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Drumgo v. Burris

United States District Court, D. Delaware

July 29, 2015

ANTHONY BURRIS, et al., Defendants.


GREGORY M. SLEET, District Judge.


The plaintiff De Shawn Drumgo ("Drumgo") is an inmate at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("JTVCC"). He filed this pro se action on September 25, 2012, against a number of JTVCC corrections officers and employees (collectively, "State Defendants").[1] (D.I. 3.) To date, Drumgo's remaining claims against the State Defendants are: unconstitutional conditions of confinement ("Count I"), excessive force and retaliation ("Counts III & IV"), and unconstitutional strip searches ("Count V").[2] Presently before the court is the State Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (D.I. 81) and Drumgo's Motion to Amend the Complaint. (D.I. 95.) For the reasons that follow, the court will grant the State Defendants' motion for summary judgment and deny Drumgo's motion to amend as moot.


The facts alleged in Drumgo's complaint (and its amendment) have been detailed in the court's previous writings. The court will attempt to provide only the facts necessary address the instant motion. The following are four distinct factual scenarios.

On March 18, 2010, Drumgo's cellmate threw a milk carton containing fecal matter at a corrections officer. (D.I. 82, Ex. A at A02.) On March 25, 2010, Drumgo filed a grievance that the mess of feces on the cellblock floor still had not been properly cleaned. ( Id. at A01.) Drumgo complained that his bagged meals were passed over the contaminated area, which he thought posed a health hazard. ( Id. at A01, A05) Fritsch investigated the grievance and found no evidence that fecal matter remained on the tier: a week passed between the initial incident and Drumgo's filing of the grievance-the equivalent of eighteen meals. ( Id. at A02.) Drumgo, however, was reportedly displeased with the manner in which the area was cleaned. ( Id. ) Log books indicated that the tier had been cleaned on at least two occasions in the interim. ( Id. at A34, A36.) Fritsch's determination was upheld on appeal. ( Id. at A04-A08.)

On July 16, 2010, Officers Benson-Williams, Warnick, Young, and Turner attempted to conduct a random "shakedown" of Drumgo's cell to search for contraband. ( Id. at A09.) Drumgo refused to "cuff up, " explaining that a lieutenant had to be present for shakedowns of his cell because he believed the search was aimed at seizing his legal materials. ( Id.; D.I. 83 at 7.) After confirming that a lieutenant was not required to be present, the officers again ordered Drumgo to cuff up. (D.I. 82, Ex. A at A09.) The parties dispute what happened next. Reports from Benson-Williams and Young state that Drumgo wrapped a t-shirt around his face and approached the officers, swinging his arms in a threatening manner. ( Id. A09, A11.) Drumgo maintains that he attempted to show the officers paperwork concerning shakedowns. (D.I. 83 at 7.) In any event, Drumgo did not immediately comply with the officers' order, and Benson-Williams "capstunned" ( i.e., pepper sprayed) Drumgo's cell and closed the door.[3] (D.I. 82, Ex. A at A09.) A nurse treated Drumgo for the effects of the capstun, and he was placed in isolation pending a hearing for the incident. ( Id. at A13.)

On June 5, 2011, Burris transferred Drumgo to a new cell on B tier because C tier had experienced flooding. ( Id. at A15, A18.) Burris' report states that Drumgo was strip searched upon reaching the new cell, whereupon he discovered contraband on Drumgo's person: a heating device or "stinger." ( Id. at A18.) Drumgo submitted a grievance that, during the transfer, Burris had damaged and taken Drumgo's sneakers. ( Id. at A22.) In his sworn brief, however, Drumgo also contends that Burris shoved Drumgo into a fence and harshly twisted his cuffs, causing Burris to suffer a chipped tooth, a busted lip, and lacerations on his wrists. (D.I. 83 at 5, 10-11.)

Drumgo contends that, between August and September 2011, McClain would strip search Drumgo three times a day and destroy Drumgo's legal materials.[4] (D.I. 83 at 9.) Drumgo apparently had complained about McClain previously. ( Id. ) Drumgo asserts that Gattis' inadequate supervision caused this unconstitutional conduct to continue. (D.I. 83 at 9.) Incident reports show that, during the relevant time period, Drumgo was caught passing contraband using a "fishing line." (D.I. 82 at A38.)


A. Summary Judgment

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." See also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party bears the burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585 n.10 (1986). A fact is material if it "could affect the outcome" of the proceeding. Lamont v. New Jersey, 637 F.3d 177, 181 (3d Cir. 2011). There is a genuine issue "if the evidence is sufficient to permit a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party." Id. When determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the district court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw inferences in that party's favor. Wishkin v. Potter, 476 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). If the moving party is able to demonstrate an absence of disputed material facts, the nonmoving party must then "come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

The pleadings of pro se plaintiffs are generally held to "less stringent standards" than those of represented parties. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). A pro se plaintiff still has "the formidable task of avoiding summary judgment by producing evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for [him].'" See Zilich v. Lucht, 981 F.2d 694, 696 (3d Cir. 1992) (alteration in original) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). The court will not recognize a genuine dispute of material fact solely on unsubstantiated allegations in the complaint. See Harp v. ...

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