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Robinson v. Beckles

United States District Court, D. Delaware

July 24, 2015


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David A. Felice, Esquire of Bailey & Glasser, LLP, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Plaintiff.

Ophelia M. Waters, Esquire and Joseph C. Handlon, Esquire, Deputy Attorneys General. Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Defendants.

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Sue L. Robinson, United States District Judge.


On April 29, 2010, plaintiff Gregory F. Robinson, an inmate incarcerated at the

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James T. Vaughn Correctional Center (" JTVCC" ), Smyrna, Delaware, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (D.I. 2) Plaintiff's complaint names 47 defendants and consists of 209 numbered paragraphs with allegations of occurrences from May 25, 2008 to March 15, 2010.[1] Plaintiff attached a six-inch stack of exhibits, including grievances, disciplinary reports and letters to support the litany of allegations detailing acts involving plaintiff and defendants. Plaintiff alleges constitutional violations, including the First, Fourth, Fifth, Six, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, as well as state tort claims. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief and compensatory and punitive damages. He also filed a motion for the appointment of counsel.[2] (D.I. 5)

On August 6, 2010, the court dismissed as frivolous the majority of allegations in the complaint.[3] Robinson v. Danberg, 729 F.Supp.2d 666 (D. Del. 2010). On January 21, 2011, plaintiff moved to amend his complaint to correct pleading deficiencies identified by the court. (D.I. 34) On April 27, 2011, the court granted plaintiff's motion to amend.[4] (D.I. 54)

On December 16, 2010, the court dismissed the complaint for failure to submit completed service forms. (D.I. 27) Plaintiff moved for leave to file an amended complaint and two motions for the appointment of counsel. (D.I. 29, 35) The court issued an order reopening the case on February 2, 2011, and granted plaintiff thirty days to serve the complaint. (D.I. 36) On July 5, service was returned as executed. (D.I. 87-97)

A scheduling order was entered on September 7, 2011. Plaintiff served interrogatories and requests for production of records. (D.I. 114-124) He also filed another motion for appointment of counsel, and letters regarding retaliatory conduct by correctional officers and problems with the temperature of his cell. (D.I. 110, 111, 113) A revised scheduling order was entered on March 3, 2012, extending deadlines. (D.I. 127) On April 27, 2012, plaintiff's deposition was taken. (D.I. 128)

On July 26, 2012, plaintiff filed another motion for appointment of counsel and provided a medical record in support thereof. (D.I. 148,151, 153) Plaintiff averred that he was receiving anti-psychotic medication (Haldol) against his will. (D.I. 153) On October 24, the court referred the case to the

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Federal Civil Panel for representation and stayed the case. (D.I. 154) The stay was lifted on December 7, 2012 upon the entry of appearance by counsel of record. (D.I. 155)

A telephonic status conference was held and a new scheduling order entered with deadlines extended further. The issue of expert discovery was stayed pending the resolution of the summary judgment motions. (D.I. 208) The parties engaged in and competed discovery. On August 18, 2014, defendants moved for summary judgment. (D.I. 189) The matter is fully briefed. (D.I. 190, 191, 192, 201, 203, 204) For the following reasons, defendants' motion will be granted.


The 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 moving party bears the burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact exists. See Matsushita Bee. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 n. 10, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). " Facts that could alter the outcome are 'material,' and disputes are 'genuine' if evidence exists from which a rational person could conclude that the position of the person with the burden of proof on the disputed issue is correct." Horowitz v. Federal Kemper Life Assurance Co., 57 F.3d 300, 302 n. 1 (3d Cir. 1995) (internal citations omitted). If the moving party has demonstrated an absence of material fact, the nonmoving party then " must come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The court will " view the underlying facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Pennsylvania Coal Ass'n v. Babbitt, 63 F.3d 231, 236 (3d Cir. 1995). The mere existence of some evidence in support of the nonmoving party, however, will not be sufficient for denial of a motion for summary judgment; there must be enough evidence to enable a jury reasonably to find for the nonmoving party on that issue. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). If the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).


A. Excessive Force - Pretrial Detainee

Plaintiff alleges that during a routine cell shakedown on May 31, 2008, defendant Beckles slammed him against a wall by his throat and started to choke him. Plaintiff claims that defendant Beckles only stopped choking him when defendant Henry signaled that another inmate had witnessed

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the incident. There are no references in prison logbooks to this incident.

