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Roland v. Wallace

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division

March 31, 2017

EDWYN ROLAND, Plaintiff,
IAN WALLACE, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Edwyn Roland, an inmate at the Southeast Correctional Center (“SECC”), brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against two[1] defendants employed at SECC in their individual capacities, alleging violations of his constitutional rights. This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants Ryan Degen and Michael Vaughn. (Doc. 59.) For the following reasons, the Court will grant the motion in part, and deny the motion in part.

         I. Background

         In his Amended Complaint, Roland claims that Defendant Ryan Degen, a Correctional Officer at SECC, violated his Eighth Amendment rights by using excessive force against him on December 9, 2013. Roland alleges that Defendant Degen intentionally “rammed the chuck-hole into [Roland]'s hands causing physical injury.” (Doc. 9, p. 8, &7.) Roland also asserts a First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendant Degen.

         Roland claims that Defendant Michael Vaughn, a Correctional Officer at SECC, violated his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to obtain medical care for his injuries resulting from the alleged excessive force incident. He further argues that Vaughn “did nothing to try to remedy the wrong” after he was informed of the alleged excessive use of force incident. (Doc. 9 at p. 12 & 27.)

         Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all of Roland's claims. Roland filed a Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motion, to which he attached three purported affidavits of inmates supporting his account of events. (Doc. 69.)

         Defendants filed a Motion to Strike Roland's Exhibits. (Doc. 74.) In an Order dated January 11, 2017, the Court granted Defendants' Motion to Strike as to the Affidavit of Jamar Williams, and ordered this exhibit stricken. (Doc. 80.) The Court denied Defendants' Motion to Strike as to the statements of Marquise Taylor and Kevin Harrison. Defendants were granted leave to take the depositions of Taylor and Harrison, and were granted an extension of time to file their Reply. (Doc. 82.)

         On March 13, 2017, Defendants filed a Reply, to which they attached deposition testimony of Taylor and Harrison. (Doc. 83.)

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), a district court may grant a motion for summary judgment if all of the information before the court demonstrates that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The burden is on the moving party. City of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa v. Associated Elec. Co-op. Inc., 838 F.2d 268, 273 (8th Cir. 1988). After the moving party discharges this burden, the nonmoving party must do more than show that there is some doubt as to the facts. Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact is not the “mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties.” State Auto. Ins. Co. v. Lawrence, 358 F.3d 982, 985 (8th Cir. 2004). “Instead, the dispute must be outcome determinative under prevailing law.” Mosley v. City of Northwoods, 415 F.3d 908, 910-11 (8th Cir. 2005) (internal quotations omitted). A fact is material when it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         The nonmoving party bears the burden of setting forth specific facts showing that there is sufficient evidence in his favor to allow a jury to return a verdict for him. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. “If ‘opposing parties tell two different stories, ' the court must review the record, determine which facts are material and genuinely disputed, and then view those facts in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party - as long as those facts are not ‘so blatantly contradicted by the record . . . that no reasonable jury could believe' them.” Reed v. City of St. Charles, Mo., 561 F.3d 788, 790 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007)). Self-serving, conclusory statements without support are not sufficient to defeat summary judgment. Armour and Co., Inc. v. Inver Grove Heights, 2 F.3d 276, 279 (8th Cir. 1993).

         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must review the facts in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party and give that party the benefit of any inferences that logically can be drawn from those facts. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587; Woods v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 409 F.3d 984, 990 (8th Cir. 2005). The Court may not “weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. The court is required, however, to resolve all conflicts of evidence in favor of the nonmoving party. Robert Johnson Grain Co. v. Chemical Interchange Co., 541 F.2d 207, 210 (8th Cir. 1976).

