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Stansel v. Sikes

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Tallahassee Division

February 23, 2018




         Pending is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 80. The pro se Plaintiff was advised of his obligation to respond to the motion, ECF No. 81, and his response was timely filed. ECF No. 83. The motion is ready for a ruling.

         Plaintiff's Allegations, ECF No. 49

         Plaintiff brought this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendant Sewell used unnecessary force when he sprayed Plaintiff with chemical agents on June 23, 2013. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Sikes authorized the use of force, and Defendant Flanagan filmed the use of force, knowing that Plaintiff was not being disruptive. ECF No. 49. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant Rogers took no action to protect him from the unjustified use of force. ECF No. 49.

         Standard of Review

         “The court shall grant summary judgment 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Thus, summary judgment is proper “after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The “party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. at 2553. The non-moving party must then show[2] though affidavits or other Rule 56 evidence “that there is a genuine issue for trial” or “an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case.” Id. at 325, 106 S.Ct. at 2554; Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 529, 126 S.Ct. 2572, 2578, 165 L.Ed.2d 697 (2006).

         An issue of fact is “material” if it could affect the outcome of the case. Hickson Corp. v. Northern Crossarm Co., Inc., 357 F.3d 1256, 1259 (11th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). Additionally, “the issue of fact must be ‘genuine'” and the non-moving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986) (other citations omitted). “The mere existence of some factual dispute will not defeat summary judgment unless that factual dispute is material to an issue affecting the outcome of the case.” McCormick v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 333 F.3d 1234, 1243 (11th Cir. 2003) (quoting Chapman v. AI Transp., 229 F.3d 1012, 1023 (11th Cir. 2000)).

         “[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). “[T]here is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S.Ct. at 2511 (noting that a “scintilla of evidence” is not enough to refer the matter to a jury). The Court must decide “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.” Hickson Corp., 357 F.3d at 1260 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). All “justifiable inferences” must be resolved in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Beard, 548 U.S. at 529, 126 S.Ct. at 2578 (noting the distinction “between evidence of disputed facts and disputed matters of professional judgment.”), [3] but “only if there is a ‘genuine' dispute as to those facts.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007) (quoted in Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586, 129 S.Ct. 2658, 2677, 174 L.Ed.2d 490 (2009)). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 587, 106 S.Ct. at 1356 (other citation omitted).

         Relevant Rule 56(e) Evidence

         On June 23, 2013, Plaintiff was housed in the Y-dormitory at Liberty Correctional Institution, which is a secure housing and confinement unit. ECF No. 80, Ex. A at 1 (ECF No. 80-1, Rogers Aff.). Defendant Rogers was a correctional officer who worked as the Y-dormitory housing unit officer on June 23, 2013. ECF No. 80-1 at 1. At approximately 8:30 a.m., Defendant Rogers observed Plaintiff “yelling from his cell.” Id. at 2. He “attempted to counsel with” Plaintiff, but Plaintiff responded by cursing at Defendant Rogers. Id. Defendant Rogers ordered Plaintiff to stop, but Plaintiff would not comply. Id. Defendant Rogers notified Defendant Sewell of the situation and left to attend to his other duties. Id.

         Defendant Sewell was assigned as the Y-dormitory housing unit sergeant at Liberty C.I., a supervisory position. ECF No. 80, Ex. B at 1 (ECF No. 80-2, Sewell Aff.). Defendant Sewell declares that after Defendant Rogers reported Plaintiff's behavior to him, he went to Plaintiff's cell at approximately 8:40 a.m. “and attempted to counsel with [Plaintiff] in an attempt to calm him down.” Id. at 2. Plaintiff, however, “continued yelling down the wing and yelling obscenities, trying to get the attention of other inmates.” Id. After unsuccessfully ordering Plaintiff to stop his disruptive behavior several times, Defendant Sewell “notified the shift supervisor, Captain James Sikes, ” of Plaintiff's behavior. Id.

         Defendant Sikes arrived in the Y-dormitory at approximately 8:50 a.m., and observed Plaintiff “cursing staff and yelling.” ECF No. 80, Ex. C at 1 (ECF No. 80-3, Sikes Aff.). Defendant Sikes also ordered Plaintiff to stop his behavior, but he did not comply. Id. Pursuant to the procedures listed in Florida Administrative Code Rule 33-602.210, Defendant Sikes verified from medical staff that Plaintiff “did not have a medical condition that would be exacerbated by the use of chemical agents.” Id. at 2. Defendant Sikes also contacted the Duty Warden to discuss Plaintiff's behavior and receive authorization “to use Oleoresin Capsicum (“OC [Spray]”). Id. Defendant Sikes “had Officer Heath Flanagan initiate [a] hand-held camera” to record the use of force. Id.

         The camera recording includes introductory statements of the events by Defendants Rodgers, Sewell, and Sikes. ECF No. 80-3 at 2; see also ECF No. 80, Ex. E.[4] Defendant Sikes, accompanied by Defendant Flanagan, proceeded to Plaintiff's cell and issued a “final order and warning” that chemical agents would be administered if he did not cease his behavior. ECF No. 80-3 at 2. Plaintiff was “not acting disorderly or disruptive at that time, ” so the video recording was “halted at about 9:20 am.” Id.

         At approximately 9:45 a.m., Defendant Rogers again observed Plaintiff “yelling and cursing staff, ” and being disruptive. ECF No. 80-1 at 2. Again, Defendant Rogers unsuccessfully attempted to counsel with Plaintiff. Id.

         Defendant Sikes was advised at approximately 10:00 a.m. that Plaintiff had resumed his disruptive behavior. ECF No. 80-3 at 2. Defendant Sikes retrieved a canister of OC and directed Defendant Sewell to administer three one-second bursts” of the chemical agents. Id. Because Plaintiff continued his behavior, a second application of OC was administered approximately fifteen minutes later. Id. Plaintiff complied with orders to cease at about 10:30 a.m. Id.

         Defendant Sikes declares that the “only reason chemical agents were used was to quell [Plaintiff's] disruptive behavior.” ECF No. 80-3 at 3. “Only the minimum amount of force was used to gain control of Plaintiff's in-cell disturbance to calm him down.” Id. Such conduct can “potentially escalate from one inmate to countless inmates housed in the dormitory, so disruptive behavior cannot be allowed to continue.” Id. Defendant Sikes declares that Plaintiff's allegations as presented in the complaint “are absolutely untrue.” Id. at 1.

         Defendant Flanagan also states in his declaration that Plaintiff's allegations against him “are absolutely untrue.” ECF No. 80, Ex. D (ECF No. 80-4, Flanagan Aff.). Defendant Flanagan advises that he recorded the “lead-in statement” and “final order” for Plaintiff to stop his behavior. Id. at 1. Plaintiff complied and the “recording was halted.” Defendant Flanagan then “left the area, and was not present at or ...

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