Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Woods v. Hays

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

March 19, 2018

DARRELL WOODS, Plaintiff,
v.
RICKY HAYS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CATHERINE D. PERRY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Missouri state prisoner Darrell Woods brings this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that several correctional employees at Northeast Correctional Center deprived him of his constitutional rights by assaulting him, in violation of the Eighth Amendment; and/or retaliating against him for pursuing grievances, in violation of the First Amendment.[1] Woods also brings supplemental state law claims of negligence. Because there are no genuine issues of material fact and the undisputed evidence shows no violation of Woods' constitutional rights, I will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment on Woods' constitutional claims. I decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over his state law claims.

         Background[2]

         At all times relevant to his complaint, Woods was incarcerated at Northeast Correctional Center (NECC). He currently is incarcerated at Jefferson City Correctional Center.

         On July 1, 2014, defendant Correctional Officer I (COI) Taylor Preston attempted to place handcuffs on Woods in order to escort him to sick call. The handcuffs pinched Woods' wrist, and Woods cried out in pain. Alleging that Woods struck her hand and later grabbed her hand during the incident, Preston issued a conduct violation to Woods for minor assault. Woods claims that Preston's conduct while placing the handcuffs on him constituted an assault and amounted to excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment. He further claims that Preston's assault and issuance of the conduct violation were retaliatory and done to justify Woods' continued confinement in administrative segregation.

         On October 16, 2014, defendant COI Robert Lagore pushed an empty milk carton through the food slot of Woods' cell door. The milk carton hit Woods in the groin area. Believing that Lagore's conduct was sexually motivated, Woods filed an Informal Resolution Request (IRR) regarding the alleged assault. The following day, Woods determined to pursue the matter under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).[3] Woods claims that defendants Kristin Cutt and Tyree Butler, Functional Unit Managers (FUMs), met with him and attempted to dissuade him from filing a PREA report. Woods claims that Butler threatened to put him in disciplinary segregation for six months if he filed the report. Woods also claims that after he “made it clear” that he intended to pursue the report, Cutt issued an improper conduct violation against him for threats.

         On January 26, 2015, defendant Tina Cobb, another FUM, ordered Woods to serve thirty days in disciplinary segregation on a conduct violation that arose out of Woods' PREA complaint. Woods claims that Cobb imposed this punishment in retaliation for his having filed the PREA complaint.

         Finally, Woods claims that defendant Case Manager II (CMII) Stacie Lescalleet issued him a conduct violation for filing an IRR.

         All defendants move for summary judgment, arguing that the undisputed evidence shows that the conduct alleged by Woods does not rise to the level of constitutional violations. Defendants further argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity on Woods' claims.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         When considering a motion for summary judgment, I must view the facts and inferences from the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). As the moving parties, defendants must establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving parties have met this burden, the nonmoving party may not rest on the allegations in his pleadings, but by affidavit or other evidence must set forth specific facts showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). A verified complaint is equivalent to an affidavit for summary judgment purposes. Hanks v. Prachar, 457 F.3d 774, 775 (8th Cir. 2006) (per curiam).

         At the summary judgment stage, courts do not weigh the evidence and decide the truth of the matter, but rather determine if there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. However, summary judgment may be appropriate “[w]hen opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it[.]” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). In such circumstances, the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute will not serve to defeat summary judgment; instead, the factual dispute must be “genuine.” Id.

         In § 1983 actions, qualified immunity shields government officials from suit unless their conduct violated a clearly established right of which a reasonable official would have known. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). “The contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right.” Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987). For a plaintiff to overcome qualified immunity, existing precedent must have placed the constitutional question '"beyond debate.'” City & Cnty of S.F., Calif. v. Sheehan, 135 S.Ct. 1765, 1774 (2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 741 (2011)). “When properly applied, [qualified immunity] protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Ashcroft, 563 U.S. at 743 (alteration added) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         The evidence before the Court, including Woods' verified complaint, shows that defendants' alleged conduct did not amount to constitutional violations, and no genuine issue of material fact exists for trial. For the following reasons, defendants have shown that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Woods' constitutional claims, and I will grant their motion for summary judgment.

