United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
CATHERINE D. PERRY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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. 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.
times relevant to his complaint, Woods was incarcerated at
Northeast Correctional Center (NECC). He currently is
incarcerated at Jefferson City Correctional Center.
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
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). 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.
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.
Woods claims that defendant Case Manager II (CMII) Stacie
Lescalleet issued him a conduct violation for filing an IRR.
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.
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)
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.
§ 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
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.
Use of Force - COI Preston
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. 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.
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
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
is therefore entitled to summary judgment on Woods'
Eighth Amendment claim of excessive use of force.
Sexual Assault - COI Lagore
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. 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. 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. In his affidavit, Lagore attests that his
conduct was not sexually motivated.
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.
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.
is therefore entitled to summary judgment on Woods'
Eighth Amendment claim of sexual assault.
Retaliation - Conduct Violations and Disciplinary
claims that he was issued several conduct violations, was
threatened, and suffered disciplinary action as ...