United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
MICHAEL W. ALTON, JR.,  Plaintiff,
SERGEANT RICK ROBINSON, Defendant.
MORALES HOWARD UNITED SLATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Michael W. Alton, Jr., while an inmate of the Florida penal
system, initiated this action on November 1, 2017,
by filing a pro se Civil Rights Complaint Form (Complaint;
Doc. 1). In the Complaint, Alton asserts claims pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant Rick Robinson, a
Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) sergeant. He states
that Robinson violated his Eighth Amendment right when he
used excessive force against Alton at Union Correctional
Institution (UCI) work camp on November 7, 2016. As relief,
Alton seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as
matter is before the Court on Defendant Robinson's Motion
for Summary Judgment (Motion; Doc. 31). Robinson submitted
exhibits in support of his summary judgment request.
See Def. Exs. (Docs. 31-1 through
31-7). The Court advised Alton of the provisions
of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, notified him that the
granting of a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary
judgment would represent a final adjudication of this case
which may foreclose subsequent litigation on the matter, and
gave him an opportunity to respond to the Motion.
See Order (Doc. 5); Summary Judgment Notice (Doc.
32). Alton responded. See Response and Opposition to
Defendant's Summary Judgment (Response; Doc. 36). He also
submitted exhibits. See P. Exs. (Docs. 36-1 through
36-8). Defendant's Motion is ripe for review.
Complaint, Alton asserts that he was verbally and physically
assaulted twice while housed at the UCI work camp.
See Complaint at 5. He states that the FDOC issued
two disciplinary reports against him on November 7, 2016, for
possessing tobacco and negotiables. See id. He avers
that corrections officers escorted him to the
lieutenant's office for questioning, and Defendant
Robinson later took him to the visiting park's shakedown
room where he was verbally reprimanded in an unreasonable
manner. See id. According to Alton, Robinson used
his open right hand to strike the left side of Alton's
face, which forced his head against the wall. See
id. He declares that officers escorted him to the UCI
medical unit where they asked health-related questions.
See id. at 6. Alton recounts that he “was
afraid to state facts or answer any questions due to possible
retaliation from escorting officers.” Id. He
asserts that he instead wrote to his fiancé (Ms.
Baumberger) and explained that Robinson had assaulted him.
Id. He states that the FDOC housed him in a
confinement dormitory at the UCI Main Unit where Robinson
stopped by Alton's cell on November 22nd and stated
“quit talking sh[*]t back here or else.”
to Alton, officers escorted him to a follow-up medical
appointment on November 23rd, as a result of Baumberger's
phone call. See id. He asserts that the FDOC
released him from the UCI confinement unit and returned him
to Robinson's shift at the UCI work camp on December 1,
2016. See id. Alton recounts that when he arrived,
officers directed him to report to the main laundry building
to receive his personal property. See id. He recalls
that he noticed Robinson through a glass partition as he
entered the dark, unlit building. See id. According
to Alton, as he opened the door and partially entered, an
“unknown individual” struck him on the left side
of his face. Id. He states that the darkness
hindered his ability to identify his attacker. See
id. He avers that he “instantly retreated”
from the incident. Id. Alton believes that Robinson
was either the one who assaulted him or a facilitator in the
assault. See id. Alton declares that the FDOC should
not have returned him to the work camp. See id. at
7. According to Alton, he spoke with Inspector Kevin Snow,
who took a recorded statement and assured Alton that he would
try to retrieve the relevant camera footage.
Summary Judgment Standard
Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Rules(s)),
“[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). 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.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). An issue is genuine when the evidence
is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in
favor of the non-moving party. 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)).
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). “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)).
Summary of the Arguments
Motion, Defendant Robinson asserts that there are no genuine
issues of material fact, and therefore, the Court should
grant summary judgment in his favor. He states that no
reasonable jury could find in Alton's favor, and
therefore, the Motion should be granted as to Alton's
Eighth Amendment claim. See Motion at 6-9. He also
maintains that he is entitled to qualified immunity. See
id. at 15-16. Additionally, Robinson asserts that Alton
is not entitled to compensatory and punitive damages under 42
U.S.C. § 1997e(e) because he has not alleged any
physical injury resulting from Defendant's acts and/or
omissions. See id. at 9-14. Finally, he asserts that
the Eleventh Amendment bars Alton's claim for monetary
damages against him in his official capacity. See
id. at 16-17. In his Response, Alton maintains that
Defendant Robinson is not entitled to qualified immunity.
