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Hardridge v. Piccinini

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

June 26, 2019

JOE PICCININI, et al., Defendants.



         Pending is Defendants Jen-I E. Pulos and Chimezie Akanuligo's Motion for Summary Judgment. Doc. #83. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In October 2014, Plaintiff Thedral Hardridge was admitted to the Jackson County Department of Corrections (“JCDC”) on charges of Abuse or Neglect of A Child - Serious Physical Injury. Doc. #83-2. Plaintiff remains incarcerated at a JCDC facility. Doc. #66; Doc. #84-3.

         JCDC has a grievance procedure, which permits inmates to “seek formal resolutions, decisions, or answers to serious issues or complaints regarding the conditions of their confinement.” Doc. #83-4, at 1. Pursuant to the procedure, an inmate first seeks informal resolution of a non-emergency matter. Id. at 2, 5., and if that does not work, files a formal grievance. Id. at 2. “The grievance must be filed within ten (10) days of the occurrence or discovery of the cause of the grievance….” Id. at 1, 5. If dissatisfied with the disposition of a grievance, “the inmate may submit a written appeal within five (5) days receipt of the adverse disposition.” Id. at 4-5. Upon receipt of the appeal, the Director of Corrections (“Director”) designates a respondent, who is responsible for “promptly and thoroughly investigating the appeal and submitting a written disposition to the Director.” Id. Unless otherwise explained to the inmate, the response must be provided within ten days of the Director's receipt of the appeal. Id.

         Between December 1, 2014, and June 15, 2015, Plaintiff filed several requests for administrative remedies. Doc. #1-1, at 3-7; Doc. #83-1, at 4; Docs. #83-5, #83-6, #83-7, #83-10. On January 29, 2015, Plaintiff submitted a formal grievance related to events that occurred on November 12, 2014. Doc. #1-1, at 1; Doc. #83-8. The formal grievance was received by the Director on March 9, 2015. Id. Ten days later, a response was provided: “Sir, the above listed incidents were caused by you. Each time you placed yourself in each predictament [sic]. Captain Smith, the JCDC Support Administrator, has already explained this to you…. I find this grievance totally unfounded. Id. On June 4, 2015, Plaintiff appealed his formal grievance. Doc. #1-1, at 2; Doc. #83-9. This appeal was received by the Director on June 8, 2015. Id. On June 18, 2015, Plaintiff was informed that the “investigation will continue, ” and he will be notified of the outcome of the investigation. Id.

         On June 29, 2015, George Indelicato, Acting Operation Support Administrator, responded to Plaintiff's appeal. Doc. #1-1, at 16; Doc. #83-14. With regard to the events that occurred on November 12, 2014, Indelicato was “unable to obtain any concert [sic] evidence of staff physical abuse toward inmate Hardridge. No. recorded footage was archived or downloaded.” Id. But Indelicato obtained six reports from staff documenting the November 12, 2014 incident. Doc. #1-1, at 8-16; Doc. #83-14; Doc. #83-15. The reports indicate Plaintiff “began the incident by pulling the sprinkler head in his cell causing a flood…. Upon DCT staff entering the inmate's cell, …the inmate became combative and argumentative and began to resist staff.” Id. As a result, the staff had “to place the inmate to the cell floor which could have caused the injuries described.” Id. Plaintiff sustained lacerations on his left eye and chin. Id.; see also Doc. #83-13. He received sutures from the emergency room. Id. Indelicato rejected Plaintiff's grievance “due to his allegations of staff physical abuse being unfounded.” Id.

         With regard to the events that transpired on November 12, 2014, Plaintiff testified during his deposition that he told JCDC staff members he would not be going back to his cell. Doc. #83-17, at 8-9. After being placed back in his cell, Plaintiff admitted he began yelling, “my attorney [is] gonna whip [your] ass….” Id. at 10. He then broke the sprinkler head in his cell: “I took my cup, and I started hitting [the sprinkler head] with my cup, hitting the tip of it with my cup, and it just popped and started spraying the room with water.” Id. at 11. The water began pouring into his cell, and “pretty much flooded the whole module almost.” Id. at 12. A few minutes after Plaintiff broke the sprinkler head, officers arrived. Id. Plaintiff was directed to “lay down on the bed and cross [his] legs and put [his] hands behind [his] back, ” but he “told them no.” Id. The officers entered Plaintiff's cell and “held” him down on the bed and “handcuffed” him behind his back. Id. Plaintiff He claims the officers picked him up and “just dropped me to the floor right on my face, ” and the officer then began “beating the crap out of me.” Id. at 12-13.

