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Jackson v. Gutzmer

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 10, 2017

Ronnie Jackson Plaintiff- Appellee
Jeff Gutzmer Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: March 9, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis

          Before LOKEN, MURPHY, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

          LOKEN, Circuit Judge.

         After a disturbance resulted in Minnesota inmate Ronnie Jackson spending three-and-one-half hours on a restraint board, Jackson filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against correctional officers and medical staff of the Oak Park Heights maximum security prison. Defendants moved for summary judgment, and the district court dismissed all claims except an Eighth Amendment excessive force claim against Lieutenant Jeff Gutzmer, who authorized use of the restraint board. Gutzmer appeals the denial of summary judgment based on qualified immunity. Reviewing that issue de novo and the facts in the light most favorable to Jackson, we reverse. See Burns v. Eaton, 752 F.3d 1136, 1138 (8th Cir. 2014).


         A. Convicted of arson, Jackson was admitted to the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud in November 2012. An initial psychiatric assessment reflected his self-reported history of 28 suicide attempts, suicidal thoughts, hearing voices to harm himself and others, cutting himself, depression, and anxiety. The assessment also related violent episodes including stabbing his school principal with scissors and striking his fiancé with a bottle. The examining doctor diagnosed Jackson with depression, borderline personality disorder with possible dissociative episodes, and alcohol dependency.

         During Jackson's first week at the St. Cloud facility, he violated multiple rules, including threatening others, possessing a weapon, and assaulting correctional staff. The weapon possession violation was a major infraction. Jackson also reported that voices were telling him to slit his cellmate's throat. The Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) transferred Jackson to the Oak Park Heights maximum security facility, placed him on disciplinary segregation status, and assigned him to the Administrative Control Unit (ACU). Designed to protect inmates from themselves and others and to maintain orderly prison operations, the ACU is the most secure prison living unit in Minnesota. ACU inmates are confined to their cells for twenty-three hours per day and allowed only limited personal property. To receive medical attention, an ACU inmate can submit a written "kite" for a medical visit; for emergency life-threatening situations, an inmate can press a duress button in his cell.

         While at Oak Park Heights, Jackson was sent repeatedly to ACU or to Complex 5, a segregation unit for less threatening inmates or those with shorter segregation sentences. He was convicted of more than twenty rule violations, including assaulting staff, disorderly conduct, threatening behavior, disobeying direct orders, abuse or harassment, and destruction of prison property. In one incident, Jackson refused to return to his cell, kicked a responding officer in the thigh, and threatened that "whoever put hands on me is going to die."

         In a November 2013 incident, after scheduling a medical visit for neck pain, Jackson told a correctional officer that he had swallowed a razor blade, triggering an Incident Command System (ICS) call for a self-injurious inmate. A doctor responded and evaluated Jackson's complaint of chest, arm, and neck pain. He was then placed in a Complex 5 cell. A few hours later, he covered his cell camera with plastic lining from his mattress, refused directives to come to the door to be placed in restraints, and stated he was going to "get to ACU by doing whatever it takes." The next day, while staff removed the mattress, Jackson spat in the eye of a correctional officer. For these violations, Jackson was placed in the ACU for 540 days of segregation and given 180 days of extended incarceration. Jackson resided in the ACU until April 2014, when ACU inmates were moved to Complex 5 because of ACU construction.

         B. The events giving rise to this lawsuit occurred on May 13, 2014. We relate facts stated in Jackson's Declaration In Opposition to Defendants' Motion For Summary Judgment. Around 7:20 a.m. that morning, Jackson declared, he informed a non-defendant correctional officer he was not feeling well, but it was not serious enough for medical attention. By noon, he was experiencing severe chest pains, nausea, shortness of breath, and vomiting, side effects he attributed to a depression medication, Effexor. Over the next hour and a half, Jackson tried to get medical attention by notifying a nurse and a correctional officer and by pushing his emergency duress button at three different times. At 1:38 p.m., thinking his medical situation was "dire, " Jackson grabbed a "grease container" in his cell and began to knock on the door to alert staff of his medical needs. Then, Jackson declared:

For several minutes I was knocking on my door with the grease container, [and] at approximately 1:40 p.m. my neighbors . . . began asking me what was going on and why I was knocking on my door. My neighbors (I believe) had been hearing me ask for medical assistance. I explain to them the situation and tell them I need 'help' and they began hitting their doors trying to get the attention of the staff.
For approximately 5 minutes staff completely ignore the noise . . . [until defendant Sergeant Donn] Weber finally heads towards [my cell] and all inmates stop hitting their doors. . . . Weber walks directly to my door, I attempt to stand and speak with him but my chest contracts painfully hard and I cry out in pain, and in my weakened state, slide down the inside of my door . . . . I see [Sergeant] Weber . . . activating an ICS response . . . for a self-injurious inmate. I was not hurting myself.[1]

         Lieutenant Gutzmer, responsible for supervising the ACU until 3:00 p.m. that day, responded to Weber's ICS call for a self-injurious inmate. Though it is disputed whether Gutzmer witnessed Jackson kicking and punching the cell door after Gutzmer arrived, it is undisputed that Sgt. Weber told Gutzmer that Jackson had been kicking and punching his cell door and ignored directives to stop. In Gutzmer's experience, he had seen inmates break their wrist, feet, or hands by kicking or punching a cell door. Gutzmer averred that he feared Jackson may continue to engage ...

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