         Evidence and Discussion

         A. Use of Force - COI Preston

         On July 1, 2014, defendant COI Preston attempted to place handcuffs on Woods in order to escort him to sick call. The handcuffs pinched Woods' wrist. Woods cried out in pain and pulled his hands away from Preston.[4] As a result of the incident, Woods suffered an abrasion to his wrist - about a quarter-inch in length, with no bleeding. Woods acknowledges that the incident could have been accidental and that his constitutional rights were not violated.[5]

         “The Eighth Amendment bars correctional officers from imposing unnecessary and wanton pain on inmates, regardless of whether there is evidence of any significant injury.” Johnson v. Blaukat, 453 F.3d 1108, 1112 (8th Cir. 2006) (citing Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9 (1992)). See also Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 37-38 (2010) (per curiam) (extent of resulting injury is not in itself a threshold requirement for proving an Eighth Amendment excessive force claim). Nevertheless, the “Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments necessarily excludes from constitutional recognition de minimis uses of physical force, provided that the use of force is not of a sort repugnant to the conscience of mankind.” Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9-10 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The core judicial inquiry when examining an Eighth Amendment excessive force claim is “whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.” Id. at 6-7 (1992) (citing Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 320-21 (1986)). Although an unforeseeable accident may produce added anguish, it cannot on that basis alone amount to malicious and sadistic intent to cause harm. Cf. Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber, 329 U.S. 459, 464 (1947); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105 (1976); Campbell v. Grammer, 889 F.2d 797, 802 (8th Cir. 1989) (distinguishing between accidental and intentional use of force). See also Redmond v. Crowther, 882 F.3d 927, 937 (10th Cir. 2018) (“accidentally deploying force is antithetical to deploying that force maliciously or sadistically.”).

         Preston is entitled to qualified immunity on Woods' Eighth Amendment excessive force claim. Woods himself acknowledges that the pinching with the handcuffs may have been accidental, that his injury was de minimis, and that Preston's conduct in pinching his wrist while applying the handcuffs did not violate his constitutional rights. From the undisputed evidence before the Court, a reasonable inference can be made that during the course of Woods pulling his hands away from Preston, his movement may have caused the handcuffs to pinch his wrist. A correctional officer's attempt to secure handcuffs while a prisoner is pulling away does not alone violate that prisoner's clearly established right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Woods does not allege that Preston used any other force to subdue him or cause harm. Preston's use of force during this incident was nothing more than de minimis. Further, there is no evidence that Preston acted with subjective malicious intent to cause harm.[6]

         Preston is therefore entitled to summary judgment on Woods' Eighth Amendment claim of excessive use of force.

         B. Sexual Assault - COI Lagore

         On October 16, 2014, defendant COI Lagore pushed an empty milk carton through the food slot of Woods' cell door in an effort to stop Woods from himself pushing the carton through the food slot and onto the floor outside his cell.[7] When Lagore pushed the milk carton, Woods was standing directly in front of and a couple of inches away from the food slot. The opening of the food slot is at hip level, and the milk carton hit Woods in the groin area.[8] Lagore did not engage in any conduct or make any statements to lead Woods to believe that this act was sexual in nature. Woods believed Lagore's conduct was sexually motivated only because he thought Lagore was homosexual.[9] In his affidavit, Lagore attests that his conduct was not sexually motivated.[10]

         Because sexual abuse of an inmate by a corrections officer can never serve a legitimate penological purpose and may well result in severe physical and psychological harm, such abuse can, in certain circumstances, constitute the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Freitas v. Ault, 109 F.3d 1335, 1338 (8th Cir. 1997). To prevail on an Eighth Amendment claim of sexual abuse, therefore, the inmate must prove, as an objective matter, that the alleged abuse caused pain and, as a subjective matter, that the officer acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind. Id.

         Woods does not allege that being struck in the penis area by an empty milk carton caused him any pain, psychological or otherwise. Accordingly, Woods has failed to show Lagore's conduct to be sufficiently serious to satisfy the objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim. In addition, Lagore's unrebutted affidavit shows that his conduct was not sexually motivated, and there is no evidence that Lagore acted with a culpable state of mind in pushing the milk carton through the food slot.

         Lagore is therefore entitled to summary judgment on Woods' Eighth Amendment claim of sexual assault.

         C. Retaliation - Conduct Violations and Disciplinary Action

         Woods claims that he was issued several conduct violations, was threatened, and suffered disciplinary action as ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.