On June 20, 2008, plaintiff claims defendant Beckles intentionally closed a steel door on plaintiff's foot and ankle, causing injury. Plaintiff's left hand was also injured when defendant Beckles violently jerked his handcuffs, causing the teeth of the handcuffs to dig into plaintiff's hand and wrist. (D.I. 201 at B131)

During his April 27, 2012 deposition, plaintiff described the incident as follows:

I wanted to go to the shower where there was [sic] no feces in there . . . . [Defendant Beckles] tried to make me go in the shower where the feces was at. And I said, just take me back to my cell. He brought me downstairs and that's when I was telling you when I went to go in my door, when I went to go in my cell, he tried to hit me in the back with the door, but he caught my foot. When I backed up to the food flap, he pulled the handcuffs real tight. Uncuffed my right hand, and he was pulling the handcuffs real tight to the door, When he unhandcuffed the left cuff, he put his right hand on the handcuffs. So now he [has] both hands on it. And he put his foot on the door and he yanked, and he yanked the left cuff off and it split the top of my hand.

(D.I. 201 at 131-132)

Defendant Beckles prepared a disciplinary report charging plaintiff with disorderly or threatening behavior, creating a healthy safety and fire hazard and failing to obey an order. (D.I. 193 at A-120) According to the disciplinary report, after being in yard and taken inside to use the showers, plaintiff complained that the temperature of the shower water was too hot. Defendant Beckles escorted plaintiff to a different shower area. Plaintiff refused to enter a particular shower and demanded to go into another shower. Defendant Beckles denied plaintiff's request and ordered him to enter the shower. Plaintiff refused, uttering profanity and threats. Defendant Beckles warned plaintiff that he would receive a write-up for such behavior. Plaintiff was then escorted back to his cell. Once securely inside the cell, defendant Beckles ordered plaintiff to " come and be uncuffed." As defendant Beckles uncuffed one hand and " was uncuffing the other hand plaintiff tried to yank his hand away" and defendant Beckles pulled " the cuffs just as the [door flap] opened" and " it came loose and [defendant Beckles] secured the flap." (D.I. 193 at A-120) While walking away from the cell, plaintiff threatened to stab defendant Beckles in the eye.

The record reflects that plaintiff requested and received medical treatment for his injuries. (D.I. 201 at B107) Medical notes indicate that plaintiff's hand was bleeding with an abrasion and edema observed. ( Id. at B107-108) Plaintiff was given a tetanus shot, antibiotic and pain medication and x-rays were ordered. ( Id. at B108)

An x-ray report dated July 18, 2008 indicates that there was soft tissue swelling without fracture or abnormality or dislocation of the left hand. ( Id. at B110) An ankle x-ray report reflects no fracture or dislocation. Another x-ray taken in September 2008 shows mild osteoarthritis changes present in plaintiff's left foot. ( Id. at B111)

As a pretrial detainee at the time of the incidents, plaintiff's allegations are considered under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, which prohibits the State from imposing punishment on those who have not yet been convicted of a crime, rather than the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. See Bell v. Wolfish,

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441 U.S. 520, 535-39, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979). The United States Supreme Court recently held that courts must apply an objective standard when considering a pretrial detainee's claim of excessive force. Kingsley v. Hendrickson, __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 2466, 192 L.Ed.2d 416, 2015 WL 2473447, *5 (2015). The Court concluded that a " pretrial detainee must show only that the force purposely or knowingly used against him was objectively unreasonable." ( Id. ) Objective reasonableness " turns on the facts and circumstances of each particular case." Id. (citing Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989)). The Court identified several factors relevant in determining whether the force used was excessive. This nonexclusive list includes:

[T]he relationship between the need for the use of force and the amount of force used; the extent of the plaintiff's injury; any effort made by the officer to temper or to limit the amount of force; the severity of the security problem at issue; the threat reasonably perceived by the officer; and whether the plaintiff was actively resisting.

192 L.Ed.2d 416, Id. at *6.

In announcing the objective standard, the Court recognized that operating a prison is " an inordinately difficulty undertaking" and " that the safety and order at these institutions requires the expertise of correctional officials, who must have substantial discretion to devise reasonable solutions to the problems they face." 192 L.Ed.2d 416, Id. at *7, (quoting Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington, 566 U.S. , , 132 S.Ct. 1510, 1514, 182 L.Ed.2d 566 (2012)). The Court further explained that " an officer enjoys qualified immunity and is not liable for excessive force unless he has violated a 'clearly established' right, such that 'it would [have been] clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted.'" Id. (quoting Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 202, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001)).

