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Kornagay v. Diedeman

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

November 7, 2019




         I. Status

         Plaintiff Robert D. Kornagay, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action on July 12, 2017, by filing a pro se Civil Rights Complaint (Doc. 1). Kornagay, with the benefit of counsel, filed an Amended Complaint (AC; Doc. 44) on February 20, 2019. In the AC, Kornagay asserts claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Thomas Diedeman and Jeremy Wilburn.[1] He states that Diedeman and Wilburn violated his Eighth Amendment right when they failed to protect him from inmate assaults on February 4, 2017, at Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI). Additionally, Kornagay asserts that Defendants conspired to deprive him of his federal constitutional rights. As relief, he seeks compensatory, punitive and nominal damages as well as reasonable attorney's fees and costs.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Diedeman and Wilburn's Motion for Summary Judgment (Motion; Doc. 83). They submitted exhibits in support of their summary judgment request. See Def. Exs., Docs. 84-1 through 84-4.[2] The Court advised Kornagay 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. 85). Kornagay responded. See Response to Motion for Summary Judgment (Response; Doc. 92). He also submitted exhibits. See P. Exs., Docs. 92-1 through 92-6. Defendants' Motion is ripe for review.

         II. Plaintiff's Allegations [3]

         In the AC, Kornagay maintains that CCI corrections officers, with the knowledge and acquiescence of the prison administrators, “set up or encouraged fights between prisoners for entertainment.” AC at 2-3. He asserts two causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants. See id. at 7-9. First, Kornagay states that Diedeman and Wilburn failed to protect him when they (1) exposed him to inmates Avants and Carlton Daniels' attacks without any effort to help or call for backup; (2) permitted Avants and Daniels to “freely” enter and exit the wing during the attack; (3) “groomed” Avants to do “illicit favors” for officers, and permitted him to “move freely” and enter the officers' station; (4) failed to do “cell checks or counts” for at least a two-hour period, thus “signaling” to inmates that they could do as they pleased; and (5) “popped” open cell doors at sites where Kornagay tried to hide, thus repeatedly exposing him to his “armed attackers.” Id. at 7. Next, Kornagay asserts that Defendants Diedeman and Wilburn conspired when they agreed to (1) help each other commit and conceal wrongful acts; (2) coordinate and facilitate the attacks on him; (3) destroy evidence of Diedeman's extortion of him; (4) not intervene in officers and inmates' physically harmful acts towards him; (5) delay the disclosure of pertinent facts to investigators; and (6) hide, alter, and destroy evidence. Id. at 7-8.

         As to the underlying facts, Kornagay avers that inmates Avants and Daniels, who were armed with homemade knives, attacked him between approximately 11:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. on February 4, 2017, within view of the dormitory's fixed-wing video cameras. See id. at 2. Kornagay states that Avants had called him a snitch for trying to report Diedeman for extortion. See id. at 6. He maintains that Diedeman and Wilburn “watched and cheered” the fight from the officers' station. Id. at 2. He states that when he became “overwhelmed, ” he asked Defendants for “help in escaping from his attackers.” Id. Kornagay asserts that Diedeman responded: “You were looking like a real soldier so don't turn into a pu**y now. Go see if you can get your homeboys to help you so you can turn this thing into a two-on-two.” Id. He maintains that Defendants neither called for back-up assistance nor ordered the assailants to “disarm themselves and surrender.” Id. at 3. Kornagay states that Defendants “popped” open cell doors and granted his attackers access to cells where he tried to take refuge three times. Id. He avers that one of the attackers boiled water with a homemade heating device and threw boiling water on him. See id. He asserts that he was stabbed fifteen times, and suffered a punctured lung, burns from scalding water, and emotional distress from the officers' “overt intervention” on behalf of the attackers. Id. at 3, 6. Kornagay maintains that Diedeman and Wilburn told him what to tell the nurses and threatened him with additional physical harm if he reported the incident. See id. at 3. He avers that Diedeman told him to report that he was stabbed behind the chow hall or he would be sprayed with chemical agents and go to confinement. See id. at 6.

         According to Kornagay, Sergeant Lunsford reviewed the dormitory's surveillance video on February 4th and observed Kornagay, Avants, and Daniels in a physical altercation with weapons. See id. at 4. He avers that the incident was reported to the Office of the Inspector General on February 6th. See id. Kornagay states that he called the TIPS line on February 27th and asked for review of the video recording. See id. at 3. He also asserts that the case was “upgraded” to a criminal investigation on March 2, 2017. See id. at 4. According to Kornagay, Diedeman admitted that he was the officer who had opened the cell doors. See id. at 6. Kornagay maintains that when Inspector Vann took over Inspector Lindboe's investigation on August 14, 2017, the video recording had “disappeared.” Id. He contends that Inspector Lindboe “destroyed” the video recording and conspired with Diedeman and Avants to cover up Diedeman's extortion and failure to protect. Id.

         III. Summary Judgment Standard

         Rule 56 instructs that “[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.” Rule 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.” Rule 56(c)(1)(A).[4] 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). “When the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on an issue at trial, the moving party need not ‘support its motion with affidavits or other similar material negating the opponent's claim,' Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552-53, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986), in order to discharge this initial responsibility.” Gonzalez v. Lee Cty. Hous. Auth., 161 F.3d 1290, 1294 (11th Cir. 1998). Instead, the moving party simply may demonstrate “that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Id.

         “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)).

         IV. Summary of the Arguments

         In the Motion, Defendants Diedeman and Wilburn assert that there are no genuine issues of material fact, and therefore, the Court should grant summary judgment in their favor as to Kornagay's Eighth Amendment claims against them. See Motion at 4-10. They maintain that there is “no record evidence” showing that a constitutional violation took place in their presence or that they refused to intervene. Id. at 5. In his Response, Kornagay requests that the Court deny the Motion. Additionally, he contends that Defendants filed their Motion in bad faith in violation of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(h). See Response at 17, 22.[5] He therefore urges the Court to use its inherent power as well as the authority of Rule 56(h) to impose sanctions upon Defendants Diedeman and Wilburn. See id. at 17.

         V. Analysis [6]

         A. Eighth Amendment Failure to Protect

         Kornagay asserts that Defendants Diedeman and Wilburn violated his Eighth Amendment right when they failed to protect him from inmate assaults on February 4, 2017.[7] See AC at 7. To 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.

         The Eighth Amendment requires prison officials to “take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). It is “[a] prison official's ‘deliberate indifference' to a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate [that] violates the Eighth Amendment.” Id. at 828 (citations omitted). The deliberate indifference standard requires the plaintiff to demonstrate that the prison official “was subjectively aware” of a risk of harm; mere negligence is insufficient. Id. at 829, 835-36. In a case where the prisoner-plaintiff repeatedly asked to be transferred because he was concerned about a general lack of safety in his cell block, the Eleventh Circuit explained the requirement of deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm as follows:

To establish a § 1983 claim for deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must show “(1) a substantial risk of serious harm; (2) the defendants' deliberate indifference ...

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