United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Panama City Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
THAI CANNON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Defendants Diana Duncan and
Beth Welch's motion for summary judgment (ECF Doc.
The matter has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate
Judge for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636 and N.D. Fla. Loc. R. 72.2(C). After reviewing the
parties' submissions and the relevant law, the
undersigned recommends that Defendants' motion be GRANTED
and summary judgment entered in Defendants' favor.
Specifically, the undersigned finds that Plaintiff has failed
to present facts from which a reasonable jury could find that
Defendants acted with deliberate indifference in violation of
the Eighth Amendment and further that, even if such facts
were present, Defendants would be entitled to qualified
support of their motion, Defendants submitted verified
interrogatory responses from Defendants Duncan (ECF Doc.
53-5) and Welch (ECF Doc. 53-3) and the affidavit of
Defendant Welch (ECF Doc. 54). In opposition, Plaintiff
submitted his medical records, the affidavit of a former
inmate, Shawn Stokes and his own affidavit. ECF Doc. 59 at
21-37. The facts below are derived from those submissions as
well as Phelps' verified amended complaint (ECF Doc. 6).
See Caldwell v. Warden, FCI Talladega, 748 F.3d
1090, 1098 (noting the court is to “credit the specific
facts pled in [a pro se plaintiff's] sworn
complaint when considering his opposition to summary
judgment) (internal marks omitted).
Rodney Phelps (“Phelps”), a prisoner proceeding
pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this
civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (ECF Doc. 1),
asserting claims for cruel and unusual punishment under the
Eighth Amendment and denial of due process under the
Fourteenth Amendment. Phelps' claims arise out of an
incident that occurred on March 11, 2012, when Phelps burned
his foot with hot water after slipping into an open drain
while working in a prison kitchen. Phelps names three (3)
Defendants in the complaint - Diana Duncan
(“Duncan”), Food Services Director; Raymond Wood
(“Wood”),  Correctional Officer; and B. Welch
(“Welch”), Production Manager, each of whom were
employed at the Northwest Florida Reception Center Annex
(“NFRCA”), where Phelps was incarcerated and
claims that on the morning of March 11, 2012, while working
to make the morning beverages, he noticed the floor drain in
front of the tilt kettle was missing a drain cover. ECF Doc.
53-6 at 23; ECF Doc. 6 at 6. According to Phelps, the cooks
often swapped drain covers because there were never enough in
their area either and that is what happened that morning.
See ECF Doc. 53-6 at 23. Phelps asked one of the
cooks if he could use one of their drain covers, but the cook
said no. See id. Thus, Phelps advised Defendant
Welch of the missing drain cover. ECF Doc. 53-6 (Phelps
Depo.) at 23; ECF Doc. 6 at 6. Welch told him to “just
work around the drain as usual, ” and “be
careful, ” or go to confinement. ECF Doc. 53-6 (Phelps
Depo.) at 23; ECF Doc. 6 at 7. Phelps then went to
Defendant Woods, who gave him a similar response. ECF Doc.
53-6 (Phelps Depo.) at 24; ECF Doc. 6 at 7. Subsequently,
when Phelps returned to make the beverages, he accidentally
stepped into the uncovered drain, spilling hot water on his
left foot and leg and sustaining first and second degree
burns on his left foot. Id. at 25; ECF Doc. 6 at 8.
Welch does not dispute she “was aware that there were a
lack of floor drain covers throughout the food services
department premises.” ECF Doc. 54 at 2. Indeed, the
parties agree drain covers were missing throughout the food
services area for “long periods of time” and that
it was a “known condition.” See Id. at
3; ECF Doc. 6 at 9; ECF Doc. 59 at 4; ECF Doc. 59 at 33.
Defendant Welch states in her affidavit that she reported the
issue to maintenance and “often reminded Plaintiff and
other inmates” “to be careful.”
See ECF Doc. 54 at 3. Welch contends she had no
control over the lack of floor drains other than to report
the issue to maintenance. See Id. These facts are
not disputed by Phelps. Despite the fact that the exposed
drains have been a known and persistent issue, Defendant
Welch states she is not aware of any other incident involving
the exposed drains. ECF Doc. 53-3 at 3.
undisputed Defendant Duncan was not present at the time of
the incident. Nonetheless, Phelps has sued Duncan because he
contends she was aware of the exposed drains. Specifically,
Phelps contends that he and other inmates advised her of same
on numerous occasions. ECF Doc. 6 at 9. Additionally, he
contends Defendant Duncan is seen on video making
“daily inspections” of the food services area.
Id. Phelps further contends he advised Defendant
Duncan he had slipped and fallen into the exposed floor
drains on other occasions and Duncan's response was that
“she was aware of the situation, ” “she
[had] informed the maintenance department” and
“just be careful or go to confinement.” ECF Doc.
6 at 9.
Duncan does not dispute she was aware of the exposed drains.
Instead, in response to interrogatories, she states she does
not remember whether she was made aware of this fact and in
Defendants' motion, they state that “Duncan may not
have been aware” of the exposed drains. ECF Doc. 53-5 at
3; ECF Doc. 53 at 14. Defendant Duncan also contends that
drain covers were under the lock and key of maintenance, that
maintenance was responsible for ordering drain covers and
ensuring there were a sufficient number of covers. See
id. She does not dispute she conducted visual
inspections of the food services area each day that she was
on duty. See id. at 4.
Summary Judgment Standard
judgment is appropriate when 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.” Jinks v.
Owens, 517 Fed.Appx. 913, 914 (11th Cir.
2013) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). “Once the party
moving for summary judgment discharges its initial
responsibility of informing the district court of the basis
for its motion, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to
come forward with relevant evidence beyond the pleadings
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.”
Id. at 914-15 (internal marks omitted). “If
the non-moving party fails to make a sufficient showing to
establish an essential element of its case, summary judgment
is appropriate.” Id. “Mere conclusions
and unsupported factual allegations are insufficient to
defeat a summary judgment motion.” Id.
“Similarly, [a] mere scintilla of evidence in support
of the nonmoving party will not suffice to overcome a motion
for summary judgment.” Id. (internal marks
Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment Claim
gravamen of Phelps' complaint is that the Defendants
violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment by displaying
a “deliberate indifference” to his safety when
they required him to continue to work around open floor
drains. The Eighth Amendment imposes an obligation on prison
officials to “take reasonable measures to guarantee the
safety of the inmates.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511
U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (internal marks and citations omitted).
A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment when his
“act or omission . . . result[s] in the denial of the
minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.”
Id. (internal marks and citations omitted). A mere
negligent failure to protect an inmate does not state a claim
under § 1983. Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344,
survive summary judgment, Phelps must show (1) a substantial
risk of harm; (2) the Defendants' deliberate indifference
to that risk; and (3) causation. See Hale v. Tallapoosa
Cty., 50 F.3d 1579, 1582 (11th Cir. 1995).
Substantial Risk of Serious Harm
an unsafe condition results in a substantial risk of harm is
determined based on an objective standard. See
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. A condition poses a
substantial risk of serious harm if it is “so extreme
that it poses an unreasonable risk of serious damage to the
prisoner's health or safety.” Richardson v.
Johnson, 598 F.3d 734, 737 (11th Cir. 2010).
There must be a strong likelihood of injury as opposed to a
mere possibility. See Brown v. Hughes, 894 F.2d
1533, 1537 (11th Cir. 1990). ...