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Burgess v. Rouse

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

August 15, 2019




         I. Status

         Plaintiff Johnny Burgess initiated this action on March 29, 2017, by filing a pro se Civil Rights Complaint (Doc. 1; Complaint). After the Court dismissed the claims against the Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) and the prison warden, see Order (Doc. 13), two Defendants remain: Jonathan Jorge and FNU Rouse, corrections officers at Lake Correctional Institution (LCI). In his Complaint, Plaintiff asserts Defendants failed to protect him from an inmate attack in violation of the Eighth Amendment. See Complaint at 5. As relief, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Id. at 7-8.

         Before the Court is Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 102; Motion). In support of their Motion, Defendants provide Plaintiff’s FDOC face sheet (Doc. 118-1); a provision of the Florida Administrative Code (Doc. 118-2); an FDOC incident report dated July 23, 2015 (Doc. 118-3; Incident Report); an investigative report by the Inspector General’s Office (Doc. 118-4; IG Report); Defendant Jorge’s affidavit (Doc. 118-5; Jorge Aff.); Defendant Jorge’s responses to Plaintiff’s interrogatories (Doc. 118-6; Jorge Interr. Resp.); the transcript of the inspector’s interview with Defendant Jorge (Doc. 118-7; Jorge Interview Tr.); the affidavit of Defendant Rouse (Doc. 118-8; Rouse Aff.); Defendant Rouse’s responses to Plaintiff’s interrogatories (Doc. 118-9; Rouse Interr. Resp.); the transcript of the inspector’s interview with Plaintiff (Doc. 118-10; Pl. Interview Tr.); a MINS report dated July 20, 2015 (Doc. 118-11); copies of Plaintiff’s grievances and responses (Doc. 118-12); excerpts of Plaintiff’s deposition transcript (Doc. 118-13; Depo. Tr.); an FDOC disciplinary report against Plaintiff dated July 23, 2015 (Doc. 118-14); and Plaintiff’s medical records (Doc. 118-15; Med. Records).

         Plaintiff responded to the Motion (Doc. 108; Response), with exhibits, most of which are duplicative of evidence Defendants offer, including his deposition transcript, Defendants’ responses to his interrogatories, and his medical records. See Response at 12-13 (Plaintiff’s index of exhibits).[1] Plaintiff also offers his own affidavits, the affidavits of two other inmates, multiple sick- call request forms he submitted following the incident, and provisions of the Florida Administrative Code. Id.

         With leave of Court, see Order (Doc. 112), Defendants replied (Doc. 119; Reply). Accordingly, the Motion is 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. Plaintiff’s Allegations[2]

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges Defendant Jorge orchestrated a plan to have another inmate attempt to kill him. See Complaint at 6. The incident occurred on July 23, 2015, in the mental health unit at LCI. Id. at 5. While Plaintiff was attending a mental health “group” session, another inmate, Martavius Henderson, stabbed Plaintiff with a shank/knife (“weapon”) (“the stabbing incident”). Id. at 5, 6. Plaintiff states he told both Defendants that Henderson had a weapon and would kill Plaintiff if the two inmates were “allowed in the group room” together Id. at 5.

         In his first of two affidavits, Plaintiff avers he had been in fear of Henderson since Henderson attacked him the week before the stabbing incident (“the first incident”). See Response at 15. On the morning of the stabbing incident, inmate Henderson, from his cell, showed Plaintiff he had a weapon, and Henderson threatened to kill Plaintiff with it. Id. At that time, Defendant Jorge and the mental health official were on the wing to determine which inmates wanted to participate in group. Plaintiff claims he got Defendant Jorge’s attention and “informed him that inmate Henderson had a [weapon] that he’d try to kill [Plaintiff] with” if the two were placed together in group. Id. at 15-16. Plaintiff tried to discreetly inform Defendant Jorge of his fear because Henderson’s cell was nearby: Plaintiff says he whispered the warning to Defendant Jorge and held up a piece of paper that said, “HE’S GOT A KNIFE!” Id. at 15, 16. Plaintiff avers Defendant Jorge ignored his worries because Plaintiff and Jorge had prior “problems and disputes,” and Plaintiff had recently filed a grievance against Jorge, which was reported to the Inspector General’s Office for investigation. Id. at 16.

