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Snavely v. Kansas Department of Corrections

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

August 12, 2013



SAM A. CROW, U.S. Senior District Judge.

This matter is a civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, a prisoner in state custody, proceeds pro se. He commenced this action with twenty claims against sixty-one defendants, alleging violations of his constitutional rights caused by the conditions of his confinement. The court has limited the action to nine claims against twenty-four defendants.

On October 8, 2012, defendants Blankenship, Foster, Green, McKune, Nance, Spear, Trexler, Walker, and Werholtz (“defendants”) filed a motion to dismiss, or, in the alternative for summary judgment (Doc. 156). Plaintiff filed a response to that order on November 6, 2012 (Doc. 167), asserting, in part, that he did not receive a copy of that motion or the supporting memorandum.

On May 22, 2013, the court directed counsel for the defendants to transmit additional copies of those documents to the plaintiff; the court received notice on the same day that the documents had been transmitted. Thereafter, the court entered an order directing the plaintiff to submit any supplement to his response on or before June 24, 2013, and advising that no additional extension would be granted.

Plaintiff filed a response on June 13, 2013 (Doc. 176), and defendants have submitted a reply (Doc. 177). The court has examined the record and enters the following findings and order.

Pro se status

As noted, plaintiff is proceeding without counsel. Accordingly, his pleadings, including those related to the present motion for summary judgment, must be given a liberal construction. See Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110, & n. 3 (10th Cir. 1991); Hill v. Corrections Corp. of America, 14 F.Supp.2d 1235, 1237 (D. Kan. 1998). The court must excuse a failure to cite proper legal authorities, confusion of legal theories, and poor grammatical composition. Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110. However, plaintiff’s pro se status does not relieve him from an obligation to follow the rules of procedure, including the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Kay v. Bernis, 500 F.3d 1214, 1218 (10th Cir. 2007) and Nielsen v. Price, 17 F.3d 1276, 1277 (10thCir. 1994)(internal punctuation and citations omitted)(“This court has repeatedly insisted that pro se parties follow the same rules of procedure that govern other litigants.”)

Likewise, while the court will make allowances in reviewing plaintiff's pleadings, “the court cannot take on the responsibility of serving as the litigant’s attorney in constructing arguments and searching the record.” Garrett v. Selby Connor Maddux & Janer, 425 F.3d 836, 840 (10th Cir. 2005). A pro se party may not rest upon conclusory factual allegations because “a pro se plaintiff requires no special legal training to recount the facts surrounding his alleged injuries”. Hill v. Corrections Corp. of America, 14 F.Supp.2d 1235, 1237 (D.Kan. 1998). Accordingly, the court must dismiss claims that are not supported by well-pleaded allegations of fact.

Summary judgment standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions, together with affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the opposing party. McKenzie v. Mercy Hospital, 854 F.2d 365, 367 (10th Cir. 1988).

Pursuant to Rule 56(a), a court must grant summary judgment “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.Pro. 56(a). The moving party bears “both the initial burden of production on a motion for summary judgment and the burden of establishing that summary judgment is appropriate as a matter of law.” Trainor v. Apollo Metal Specialties, Inc., 318 F.3d 976, 979 (10th Cir. 2003).

In response, the opposing party may not simply rest on its pleadings but must present specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial and significant supporting evidence. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). A genuine issue exists if “there is sufficient evidence on each side so that a rational trier or fact could resolve the issue either way.” Thorn v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 353 F.3d 848, 851 (10th Cir. 2003).

The summary judgment rule is not a “disfavored procedural shortcut” but instead, a procedure “designed to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986)(quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 1).


As noted, this matter is proceeding on nine claims. Defendants seek summary judgment or dismissal on all of these claims. While plaintiff filed a response to their motion, he has not made any effort to controvert the facts identified by defendants. The court therefore examines the claims on the defendants’ uncontroverted statement of the relevant facts.

During all relevant times, plaintiff was incarcerated in the custody of the Kansas Department of Corrections at the Lansing Correctional Facility (LCF). The defendants are: Roger Werholtz, the Secretary of Corrections, now retired; David McKune, Warden of the LCF, now retired; Michael Green, EA1 Officer at LCF; Sharon Blankenship, the Fire/Safety Officer of the LCF; Deborah Walker, a Unit Team Manager at LCF; Charles Nance, a Corrections Supervisor II at LCF; James Spear, a Corrections Supervisor I at LCF; Jerry Trexler, a Corrections Supervisor I at LCF; and Amber Foster, a Corrections Officer at LCF.