         The movant's statement of facts are deemed admitted if not specifically controverted by the party opposing the motion. Local Rule 4.01(E) provides:

A memorandum in support of a motion for summary judgment shall have attached a statement of uncontroverted material facts, set forth in a separately numbered paragraph for each fact, indicating whether each fact is established by the record, and if so, the appropriate citations. Every memorandum in opposition shall include a statement of material facts as to which the party contends a genuine issue exists. Those matters in dispute shall be set forth with specific references to portions of the record, where available, upon which the opposing party relies. The opposing party also shall note for all disputed facts the paragraph number from movant's listing of facts. All matters set forth in the statement of the movant shall be deemed admitted for purposes of summary judgment unless specifically controverted by the opposing party.

(emphasis added). Even so, where a plaintiff fails to respond to a motion for summary judgment, the Court should not treat such a non-response as sufficient to dispose of the motion. Lowry v. Powerscreen USB, Inc., 72 F.Supp.2d 1061, 1064 (E.D. Mo. 1999) (citing Canada v. Union Electric Co., 135 F.3d 1211, 1213 (8th Cir. 1997)). “Courts should proceed to examine those portions of the record properly before them and decide for themselves whether the motion is well taken.” Id. “In so ruling, even on an unopposed motion for summary judgment, the court should review the facts in a light most favorable to the party who would be opposing the motion.” Id.

         III. Facts

         As an initial matter, Defendants argue that Roland did not respond to Defendants' statement of undisputed facts in accordance with Local Rule 7-4.01(E), and that the facts should, therefore, be deemed admitted. It is true that Roland did not respond to each of Defendants' facts with specific citations to the record. Roland did, however, file “Plaintiff[']s Statement of Disputed Factual Issues, ” in which he “submits the following list of genuine issues of material fact that require the denial of the defendants' motion.” (Doc. 70 at p. 2.) Roland then sets out his own version of the events. Roland has also submitted exhibits in support of his claims, including the inmate statements previously referenced, and his own sworn declaration in opposition to Defendants' Motion. The Court broadly construes and affords a liberal construction to pro se pleadings. Johnson v. Arden, 614 F.3d 785, 798 (8th Cir. 2010). The Court will consider Roland's responsive pleadings in determining whether Defendants are entitled to summary judgment.

         The following facts are taken from Defendants' Statement of Uncontroverted Material Facts and Roland's Statement of Disputed Factual Issues, with any disputes noted:

         On December 9, 2013, Defendant Ryan Degen and Correctional Officer Brett Hays were escorting Nurse Dana Degen, [2] LPN, who was making regularly scheduled medical rounds in Housing Unit 2 of SECC. During their walk in A-wing of Housing Unit 2, the escort stopped by Roland's cell so that Nurse Degen could provide a medical services request form to Roland. After Nurse Degen was finished with medical pass at Roland's cell, Nurse Degen and Officer Hays proceeded down the walk to continue the medical pass.

         What happened next is disputed by the parties. Defendants claim that Roland requested that Defendant Degen allow him to throw trash out of his cell before he moved on. Defendants note that it is a common practice for correctional staff to open the food ports of inmates in order to allow them to throw away trash in their cells. Defendants state that Defendant Degen consented to Roland's request and opened the food port to Roland's cell to allow him to hand Degen trash. Roland began talking and took too long to gather his trash and Degen needed to rejoin the escort, so he shut the food port without taking any trash from Roland. Defendants state that Roland was never near the food port or the cell door, and that Degen did not order Roland to “cuff up.” Defendants contend that no injury to Roland was observed by Defendant Degen, Officer Hays, or Nurse Degen, and Roland did not tell Nurse Degen that he had an injury.

         Roland's version of the events differs. Roland denies that he asked Degen to allow him to throw trash out of his cell. Instead, he claims that Degen stated to him “How did that IRR go you little bitch.” (Doc. 69-1 at p. 2.) Roland claims that he responded to Degen “Fuck you, you coward, ” and walked away from his cell door. Id. After he walked away, Degen stated “Oh yeah? Now cuff up you little bitch.” Id. Roland states that, as he placed his hands outside the chuck hole to submit to restraints, Degen rammed his hands with the chuck hole door. Roland alleges that he yelled loudly in pain to Defendant Degen, Nurse Degen, and Hays, and Defendant Degen walked away as if nothing had happened. He contends that his left ring finger was split open, bleeding, red, and swollen, and his left middle finger was swollen. Roland submitted affidavits from other inmates who claim to have witnessed the incident, which are similar to Roland's account.

