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Scott v. Clune

United States District Court, D. Kansas

July 2, 2018

JACOB CLUNE, ET AL., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Jeffrey Lynn Scott, an inmate at Hutchinson Correctional Facility (“HCF”), proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action alleging he was subjected to excessive force when two corrections officers, Jacob Clune and Brian Gahagan (“Defendants”), handcuffed him and wrenched his arms up after another inmate had attacked him. Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 27), alleging, inter alia, Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity and Eleventh Amendment immunity. The motion is fully briefed and the Court is prepared to rule. For the reasons explained below, the Court grants summary judgment in Defendants' favor.

         I. Legal Standards

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[1] In applying this standard, courts view the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.[2] “There is no genuine issue of material fact unless the evidence, construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.”[3] A fact is “material” if, under the applicable substantive law, it is “essential to the proper disposition of the claim.”[4] A dispute of fact is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.”[5]

         The moving party initially must show the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law.[6] In attempting to meet this standard, a movant that does not bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial need not negate the other party's claim; rather, the movant need simply point out to the court a lack of evidence for the other party on an essential element of that party's claim.[7]

         Once the movant has met this initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.”[8] The nonmoving party may not simply rest upon its pleadings to satisfy its burden.[9] Rather, the nonmoving party must “set forth specific facts that would be admissible in evidence in the event of trial from which a rational trier of fact could find for the nonmovant ”[10] To accomplish this, the facts “must be identified by reference to an affidavit, a deposition transcript, or a specific exhibit incorporated therein.”[11]

         Where, as here, the plaintiff proceeds pro se, the court must construe the plaintiffs filing liberally and afford the plaintiffs filing some leniency.[12] Additionally, “[c]ourts must take added precautions before ruling on a motion for summary judgment when a pro se litigant is involved . . . especially when enforcing these [technical] requirements might result in the loss of the opportunity to prosecute or defend a lawsuit on the merits.”[13] At the same time, it is not the proper function of a district court to assume the role of advocate for a pro se litigant, and pro se parties are expected to follow the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, as all litigants must.[14]

         Finally, summary judgment is not a “disfavored procedural shortcut;” on the contrary, it is an important procedure “designed to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action”[15]

         B. Qualified Immunity

         Qualified immunity protects public officials performing discretionary functions unless their conduct violates “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”[16] Qualified immunity leaves “ample room for mistaken judgments, ” protecting “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.”[17]

         “[B]ecause qualified immunity is designed to protect public officials from spending inordinate time and money defending erroneous suits at trial, ” the qualified immunity defense triggers a modified summary judgment standard.[18] The initial burden rests on the plaintiff, rather than the defendant; and the plaintiff must first “clear two hurdles:” (1) demonstrate that the defendant violated his constitutional or statutory rights; and (2) demonstrate that the right was clearly established at the time of the alleged unlawful activity.[19] Only if the plaintiff clears both hurdles does the burden shift back to the movant defendant to make the traditional showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[20]

         In determining whether the plaintiff has demonstrated a violation of his constitutional or statutory rights and that the right was clearly established at the time, courts must view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment.[21] In Scott v. Harris, [22] the Supreme Court held that “[T]his usually means adopting . . . the plaintiff's version of the facts, ” unless that version “is so utterly discredited by the record that no reasonable jury could have believed him.”[23] In Scott, the plaintiff's version of the facts was discredited by a videotape that completely contradicted plaintiff. Thus, although the court should generally accept the non-movant plaintiff's version of the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the Court need not accept alleged facts that are contradicted or discredited by the record. Moreover, citing to the Scott decision, the Tenth Circuit has held that “because at summary judgment we are beyond the pleading phase of the litigation, a plaintiff's version of the facts must find support in the record.”[24] In that sense, the court does not discard the Rule 56 process, but relies upon facts supported by the record, while viewing those facts, and reasonable inferences therefrom, in the light most favorable to plaintiff.

         II. Uncontroverted Facts

         Plaintiff was at all relevant times incarcerated at the HCF in Hutchinson, Kansas. Officers Clune and Gahagan were at all relevant times employed as Corrections Officers at HCF.

