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Hoffmann v. McCray

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

July 26, 2019

ANTHONY MCCRAY, et al., Defendants.



         I. Status

         Plaintiff Chester R. Hoffmann is proceeding on a pro se Amended Civil Rights Complaint (Doc. 9; Complaint) against Chad Gaylord, Thomas North, Anthony McCray, Robert Davis, Michalah Mosely, Joseph Harris, and three John Does, identified as John Doe “B, ” John Doe “C, ” and John Doe “E.”[1] In his Complaint, Plaintiff asserts violations of the 4th, 6th, 8th, and 14th Amendments. Complaint at 4.[2] He alleges Defendants North, McCray, Harris, and John Does “C” and “E” used excessive force against him on October 17, 2016 (at two separate times), when he was housed at Hamilton Correctional Institution (HCI). Id. at 7-8. Plaintiff asserts Defendants Davis and Mosely failed to intervene, and Defendant Gaylord, a nurse, failed to report the force incidents. Id. Finally, he asserts Defendant North violated his rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments in connection with a disciplinary hearing resulting in an adjudication of guilt. Id. As relief, Plaintiff seeks a declaration that Defendants violated his constitutional rights, compensatory and punitive damages, litigation costs, to have the alleged false disciplinary report removed from his file, to be placed back in the general population, and to be transferred to a different correctional facility. Id. at 16.

         Before the Court are two motions for summary judgment: one filed by Defendants McCray, Davis, Mosely, and North (Doc. 57; McCray Motion), and one filed by Defendant Harris (Doc. 70; Harris Motion).[3] Plaintiff has responded to both Motions (Docs. 67, 80; collectively, “Pl. Responses”).[4] Accordingly, the motions are ripe for this Court's review.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Under Rule 56, “[t]he 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). An issue is genuine when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the nonmovant. Mize v. Jefferson City Bd. of Educ., 93 F.3d 739, 742 (11th Cir. 1996) (quoting Hairston v. Gainesville Sun Publ'g Co., 9 F.3d 913, 919 (11th Cir. 1993)). “[A] mere scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Kesinger ex rel. Estate of Kesinger v. Herrington, 381 F.3d 1243, 1247 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986)).

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating to the court, by reference to the record, that there are no genuine issues of material fact to be determined at trial. See Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). The record to be considered on a motion for summary judgment may include “depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Rule 56(c)(1)(A).

         “When a moving party has discharged its burden, the non-moving party must then go beyond the pleadings, and by its own affidavits, or by depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 64 F.3d 590, 593-94 (11th Cir. 1995) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         Substantive law determines the materiality of facts, and “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court “must view all evidence and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing summary judgment.” Haves v. City of Miami, 52 F.3d 918, 921 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing Dibrell Bros. Int'l, S.A. v. Banca Nazionale Del Lavoro, 38 F.3d 1571, 1578 (11th Cir. 1994)).

         III. Complaint Allegations

         In his Complaint, which is verified under penalty of perjury, [5]Plaintiff describes two instances of excessive force at HCI on October 17, 2016. The first instance of force occurred inside housing unit A, where Plaintiff's cell was located. Complaint at 7. According to Plaintiff, Defendants Davis, McCray, and Mosely were counseling inmates about cleanliness. Id. at 11. Defendant Davis informed the inmates they were being denied certain privileges because of cleanliness violations, and Plaintiff spoke up, stating the punishment was unfair. Id. Plaintiff and Defendant McCray “began going back and forth concerning the issue.” Id. Plaintiff alleges Defendant McCray was yelling at him. Plaintiff told Defendant McCray he was a mental health (“psych”) inmate and did not like to be yelled at, which made Defendant McCray yell louder. Id. Plaintiff alleges he “acted like he was going to lunge at McCray, ” but did not carry through with the action. Defendant McCray then instructed Plaintiff to get down from his bunk, which Plaintiff declined to do. Id.

