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Robinson v. Beckles

United States District Court, D. Delaware

January 11, 2019

SGT. WILFRED BECKLES, et al. Defendants.




         In this action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiff Gregory F. Robinson ("Robinson") seeks relief for alleged civil rights violations committed by Angelina DeAllie ("DeAllie"), Veronica Downing ("Downing"), and Wilfred Beckles ("Beckles") (collectively, "defendants"). Pending before the court is a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 filed by defendants.[1] (D.I. 189) For the following reasons, defendants' motion for summary judgment is denied.[2]


         A. Procedural History

         On April 29, 2010, Robinson, a former inmate incarcerated at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[3] (D.I. 2) Plaintiff alleged constitutional violations, including violations of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, as well as state tort claims. (D.I. 2); see also Robinson v. Danberg, 729 F.Supp.2d 666, 672-73 (D.Del. 2010).

         On August 6, 2010, the court dismissed thirty-seven defendants and deemed the majority of the claims frivolous. (D.I. 18); Robinson, 729 F.Supp.2d at 689. On January 21, 2011, plaintiff moved to amend his complaint to correct pleading deficiencies identified by the court, and the court granted this motion to amend on April 27, 2011. (D.I. 34; D.I. 54)

         On December 16, 2010, the court dismissed the complaint for failure to submit completed service forms. (D.I. 27) Plaintiff then moved for leave to file an amended complaint and two motions for the appointment of counsel. (D.I. 29; D.I. 31; D.I. 33) The court reopened the case on February 2, 2011, and granted plaintiff thirty days to serve the complaint. (D.I. 36)

         On October 24, 2012, the court referred the case to the 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)

         On August 15, 2014, defendants moved for summary judgment. (D.I. 189) Judge Robinson granted defendants' motion for summary judgment on July 24, 2015 and directed that judgment be entered in defendants' favor. (D.I. 209; D.I. 211); Robinson v. Beckles, 117 F.Supp.3d 528 (D.Del. 2015).

         Plaintiff timely appealed Judge Robinson's decision, and the Third Circuit issued its Opinion on December 19, 2016. See Robinson v. Danberg, 673 Fed.Appx. 205 (3d Cir. 2016). The Third Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and vacated in part. See Id. at 208. Specifically, the Third Circuit: (1) reversed the entry of summary judgment on Robinson's Eighth Amendment claim against DeAllie for allegedly macing his cell, (2) vacated this court's grant of summary judgment for Beckles on Robinson's pretrial Fourteenth Amendment excessive force claim for allegedly injuring his hand while removing handcuffs and remanded the claim for further proceedings consistent with its opinion, and (3) vacated this court's grant of summary judgment for Downing on Robinson's post-conviction Eighth Amendment excessive force claim for allegedly striking Robinson in the face and remanded the claim for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. Id. at 210-12.

         B. Facts

         On remand, this court reviews Robinson's pretrial Fourteenth Amendment excessive force claim against Beckles ("the Beckles incident") and his post-conviction Eighth Amendment excessive force claim against Downing ("the Downing incident").

         i. The Beckles Incident

         Robinson claims that on June 20, 2008, Beckles injured his foot and hand while uncuffing him in his cell, and therefore raises a pre-trial excessive force claim. (D.I. 229 at 8) Robinson claims that when Beckles returned Robinson to his cell after a disagreement regarding which shower Robinson should use, Beckles attempted to hit him in the back with the door, but instead closed the steel cell door onto his foot. (Id. at 3; Ex. 3 at 36:22-24) Beckles uncuffed his right hand and, while uncuffing his left hand, Beckles allegedly put both hands on the cuff and his foot on the door before yanking the handcuff, "splitting] the top of [Robinson's] hand." (Id. at 37:1-15)

         Beckles, on the other hand, testified that after he walked Robinson back to his cell and shut the door, he opened the flap to uncuff Robinson, but Robinson walked away from the flap. (D.I. 228, Ex. A at 49:24-50:2) Beckles reported that after several direct orders, Robinson finally came back to flap to be uncuffed. (Id. at 50:2-4, 50:16-24) After Beckles uncuffed one hand and as he was uncuffing the other, Robinson allegedly tried to jerk his hand away from Beckles. (Id. at 50:4-6, 51:3-6) Beckles pulled back on the handcuffs as they were starting to open and secured the flap. (Id. at 50:6-8) Beckles also testified that having only one handcuff open and one hand loose posed a security concern because an inmate could use the open handcuff as a weapon. (D.I. 228, Ex. A at 51:17-24)

         ii. The Downing Incident

         Robinson claims that Downing filed false reports to cover up an incident on September 14, 2009, in which she hit Robinson in the mouth. (D.I. 229 at 6) During this incident, Robinson contends that backup was called to investigate a missing food cup from Robinson's tray. (D.I. 229, Ex. 3 at 59:18-21) Robinson testified that an officer handcuffed Robinson behind his back before he walked out of his cell. (Id. at 59:21-23, 62:16) As Robinson was walking out of his cell, Downing allegedly hit him in the mouth. (Id. at 59:23-60:1) Robinson cannot recall whether he was hit with an open hand or closed fist, but upon further questioning, ultimately agreed that it was a "slap to the mouth." (Id. at 60:17-61:6) He testified that his mouth was left bloody and his tongue was split open. (Id. at 61:5-10) Robinson also testified that Major Scarborough was present and directed that Robinson be taken to see the nurse. (Id. at 61:21-24)

         Downing denies slapping Robinson and argues that even if the court were to construe facts in the light most favorable to Robinson, Robinson's own testimony reveals that, at worst, he was slapped once by Downing. (D.I. 231 at 3; D.I. 228 at 4; D.I. 229, Ex. 17 at 26:10-22)


         A. Summary Judgment

         "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). Material facts are those that could affect the outcome of the proceeding, and "a dispute about a material fact is 'genuine' if the evidence is sufficient to permit a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Lamont v. New Jersey, 637 F.3d 177, 181 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuinely disputed material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 321. The burden then shifts to the non-movant to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue for trial, and the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Williams v. Borough of West Chester, Pa., 891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989); Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). An assertion that a fact cannot be-or, alternatively, is-genuinely disputed must be supported either by citing to "particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials," or by "showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A) & (B). To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. The "mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment;" rather, there must be enough evidence to enable a jury to reasonably find for the non-moving party on the issue. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-49. "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Id. at 249-50 (internal citations omitted); see also Celotex, 411 U.S. at 322. If the non-movant fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case on which it bears the burden of proof, then the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

         B. Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause

         The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment "protects a pretrial detainee from the use of excessive force that amounts to punishment." Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466, 2473 (2015) (quoting Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 n.10 (1989)). To demonstrate a due process violation, a detainee must prove "that the force purposely or knowingly used against him was objectively unreasonable," meaning "that the actions [were] not 'rationally related to a legitimate nonpunitive governmental purpose." Id. (quoting Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 561 (1979)). The reasonableness of the force used is determined by the Kingsley factors:

[1] the relationship between the need for the use of force and the amount of force used; [2] the extent of the plaintiffs injury; [3] any effort made by the officer to temper or to limit the amount of force; [4] the severity of the security problem at issue; [5] the threat reasonably ...

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