plausibly have been thought necessary under the circumstances and may be an indication of the amount of force applied, it is not solely determinative of an Eighth Amendment claim. Wilkins v. Gaddy, ____ U.S. ____, 130 S. Ct. 1175, 1178 (2010)(per curiam). "An inmate who is gratuitously beaten by guards does not lose his ability to pursue an excessive force claim merely because he has the good fortune to escape without serious injury." Id. at 1178-79.

Moreover, in the context of prison discipline, a distinction is made between "punishment after the fact and immediate coercive measures necessary to restore order or security." Ort v. White, 813 F.2d 318, 324-325 (11th Cir. 1987). When a prison's internal safety is of concern, courts conduct a more deferential review of the prison officials' actions. Williams v. Burton, 943 F.2d 1572, 1575 (11th Cir. 1991)(citations omitted). Indeed, "[t]hat deference extends to a prison security measure taken in response to an actual confrontation with riotous inmates, just as it does to prophylactic or preventive measures intended to reduce the incidence of these or any other breaches of prison discipline." Whitley, 475 U.S. at 322; See also Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 547 (1979).

IV. Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law

Based upon the record, the Court finds the following undisputed facts, which are construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. The fixed-wing video captured the entire use of force incident. Response at 3. Defendant Presciti approached Plaintiff's cell because he wanted to temporarily use Plaintiff's wheelchair to move a handicap inmate, who was located in the same quad as Plaintiff. Third Complaint at 3; Pl. Depo. at Doc. #124-1, pp. 16-17; Mot. SJ at 2; Response at 3; see also Pl's video at 7:31 p.m. In the presence of Defendants Presciti and Navarro, Plaintiff wheeled himself out of his cell into the quad and moved himself to a seat affixed to one of the tables in the quad.*fn3 Pl's video at 7:32:33 p.m.

While Plaintiff sat at the table, Defendant Navarro turned his back toward Plaintiff and began to push the wheelchair away. Plaintiff lunged from his seat toward Defendant Navarro's back and grasped the wheelchair refusing to let go. Officer Presciti intervened and attempted to break Plaintiff's grasp on the wheelchair. Both Defendant Presciti and Plaintiff landed on the concrete floor. After applying some amount of force to Plaintiff's arm, and two, one-second bursts of chemical agents to Plaintiff's facial area, Defendants Navarro and Presciti successfully removed the wheelchair from Plaintiff's grasp. Plaintiff remained subdued on the concrete floor on his stomach until other officers arrived minutes later. The duration of the use of force incident spanned approximately one minute of time (from 7:33:27 p.m., when Navarro turned his back on Plaintiff and began to remove the wheelchair, to approximately 7:34 p.m., when Navarro and Presciti restrained Plaintiff on his stomach on the ground). See Pl's Video.

Other officers arrived and responded to the scene approximately three minutes later at 7:37:48 p.m. See id. Defendant Sergeant Coleman arrived after Plaintiff was in handcuffs and the use of force had concluded. Pl's Exh. A, Plaintiff Depo. at 33. After the use of force, Plaintiff was escorted to the shower to remove the chemical agents and Nurse Tomaszewski examined him.

The evidence shows Plaintiff sustained no injuries, or at most sustained bruised ribs. Plaintiff was returned to his cell without incident. Plaintiff received a disciplinary report ("DR") for unarmed assault stemming from the December 16, ...

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