Turning first to the incident on May 31, 2008, there is nothing in the record demonstrating that defendant Beckles in fact slammed plaintiff against a wall and chocked him.[6] Even considering the underlying facts of the May 31, 2008 claim and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the court concludes that the use of force was not objectively unreasonable. Significantly, there is no evidence that plaintiff suffered any injury from this conduct.

With respect to the June 20, 2008 incident, the record reflects that defendant Beckles ordered plaintiff to enter a shower and that plaintiff disobeyed the order, despite being warned of the consequences (a disciplinary report) for failing to comply.[7] Defendant Beckles then escorted plaintiff back to his cell. Plaintiff's foot was hit by the cell door as it was closing, resulting in minor injury. As defendant Beckles removed the handcuffs, plaintiff suffered injuries to his hand. Although defendant Beckles and plaintiff's accounts vary on some details, the resulting injuries demonstrate that both the force used to remove (defendant Beckles) and the force used to resist (plaintiff) resulted in minimal injury to plaintiff. In fact, the medical records depict plaintiff's hand as being treated with medication and x-rays revealed no fracture or abnormality. No further follow-up regarding the hand injury is noted. With respect to plaintiff's foot, an x-ray taken in

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September 2008 indicates osteoarthritis, apparently unrelated to the steel door incident.

B. Conditions of Confinement - Pretrial Detainee

On June 15, 2008, plaintiff alleges that the toilet in his cell overflowed and that defendants Akinbayo and Rodocker left him in his cell for over seven hours with standing toilet water. During his deposition, plaintiff testified that he did not intentionally flood his toilet. (D.I. 201 at B130)

The disciplinary report filed in connection with this incident reflects that defendants Akinbayo and Rodocker were serving chow on plaintiff's housing tier when plaintiff stated he was holding his tray or flooding his toilet. (D.I. 193 at A-119) Defendant Akinbayo described what next transpired:

Plaintiff made personal threat[s] by stating 'I will see you on the street. I got something for you. I don't stab Niggas I shoot Niggas.' Plaintiff was upset from the previous night during his phone call. Plaintiff wanted to make a second phone call and he was told his time was up on the phone. Plaintiff was informed that the phone calls are 15 minutes each and someone else needs to use the phone. Plaintiff threatened to break the phone and was observed by [the] pod officer hitting the phone on the wall. The phone was checked . . . for any damage incurred. Plaintiff flooded his toilet when the food trays were being collected on D Tier. Plaintiff's behavior, demeanor, threat[s] and constant use of profanity which has been ongoing since he go to the SHU from Pre-trial will not be tolerated in a correctional setting.

( Id. )

Plaintiff next asserts on August 8, 2008, he was placed in a new, single occupancy cell with another inmate's blood in the cell, and was forced by defendant Beckles to clean the cell with no gloves. The " next shift provided plaintiff with towels, water, a bucket and a mop." (D.I. 201 at B008) The blood was in the cell for several days after another inmate had " busted his head open." (D.I. 201 at B008)

At his deposition, defendant Beckles denied placing plaintiff in a cell where there was blood and to forcing plaintiff to clean up blood with or without gloves. (D.I. 193 at A-168) The record does not reflect any incident reports filed with respect to plaintiff's allegations.

Plaintiff contends that on November 18, 2008, defendant Henry refused to provide necessary and appropriate supplies to clean up urine that a " tier-man" had sprayed under plaintiff's cell door. At his deposition, plaintiff testified that he is certain that defendant Henry allowed the tier-man to spray the urine because defendant Henry joked about the smell of urine immediately after it was sprayed. (D.I. 201 at B135)

Defendant Henry denied this claim at his deposition. (D.I. 203, ex. B) He testified that if it were true that any person sprayed urine, then a report would have been written. There were no reports.

In support of the allegations, plaintiff retained Michael J. McCreanor (" McCreanor" )[8] as an expert to review paperwork, regulations, depositions, interviews and the investigative reports filed by Internal Affairs

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(" IA" ) investigator Boney. According to McCreanor,

when an inmate reports that there is blood and/or urine in his cell, the inmate is to be given the necessary equipment and materials to clean the area. If the blood or urine is said to be or suspected to be from another inmate, a supervisor ...

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