         On October 21, 2016 at approximately noon, inmate Damon Reed attacked Plaintiff in the dining room at HCF. Reed swung and punched Plaintiff's right shoulder, causing Plaintiff to fall onto his back. Corrections Officer Andrew Harris was within arm's reach of Reed when this occurred. Officer Harris immediately grabbed Reed's arm as Reed attempted to stomp Plaintiff while he was on his back. Plaintiff bicycle-kicked to stave off Reed's stomping.

         As Officer Harris pulled Reed away from Plaintiff, Plaintiff got up from the floor and took a boxer's stance. While Officer Harris restrained Reed, Officer Gahagan rushed over and herded Plaintiff against a wall. Officer Clune then assisted Officer Gahagan with pushing Plaintiff to the ground. Four officers worked to handcuff Plaintiff. After they handcuffed Plaintiff and pulled him to a standing position, Officers Gahagan and Clune escorted Plaintiff out of the dining room to the segregation unit.

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiff asserts two counts of excessive force: one under the Fourth Amendment and the other under the Eighth Amendment.[25] He claims that Officers Clune and Gahagan intentionally pulled his shoulders and arms, causing severe physical pain to his handcuffed wrists, while escorting him out of the dining room. He also claims that once he was brought to segregation, Officer Clune pushed him face first into the wall and shouted at him to remove his boots. Plaintiff argues these acts were “wanton excessive force and completely unnecessary use of force against an injured [60-year-old] man who was non-combative during the time the force was used, ” constituting “cruel and unusual punishment of a defenseless person.”[26]

         An allegation of excessive force by a prisoner should be analyzed under Eighth Amendment jurisprudence, not Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.[27] In Sampley v. Ruettgers, [28] the Tenth Circuit instructed:

A prison guard's use of force against an inmate is “cruel and unusual” only if it involves “the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 173 (1976). We think that this standard imposes three requirements for an inmate to state a cause of action under the eighth amendment and section 1983 for an attack by a prison guard. First, “wanton” requires that the guard have intended to harm the inmate. Second, “unnecessary” requires the force used to have been more than appeared reasonably necessary at the time of the use of force to maintain or restore discipline. Third, “pain” means more than momentary discomfort; the attack must have resulted in either severe pain or a lasting injury.[29]

         The test for excessive force is “whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline or maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.”[30] The Court balances the need for force with the force used.[31] Whether a prisoner suffered injury and the extent of any injury are relevant inquiries when determining whether an Eighth Amendment violation occurred.[32] A push or shove with no discernible injury, for example, may not constitute excessive force.[33] The constitutional question for the Court is whether a defendant engaged in unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.[34] If a defendant caused a prisoner to suffer unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain, the prisoner need not allege significant physical injuries.[35] But if the use of force was both de minimis and “not of a sort repugnant to the conscience of mankind, ” an excessive force claim will not succeed.[36]

         In this case, pursuant to the Court's instruction, [37] the Kansas Department of Corrections has filed a Martinez Report.[38] The Martinez Report is an administrative record, assembled by the prison, that documents the factual investigation of a prisoner's claim[39] The Martinez Report includes video footage of the dining room incident from various angles.

         In his response to the summary judgment motion, Plaintiff says “[t]he video clearly shows evidence of excessive force as [he] is bent over by the actions of defendant officers even when [he] was not struggling against them.”[40] He claims disputes of material facts exist as to wantonness and necessity based on his testimony, Christopher Franco's testimony (an inmate who witnessed the incident), and the video.[41] The Court disagrees.

         As noted earlier, the Court does not accept factual allegations that are utterly discredited by the record such that no reasonable jury could believe them. Here, both Plaintiff and Franco's testimony are incredible given the video footage. Cameras 9, 15, and 16 establish as an uncontroverted fact that Plaintiff resisted officers' attempt to get him on the floor, lie flat on the floor, put his hands behand his back, handcuff him, and walk as directed.

         At time stamp 11:59:25, Officer Gahagan pushed Plaintiff against the wall.[42] At 11:59:26, Plaintiff pushed Officer Gahagan back and they struggled.[43] At 11:59:28, Officer Clune ...

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