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Smith v. Gallegos

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

September 10, 2013

BYRON SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
E.J. GALLEGOS, et. al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. THOMAS MARTEN, District Judge.

The following matter comes to the court upon plaintiff Byron Smith's Motion to Reconsider (Dkt. 160) and Motion for Hearing (Dkt. 161). The court denies Smith's Motion to Reconsider for the following reasons. As a result, the court also denies the Smith's Motion for Hearing as moot.

I. Background

The court granted summary judgment to the defendants on February 7, 2013, finding the defendants entitled to qualified immunity because they did not violate any clearly established Eighth Amendment right and did not subject Smith to a wanton infliction of unnecessary pain when Smith was minimally exposed to asbestos dust during a work assignment at the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth. (Dkt. 158). Smith filed a motion to reconsider and motion for hearing on March 7, 2013, claiming that the court misapprehended the facts of the case and the law. Smith claims that the court misapprehended the extent of his exposure, the defendants' culpability, and the defendants' knowledge about the location of asbestos. He also claims that the court misapprehended the law because the defendants were aware of the risk to Smith and the law clearly establishes an Eighth Amendment right to be free of any levels of friable asbestos.

The factual background of the case is adequately stated in the court order issued on February 7, 2013. See Dkt. 158.

II. Legal Standard

Any party may file a motion asking the court to reconsider an order or decision. D. KAN. RULE 7.3. A motion to reconsider a dispositive order must be filed pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Id. A party seeking to alter or amend a judgment must file his motion within twenty eight days after the entry of judgment. FED. R. CIV. P. 59(e). The court will not reconsider its prior judgment unless (1) there is an intervening change in controlling law; (2) new evidence is available; or (3) there is a need to correct clear error or prevent manifest injustice. First State Bank v. Daniel & Associates, P.C., 491 F.Supp.2d 1033, 1035 (D. Kan. 2007) (citing Servants of Paraclete v. Does, 204 F.3d 1005, 1012 (10th Cir. 2000)). Reconsideration is appropriate when the court has misapprehended the facts, the controlling law, or a party's position. Id. However, a motion to reconsider is not a tool to raise issues already addressed or advance arguments that could have been raised in prior briefing. Id. Whether to grant or deny a motion for reconsideration is committed to the court's discretion. Marx v. Schnuck Markets, Inc., 869 F.Supp. 895, 897 (D. Kan. 1994) (citations omitted).

III. Analysis

A. The Court Did Not Misapprehend the Facts

Smith argues that the court did not view the facts in the light most favorable to him, that doing so would show that he was exposed to clouds of asbestos while working in a closet over two days, that the court improperly focused on the liability of the only two defendants who were responsible for Smith's work within the closet and that the court did not focus on the liability of other defendants. Contrary to Smith's assertions, the court did view the facts in the light most favorable to him. The court determined that Smith was exposed for a few hours. Dkt. 158 at 11. As Smith himself claims, when inmate Gonzales began pulling at the insulation that created the dust, Smith was prevented from working. He and his work crew were allowed to leave the closet, and Smith did not return to the closet until the dust settled. Although work continued into the next day, when Gonzales again caused dust clouds, Smith and his work crew were again allowed to stop until the dust settled. The facts in a light most favorable to Smith do not indicate that he worked two full days in the closet. Smith and his work crew were interrupted and allowed out of the closet to take breaks from the dust. Further, after Smith's supervisor, defendant Sinclair, arrived on day two, they worked another hour and then work was completed. The time of Smith's exposure was not misapprehended by the court.

Likewise, the court did not misapprehend facts by addressing the liability of Sinclair and Durbin, two of the defendants. These are the only two defendants who granted permission for Smith to be present and work in the closet. No other defendants had reason to believe that Smith or any other prisoner would enter into the locked closet of a classroom in the education building of the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth. Durbin placed the work order and Sinclair authorized Smith to work on the closet. Both of these defendants exposed themselves to the same dust that Smith now complains has harmed him.

B. Under the Correct Legal Standard, the Defendants Are Entitled to Qualified Immunity

In granting summary judgment, the court determined that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because they did not act with wantonness or obduracy. See Dkt. 158 at 6. This analysis used an erroneous legal standard. However, under the correct analysis, the defendants are still immune from liability. Qualified immunity balances the need to hold public officials accountable for unjust exercises of power against the need to shield officials from liability when they reasonably perform their duties. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009); see also Jacqueline Blaesi-Freed, From Shield to Suit of Armor: Qualified Immunity and A Narrowing of Constitutional Rights in the Tenth Circuit, 50 WASHBURN L.J. 203, 218 (2010). Qualified immunity relieves federal and state officials from liability unless a plaintiff shows (1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that ...


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