         After Plaintiff declined to get off his bunk at Defendant McCray's request, Defendant Davis ordered Plaintiff to get down. Plaintiff then complied. At Defendant McCray's instruction, Plaintiff began walking toward the bathroom. Plaintiff alleges he had his hands in the air. Id. Plaintiff asserts Defendant McCray said, “when we get to the bathroom I'm going to show you who is really is [sic] [psych].” Id. Plaintiff stopped walking, turned around to say something to Defendant McCray, but then changed his mind, and “turned back around with both hands in the air.” Id. Plaintiff asserts Defendant McCray grabbed him from behind, slammed him face-first to the floor, handcuffed him, and sprayed him in the face with chemical agents. Id. at 11-12.

         Defendants Davis and McCray then escorted Plaintiff to the center gate, where the second alleged incident occurred. Id. at 12. At the center gate, Defendant McCray informed Defendant North that Plaintiff tried to hit Defendant McCray. Plaintiff asserts Defendant North, Defendant Harris, and John Does “C” and “E” placed a spit shield over his head and “began striking [him] in his head and face area.” Id. Plaintiff also asserts Defendant North rammed “his knee into [Plaintiff's] face and the officers ram[m]ed his head into a post and twisted his arms up and tried to break his fingers.” Id. Officers then escorted Plaintiff to dorm H, where Plaintiff took a decontamination shower “to wash off the ‘blood' and ‘chemical agents.'” Id.

         After the decontamination shower, officers placed a spit shield over Plaintiff's head again, allegedly to “hide and cover-up [Plaintiff's] injuries.” Id. Plaintiff asserts that, upon arriving at the medical evaluation room, Defendant North threatened him, stating “how you are treated here depends on what you say and do.” Id. Plaintiff claims the nurse, Defendant Gaylord, did not document all his injuries and did not remove the spit shield from his head to check his face for injuries. Id. After the medical examination, Plaintiff was placed in a cell with only boxers for seven days. Id. at 13. In the days after his placement in the cell, Plaintiff's requests for medical treatment and grievance forms were ignored. Plaintiff saw his mental health counselor, John Doe “B, ” about four days after the incidents.

         Plaintiff asserts he suffered a concussion resulting from Defendant McCray's attack, and the chemical spray caused pain, temporary blindness, and respiratory problems. Id. at 15. He alleges the assault that occurred at the center gate resulted in a pulled muscle, sore fingers, lumps to his head, a “busted nose, ” and black eyes. Id. Plaintiff also claims to have suffered mental anguish, fear, depression, and other emotional injuries. Id.

         In addition to his Eighth Amendment claims, Plaintiff asserts Defendant North violated his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights in connection with a disciplinary action that resulted in Plaintiff's loss of “good adjustment transfer” and placement on close management. Id. at 9, 13.

         IV. Legal Analysis & Conclusions of Law

         A. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

         Defendants North, McCray, Davis, Mosely, and Harris assert they are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity as to any claims against them for damages in their official capacities. See McCray Motion at 1; Harris Motion at 1. Plaintiff appears to misunderstand Defendants' Eleventh Amendment immunity defense because, in response, he simply reiterates that Defendants used excessive force against him. Pl. Responses at 14.

         When a plaintiff sues a state actor in his official capacity, “the action is in essence one for the recovery of money from the state.” Zatler v. Wainwright, 802 F.2d 397, 400 (11th Cir. 1986). As such, “the state is the real, substantial party in interest and is entitled to invoke its sovereign immunity from suit even though individual officials are nominal defendants.” Id. (finding the FDOC Secretary was immune from suit in his official capacity). To the extent Plaintiff seeks monetary damages from Defendants North, McCray, Davis, Mosely, and Harris in their official capacities, they are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. Therefore, Defendants' motions are due to be granted as to Plaintiff's claims for monetary damages from them in their official capacities.