         In September 2016, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed this matter, alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against JCDC staff members, the JCDC Director, and the Jackson County Sheriff. Doc. #1. In his Complaint, Plaintiff acknowledges JCDC had a grievance procedure, and he utilized the procedure on December 20, 2014, January 12, 2015, January 29, 2015, and June 4, 2015. Id. at 3. He states his “[f]inal grievance [was] rejected as unfounded.” Id. His claims related to the events that occurred on November 12, 2014, about which Plaintiff grieved. Id. at 5-13; Doc. #1-1. Plaintiff alleges Defendants “are responsible for the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain when they had beaten, degraded, tortured and humiliated the Plaintiff with the use of excessive force, verbal abuse and lack of care and concern for Plaintiff's health and well being.” Doc. #1, at 16. He contends Defendants violated his rights under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteen Amendments, and his right to medical care. Id. at 16-17.

         In October 2016, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims against certain Defendants because he failed to state a claim against those individuals. Doc. #8, at 4-5. The Court directed the two remaining Defendants, Ronnie Rahe and Lieutenant Brown, to respond to Plaintiff's Complaint. Id. at 5. In January 2017, Plaintiff's lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice because he did not provide the Court with addresses at which Defendants could be served. Doc. #16. Plaintiff appealed the dismissal. Doc. #18. The Eighth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part this Court's decision. Doc. #24. Among other things, the Eighth Circuit found Plaintiff's claims against five Defendants (Chimezie Akanuligo, Matai Ware, Jen-I E. Pulos, Ryan Arnold, and Daniel McElroy) should be reinstated. Id. at 2.

         In September 2017, this matter was reopened, and Plaintiff's claims against Akanuligo, Ware, Pulos, Arnold, and McElroy were reinstated. Doc. #26. Service was attempted on these individuals at addresses provided by Plaintiff. Docs. #32-37. Akanuligo was served, but service was not obtained on the other Defendants. Doc. #33-37. The Court directed JCDC to provide the last known addresses for Defendants. Doc. #38. Service was attempted again. Pulos was served, but McElroy, Arnold, and Ware were not served. Doc. #42, 46-50. The Court directed Plaintiff to show cause why his claims against McElroy, Arnold, and Ware should not be dismissed due to failure to timely serve them. Doc. #51. Plaintiff did not respond, and as a result, his claims against Ware, Arnold, and McElroy were dismissed without prejudice. Doc. #53. As of May 2018, only Plaintiff's claims against Pulos and Akanuligo remained pending.

         In October 2018, the Court granted Plaintiff's motion for appointment of counsel, and in November 2018, the parties were granted additional time to conduct discovery. Docs. #73, 79. On April 22, 2019, Akanuligo and Pulos filed a motion for summary judgment. Doc. #83. After Plaintiff failed to timely respond to Defendants' motion, the Court directed Plaintiff to show cause why the motion should not be granted. Doc. #84.

         On May 28, 2019, Plaintiff's counsel responded to the Court's Order, stating he was “filing an Anders response to the motion to show cause.” Doc. #85, at 1. Plaintiff's counsel stated “there is a scant argument that given Plaintiff's incarceration status he was unable to timely exhaust his administrative remedies.” Id. at 1-2. He represented that Plaintiff could not sustain his use of force claim because there are “no non-frivolous arguments in opposition” to the motion for summary judgment. Id. at 2. That is, “the record is devoid of any attacks on the Plaintiff by other inmates or the showing of a[n] immediate fear for his safety.” Id. Further, “Plaintiff created an incident by pulling on the sprinkler head, ” which set off the device that flooded his cell. Id. This incident, “coupled with Plaintiff's refusal to follow orders allows the correctional officers to apply reasonable constraints.” Id. Defendants did not file a reply in further support of their summary judgment motion, and the time for doing so has passed.

         II. ...

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