         The parties agree that Roland complained of an injury to his fingers to two different correctional officers later that day, and requested medical assistance. Correctional Officer Charles Brown was performing a security check of A wing of Housing Unit 2 when Roland stopped him because he claimed he had an injury to his fingers and requested medical assistance. Officer Brown testified that he observed Roland's hand and fingers, but Roland did not have an injury to his hands or fingers. (Doc. 61-7 at p. 1.) Officer Brown indicated that he informed the bubble officer that Roland requested medical attention at the end of his shift. Id. at p. 2.

         On the same day, Correctional Officer Hollie Dysinger was doing a security walk when Roland called her to his cell because he claimed he needed medical attention. Officer Dysinger testified that she observed Roland's hand and did not see any injuries. (Doc. 61-6 at p. 1.) She stated that Roland began to strike his cell door in protest when Roland demanded that she get Sergeant Vaughn and she initially refused. Id. at p. 1-2. Officer Dysinger testified that she then went to the control room and informed Sergeant Vaughn that Roland claimed he had an injury and that he wanted to see him. Id. at 2.

         The parties agree that Vaughn then went to Roland's cell in order to speak with him about his alleged injuries. Defendant Vaughn testified that he observed a small scratch on one finger just below the nail, and that he advised Roland to complete a medical services request form to obtain medical attention. (Doc. 61-1 at p. 1-2.) Vaughn contends that he also contacted the medical unit at SECC, and informed them of Roland's request for medical attention. Id. at 2.

         Defendants argue that Roland was seen by medical staff the next day, December 10, 2013, and no injuries were noted; whereas Roland contends that he did not see medical staff until December 12, 2013.[3] It is undisputed that Roland received medical treatment from a nurse on December 12, 2013, at which time it was noted Roland reported that his hand was caught in the food port on December 9, 2013, and that his hand was cut and was swollen until that day. (Doc. 61-8 at p. 3.) The nurse noted a “small cut” on the fourth digit of Roland's left hand, with no swelling and full range of motion of the hand. Id. Roland was given Bacitracin for his “open wound” and was instructed to keep his finger iced until it healed. Id.

         IV. Discussion

         In their Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendants argue that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Roland's excessive force claim because Roland failed to support his allegations that Defendant Degen smashed his hand in the food port. Defendants contend that Roland fails to establish a First Amendment retaliation claim against Degen because Roland cannot show an adverse action was taken by Defendant Degen. With regard to Defendant Vaughn, Defendants claim that Roland cannot establish liability based upon respondeat superior. Defendants further claim that Roland fails to establish an Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Vaughn for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs because Roland did not have an objectively serious medical need. Finally, Defendants contend that they are entitled to qualified immunity because Roland has not demonstrated the violation of a clearly established right.

         In his Response, Roland argues that there are genuine issues of material fact that preclude summary judgment for Defendants on Roland's excessive use of force claim. Roland states that the affidavits and declarations of the parties “are squarely contradictory as to force being used, or if force was ever used, and why it was or was not used.” (Doc. 69 at p. 5.) Roland contends that Defendant Vaughn failed to report the incident, failed to contact medical staff, failed to discipline Degen, and otherwise did not attempt to remedy the wrong. (Doc. 69-2 at p. 2.) He further argues that the Inspector General of Missouri sent an investigator to investigate his allegations, and that the investigator found that Roland's allegations of excessive force were supported. (Doc. 69 at p. 3-4.) Roland states that Defendant Degen resigned in April of 2014, as a result of the investigation. Id. at 4.[4]

         Defendants, in their Reply, argue that the statements Roland has submitted do not create a genuine issue of fact on his excessive force claim. Defendants contend that Roland's excessive force claim fails because he can show only de minimus force was used. They further argue that Roland ...

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