See Response at 4-5. He states that he has met the
physical-injury requirement in that he suffers hearing loss
in the left ear as well as psychological injuries, such as
post-traumatic stress and recurring nightmares. See
id. at 3, 8.
state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must
allege that (1) the defendant deprived him of a right secured
under the United States Constitution or federal law, and (2)
such deprivation occurred under color of state law.
Salvato v. Miley, 790 F.3d 1286, 1295 (11th Cir.
2015); Bingham v. Thomas, 654 F.3d 1171, 1175 (11th
Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (citation omitted); Richardson v.
Johnson, 598 F.3d 734, 737 (11th Cir. 2010) (per curiam)
(citations omitted). Additionally, the Eleventh Circuit
requires “‘an affirmative causal connection
between the official's acts or omissions and the alleged
constitutional deprivation' in § 1983 cases.”
Rodriguez v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., 508 F.3d
611, 625 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Zatler v.
Wainwright, 802 F.2d 397, 401 (11th Cir. 1986)). In the
absence of a federal constitutional deprivation or violation
of a federal right, a plaintiff cannot sustain a cause of
action against the defendant.
respect to the appropriate analysis in an Eighth Amendment
excessive use of force case, the Eleventh Circuit has
[O]ur core inquiry is “whether force was applied in a
good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or
maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.” Hudson
v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 112 S.Ct. 995, 999, 117
L.Ed.2d 156 (1992). In determining whether force was applied
maliciously and sadistically, we look to five factors:
“(1) the extent of injury; (2) the need for application
of force; (3) the relationship between that need and the
amount of force used; (4) any efforts made to temper the
severity of a forceful response; and (5) the extent of the
threat to the safety of staff and inmates[, as reasonably
perceived by the responsible officials on the basis of facts
known to them]...” Campbell v. Sikes, 169 F.3d
1353, 1375 (11th Cir. 1999) (quotations omitted).
McKinney v. Sheriff, 520 Fed.Appx. 903, 905 (11th
Cir. 2013) (per curiam). “When considering these
factors, [courts] ‘give a wide range of deference to
prison officials acting to preserve discipline and security,
including when considering decisions made at the scene of a
disturbance.'” Fennell v. Gilstrap, 559
F.3d 1212, 1217 (11th Cir. 2009) (per curiam) (quoting
Cockrell v. Sparks, 510 F.3d 1307, 1311 (11th Cir.
Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual
punishments necessarily excludes from constitutional
recognition de minimis uses of physical force,
provided that the use of force is not of a sort repugnant to
the conscience of mankind.” Hudson v.
McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9-10 (1992) (internal quotations
and citations omitted). “A prisoner may avoid summary
judgment, ‘only if the evidence viewed in the light
most favorable to him goes beyond a mere dispute over the
reasonableness of the force used and will support a reliable
inference of wantonness in the infliction of
pain.'” Stallworth v. Tyson, 578 Fed.Appx.
948, 953 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting Brown v. Smith,
813 F.2d 1187, 1188 (11th Cir. 1987)). Notably, a lack of
serious injury is relevant to the Eighth Amendment inquiry.
See Smith v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., 524
Fed.Appx. 511, 513 (11th Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (quoting
Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 38 (2010) (per
curiam)). The United States Supreme Court explained.
“[T]he extent of injury suffered by an inmate is one
factor that may suggest ‘whether the use of force could
plausibly have been thought necessary' in a particular
situation.” Ibid. ] (quoting Whitley,
supra, at 321, 106 S.Ct. 1078). The extent of injury may
also provide some indication of the amount of force applied.
As we stated in Hudson, not “every malevolent
touch by a prison guard gives rise to a federal cause of
action.” 503 U.S. at 9, 112 S.Ct. 995.... An inmate who
complains of a “‘push or shove'” that
causes no discernible injury almost certainly fails to state
a valid excessive force claim. Id., at 9 (quoting
Johnson v. Glick, 481 F.2d 1028, 1033 (2d Cir.
Injury and force, however, are only imperfectly correlated,
and it is the latter that ultimately counts. An inmate who is
gratuitously beaten by guards does not lose his ability to
pursue an excessive force claim merely because he has the
good fortune to escape without serious injury.
Wilkins, 559 U.S. at 37-38.