         B. Qualified Immunity

         Defendants McCray, Davis, Mosely, and Harris invoke qualified immunity. See McCray Motion at 6; Harris Motion at 6.[6] Plaintiff states Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity because they used excessive force against him. See Pl. Responses at 11. As to the first incident, Plaintiff claims he did not make any aggressive movement toward Defendant McCray when Defendants were escorting him, and Defendant McCray sprayed him with pepper spray “until the can was empty.” Id. at 4. As to the second incident, Plaintiff asserts Defendant Harris punched him in the face while he had a spit shield covering his head and was fully restrained. Id. at 5.

         An officer sued in his individual capacity “is entitled to qualified immunity for his discretionary actions unless he violated ‘clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'” Black v. Wigington, 811 F.3d 1259, 1266 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting Case v. Eslinger, 555 F.3d 1317, 1325 (11th Cir. 2009)). Qualified immunity allows officers to exercise their official duties without fear of facing personal liability. Alcocer v. Mills, 906 F.3d 944, 951 (11th Cir. 2018). The doctrine protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate an inmate's constitutional rights. Id.

         Upon asserting a qualified immunity defense, a defendant bears the initial burden to demonstrate he was acting in his discretionary authority at the relevant times. Dukes v. Deaton, 852 F.3d 1035, 1041-42 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 138 S.Ct. 72 (2017). Here, the uncontradicted evidence demonstrates Defendants McCray, Davis, Mosely, and Harris were acting within the scope of their discretionary duties at the time of the alleged incidents, which Plaintiff does not dispute. As such, Defendants carry their burden on qualified immunity. The burden now shifts to Plaintiff.

         To overcome a qualified immunity defense, a plaintiff bears the burden to demonstrate two elements: the defendant's conduct caused plaintiff to suffer a constitutional violation, and the constitutional violation was “clearly established” at the time of the alleged violation. Alcocer, 906 F.3d at 951. “Because § 1983 ‘requires proof of an affirmative causal connection between the official's acts or omissions and the alleged constitutional deprivation,' each defendant is entitled to an independent qualified-immunity analysis as it relates to his or her actions and omissions.” Id. (quoting Zatler, 802 F.2d at 401). As such, the Court will analyze Plaintiff's excessive force claim against Defendants separately. Before doing so, the Court will set forth the relevant Eighth Amendment principles.[7]

         The Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment “prohibits the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain, or the infliction of pain totally without penological justification.” Ort v. White, 813 F.2d 318, 321 (11th Cir. 1987). As such, the Eighth Amendment prohibits “punishment grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offense.” Id. In analyzing use of force incidents, courts must be mindful that they generally should not interfere in matters of prison administration or inmate discipline. Id. at 322. Thus, courts must balance concerns of an inmate's right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment with a prison official's obligation to ensure a safe and secure institution. Id. 321-22. “The Court's decisions in this area counsel that prison officials should be accorded wide-ranging deference in the adoption and execution of policies and practices that in their judgment are needed to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security.” Id. at 322 (quoting Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 547 (1979)).

         Because of the deference afforded prison officials, an inmate against whom force is used to restore order or quell a disturbance demonstrates an Eighth Amendment violation only when the official's action “inflicted unnecessary and wanton pain and suffering.” Id. (internal citations omitted). See also Williams v. Burton, 943 F.2d 1572, 1575 (11th Cir. 1991) (quoting Whitley, 475 U.S. at (1986)) (“The Supreme Court has held that . . . any security measure undertaken to resolve [a] disturbance gives rise to an Eighth Amendment claim only if the measure taken ‘inflicted unnecessary and wanton pain and suffering' caused by force used ‘maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.'”) (emphasis is original). When an officer uses force to quell a disturbance, the force should cease once the inmate has been controlled. A continued use of harmful force may constitute punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment if the behavior giving rise to the need for force has ceased. Ort, 813 F.2d at 324.

         The Eleventh Circuit has articulated five factors courts may consider in determining whether an officer's use of force was in good faith or carried out ...

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