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Milledge v. Tucker

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

August 22, 2019

KENNETH S. TUCKER, et al., Defendants.



         I. Status

         Plaintiff Corey Milledge initiated this action by filing a pro se civil rights complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida (Doc. 1). The Northern District transferred the action to this Court on April 24, 2017, because a vast majority of Defendants were employed by Suwannee Correctional Institution (SCI) at the relevant time. See Order (Doc. 33). Plaintiff is proceeding on an Amended Complaint (Doc. 27; Am. Compl.) against ten individuals for two alleged use-of-force incidents that occurred on June 22, 2012, at SCI. See Am. Compl. at 10. He asserts claims under the First and Eighth Amendments. As relief, he seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Id. at 19.

         Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 128; Def. Motion) with exhibits (Docs. 128-1 through 128- 14, 139-1 through 139-3).[1] Plaintiff responded to the Motion (Doc. 136; Response) with exhibits (Docs. 135-1 through 135-17).[2]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).

         On summary judgment, a party opposing the motion must point to evidence in the record to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). A party may not rely on conclusory assertions or speculative argument. “[U]nsupported conclusions and unsupported factual allegations, as well as affidavits based, in part, upon information and belief, rather than personal knowledge, are insufficient to withstand a motion for summary judgment.” Mazzola v. Davis, No. 17-14662 (11th Cir. June 11, 2019) (quoting Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1327 (11th Cir. 2005)) (internal quotation marks omitted). See also Cordoba v. Dillard's, Inc., 419 F.3d 1169, 1181 (11th Cir. 2005) (“[U]nsupported speculation does not meet a party's burden of producing some defense to a summary judgment motion.”) (quoting Hedberg v. Ind. Bell Tel. Co., 47 F.3d 928, 931-32 (7th Cir. 1995)) (alteration adopted).

         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, [3]Plaintiff asserts Defendants violated his rights under the First and Eighth Amendments in connection with two uses of force that occurred on June 22, 2012. See Am. Compl. at 16-18. On the day of the incidents, Plaintiff was housed in a “transit care unit for inmates with mental health issues.” Id. at 12. Plaintiff alleges Defendants Parrish, Sodrel, Greene, Box, and Polanco gratuitously beat him inside the medical room in a manner Plaintiff describes as a planned attack (“medical room incident”). Id. at 13.

         Plaintiff alleges he sought help from Defendant Perry before the medical room incident. Plaintiff told Defendant Perry he thought his life was in danger because Defendants Parrish and Greene threatened to harm him. Plaintiff asserts Defendant Parrish threatened to punish him for lying about Defendant Parrish in a grievance, and Defendant Greene told Plaintiff he and other guards planned to “whoop [his] ass . . . for throwing [feces] on an officer.” Id. at 12. Plaintiff asserts Defendant Perry told Plaintiff, “[there's] nothing I can do for you.” Id.

         The second incident occurred later in the day inside Plaintiff's cell (“cell incident”). Id. at 14. Plaintiff asserts Defendants Nieves and Howell ordered Plaintiff to put his arms through the flap to be cuffed. When Plaintiff complied, Defendants Nieves and Howell pulled his right arm through the flap, and Howell “placed handcuffs around his knuckles like brass knuckles and punched [Plaintiff] repeatedly in the hand.” Id. Defendants Box, Polanco, and Greene came to his cell. Id. The cell door was opened, and Defendant Box “leaned in the cell and punched [Plaintiff] in the face and head, ” while Defendant Nieves continued to hold his arm. Id. at 15. Defendants Polanco, Howell, and Greene watched. Id.

         Plaintiff asserts a claim under the First Amendment (retaliation) against Defendant Parrish; a claim under the Eighth Amendment (deliberate indifference) against Defendants Woodall, Tucker, and Perry; and a claim under the Eighth Amendment (excessive force or failure to intervene) against Defendants Box, Greene, Howell, Nieves, Polanco, Parrish, and Sodrel. Id. at 16-18.

         IV. Summary of the Arguments

         Defendants move to dismiss any claims for damages against them in their official capacities and argue Plaintiff is not entitled to recover compensatory and punitive damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e). See Def. Motion at 7, 13. Defendants Woodall, Tucker, and Perry seek dismissal of the claims against them for Plaintiff's failure to state a claim. Id. at 8, 11. Defendants Woodall and Tucker argue Plaintiff's claims against them are based on supervisory liability, and Plaintiff offers no facts demonstrating the requisite causal connection between their conduct and the alleged constitutional violations. Id. at 8-11. Defendant Perry asserts he cannot be liable for failing to intervene because he was not present during either force incident and therefore, was not in a position to have intervened. Id. at 13.

         In response, Plaintiff clarifies he sues Defendants in their individual capacities only. See Response at 2, 6. As to the claims against Defendants Woodall and Tucker, Plaintiff argues the facts support an inference that these supervisory Defendants knew he faced a substantial risk of harm from “subordinates, ” and they failed to reasonably respond to the risk. Id. at 7.

         With respect to Defendant Perry, Plaintiff states Defendants misunderstand his claim. Plaintiff asserts a deliberate-indifference-failure-to-protect claim against Defendant Perry, not a failure-to-intervene claim. Id. at 16. Plaintiff argues he states a claim against Defendant Perry because he told Defendant Perry before the medical room incident that Defendants Greene and Parrish threatened to physically assault him, and he asked for protection, which Defendant Perry declined to provide. Id. at 17.

         As to his injuries, Plaintiff contends Defendants beat him while he was fully restrained until he was unconscious, he had a bruised left eye with swelling, and he sustained injuries to his right shoulder and back. Id. at 23-24. He claims he sought medical treatment after the incidents. Id. at 24.

         V. Legal Analysis & Conclusions of Law

         A. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

         Defendants assert they are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity as to any claims against them for damages in their official capacities. See Def. Motion at 7-8. Plaintiff does not seek damages from Defendants in their official capacities. See Response at 2, 6. As such, Defendants' motion is due to be denied as moot to the extent they assert Eleventh Amendment immunity.

         B. Claims Against Defendants ...

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