Claims 1 and 2

In September 2005, plaintiff was a dining room porter in the maximum security dining room.[1] Plaintiff alleges that he reported on September 2, 2005, that the lights in the porter’s closet were not working and that defendant Walters picked up the phone to address that report.[2] Plaintiff claims that when he returned to work on the following morning, defendant Foster was on duty and the closet lights had not been repaired. On September 3, 2005, plaintiff fell in the porter’s closet shortly after noon and was struck by falling shelving. Defendant Foster, a corrections officer, responded and called for medical response, waited for the responders to arrive, and then prepared Incident Report 01-06-0448.[3]

Plaintiff claims he is entitled to relief because defendants Walters, Foster, and Blankenship acted with deliberate indifference to his safety and failed to provide safety training to prisoners assigned as dining room porters.

Deliberate indifference

“The Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment imposes a duty on prison officials to provide humane conditions of confinement, including…reasonable safety from serious bodily harm.” Tafoya v. Salazar, 516 F.3d 912, 916 (10th Cir. 2008)(citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994)). Under this standard, a prison official is liable if the official “knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety”, Farmer, id. at 828.

To establish a claim for relief under this standard, a plaintiff must show both that he was “incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm, and … defendants were deliberately indifferent to his safety.” DeSpain v. Uphoff, 264 F.3d 965, 971-72 (10th Cir. 2001)(citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834).

Plaintiff must meet two requirements: “[f]irst, the deprivation alleged must be, objectively, ‘sufficiently serious.’” Farmer, id., (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991)(“For a claim…based on a failure to prevent harm, the inmate must show that he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm.”) Next, plaintiff must show the defendants have a “sufficiently culpable state of mind.” Wilson, 501 U.S. at 297, namely, “one of ‘deliberate indifference’ to inmate health or safety.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834.

Defendants assert that plaintiff has failed to establish deliberate indifference. They point out that he acknowledges that after he reported that the lights were out in the porter’s closet, defendant Walters made a telephone call to report the situation, and they contend this was a reasonable response. Likewise, when defendant Foster came on duty the next day, even if she was aware that the lights were not working properly, there is no evidence that she knew of any spill in the closet or any other substantial risk to safety.

The record does not support a claim of deliberate indifference. The facts alleged by plaintiff show that defendant Walters took action to report the lights immediately upon receiving notice, and there is no allegation that defendant Foster knew of any conditions in the closet that posed any substantial risk of harm.

Failure to train

Plaintiff asserts that he did not receive proper training for his assignment as a dining room porter “regarding safety procedures and maintaining a safe working environment”.[4]

Generally, to prevail on a claim seeking liability for failure to train or supervise, a plaintiff must show “the need for more or different training is so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the policy makers … can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need for additional training.” Jenkins v. Wood, 81 F.3d 988, 994 (10th Cir. 1996).

Defendants point out that plaintiff has done no more than identify defendant Blankenship as the Fire/Safety Officer for LCF and to assert that he had not been trained during the brief period, less than one week, that he had been assigned as a dining room porter.

The record does not suggest any specific act or omission by defendant Blankenship, nor does plaintiff identify any specific information about the training he believes was needed or any causal link between the lack of training and his fall. His bare assertion that he did not receive appropriate training does not establish any basis to impose liability on the defendant.

The court concludes defendants Walters, Foster, and Blankenship are entitled to summary judgment on these claims.

Claim 3

Plaintiff has been restricted from climbing stairs since July 28, 2005. On September 3, 2005, he was issued a cane.[5]

In mid-September 2005, he reported that he had slipped and fallen on the way to use the shower in Housing Unit B-1 (B-1).[6] Defendant Trexler prepared Incident Report 01-06-0544 on September 15, 2005, reporting that plaintiff reported a fall and had been taken to the facility medical clinic by a nurse.[7]

On or about September 17, 2005, plaintiff filed a grievance seeking the use of handicapped shower facilities. He received a response explaining that because he was not classified by medical staff as “unassigned medical” or “handicapped”, ...

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