         Plaintiff was brought to the group room before Henderson. Id. Plaintiff informed Defendant Rouse, who was in the group room with him, that Henderson had a weapon and would try to kill Plaintiff with it. Plaintiff avers Defendant Rouse laughed his warning off as a joke.[3] Defendant Rouse also stated to Plaintiff, “no ones [sic] got a knife. And we wont [sic] let no one kill you.” Id. According to Plaintiff, Defendant Jorge extracted Henderson from his cell. Id. From the group room, Plaintiff observed Defendant Jorge talking to Henderson and noticed that Jorge failed to search Henderson before escorting him to the group room. Id.

         Plaintiff describes the following occurred as Henderson entered the group room: “By the time inmate Henderson walked through the threshold of the group room door, he was pulling his hand back up out of his pants with the [weapon] in his hand.” Id. Upon seeing the weapon, Plaintiff shouted, “he’s got a knife,” and he rushed towards Henderson to protect himself from being stabbed. Id. at 16-17. Defendant Jorge grabbed Plaintiff, affording Henderson an opportunity to stab Plaintiff. Id. at 17.

         Plaintiff offers the affidavits of two inmates, Morilus Ronald and Lane Trimanye, who were housed on the mental health wing with him and Henderson. Inmate Ronald avers he witnessed Plaintiff “tell [Defendant] Jorge that Henderson had a [weapon],” but Defendant Jorge ignored Plaintiff. Id. at 21. Ronald further states Plaintiff tried to inform Defendant Rouse about the threat, but Defendant Rouse also ignored him. Id. Ronald explains what happened when Defendant Jorge escorted Henderson into the group room: “[Defendant] Jorge let Henderson rushing [sic] [Plaintiff] and stabbed [Plaintiff].” Id.

         Inmate Trimanye avers he was housed on the mental health wing with Plaintiff and Henderson on the day of the first incident. Id. at 23, 24. Trimanye avers Defendant Rouse “served and investigated” a disciplinary report against Henderson following the first incident. Id. at 23. Trimanye characterizes the first incident as “the talk of the mental health unit.” Id. After the first incident, Trimanye was moved to another wing of the prison. Id. at 24. However, he says he later “heard of staff allowing Henderson into the [mental health] group with a weapon,” which resulted in Plaintiff’s stabbing. According to Trimanye, the mental health official overheard Plaintiff warn Defendant Rouse of Henderson’s threat and possession of a weapon. Id. The mental health official told Trimanye he did not report what he overheard because he was scared to lose his job. Id.

         Trimanye, in a second affidavit, explains he was later transferred to two different correctional institutions along with Henderson. Id. at 27. He avers the following:

Henderson bragged . . . about how he had almost killed [Plaintiff] and gotten away with it … because officers did not like [Plaintiff] so they covered up the evidence… [P]lus Henderson bragged about how [Plaintiff] had snitched and forewarned officers Jorge and Rouse that he had a knife but they wouldn’t listen to him …. Henderson stated that he consulted with officer Jorge to leave his handcuffs on 1 click so that he could easily slide his hands out of the handcuffs and jump on [Plaintiff] and officer Jorge agreed.

Id. at 27-28. Henderson also stated, however, Defendant Jorge did not know Henderson had a weapon; Defendant Jorge “only wanted Henderson to jump on [Plaintiff,] not stab him.” Id. at 28.

         IV. Summary of the Arguments

         In their Motion, Defendants argue there is no evidence demonstrating they were deliberately indifferent to a serious risk of harm, they are entitled to qualified immunity, and Plaintiff cannot recover compensatory or punitive damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (e). See Motion at 13, 16, 17. Additionally, Defendants assert Eleventh Amendment protects them from damages in their official capacities. Id. at 15.

         Defendants argue there is no evidence they knew of the first incident between inmate Henderson, and Plaintiff initiated the stabbing incident, thus causing his own injury. Id. at 13. Defendants state, “[t]here is no evidence to support Plaintiff’s assertion that [they] knew ahead of time that Inmate Henderson intended to attack Plaintiff.” Id. In their Reply, Defendants contend Plaintiff “can show no evidence” they knew Henderson posed a threat of harm to Plaintiff. Reply at 3. They reason, “Defendants did not place Plaintiff in any vulnerable position or at risk because Plaintiff himself initiated the attack.” Id.

         Defendants rely in part upon internal FDOC records and their own statements. In the incident report, the reporting employee recorded, “[Defendant] Jorge informed me during this group session [Plaintiff] . . . stood up out of his chair and charged at Inmate Henderson . . . . [who] stabbed [Plaintiff] in the neck with a homemade knife.” Incident Report at 1. Defendants aver in their affidavits that they saw Plaintiff rush at Henderson. Defendant Jorge states, Plaintiff “aburuptly jumped out of his chair and charged Henderson.” Jorge Aff. ...

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