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Miller v. Rubenstein

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division

February 6, 2018

ANDRE MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER JIM RUBENSTEIN, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          THOMAS E. JOHNSTON, CHIEF JUDGE

         Pending before the Court are motions for summary judgment from Defendants Commissioner Jim Rubenstein (“Defendant Rubenstein”) and Warden David Ballard (“Defendant Ballard”), collectively, (ECF No. 90), Officer Christopher Wynegar (“Defendant Wynegar”), (ECF No. 92), and Lieutenant Hobert Allen (“Defendant Allen”), (ECF No. 96).[1] For the reasons herein, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART all three motions. (ECF No. 90; ECF No. 92; ECF No. 96.)

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Andre Miller (“Miller”) is an inmate housed at Mount Olive Correctional Complex (“MOCC”). On the night of June 6, 2015, at approximately 9:00 p.m., the Assistant Shift Commander was informed that Miller was barricaded in his cell in the segregation unit and had placed a cover over the window to his cell door. (ECF No. 91 at 1; ECF No. 97 at 2.) Defendant Allen responded to Miller's cell and ordered him to remove the cover from his cell door window. (ECF No. 91 at 1.) Miller refused. (Id.) As a result, Defendant Allen obtained permission from Associate Warden Jason Collins to remove Miller from his cell. (Id.) Miller disputes that this is the reason Defendant Allen wanted him removed from his cell and instead asserts that Defendant Allen wanted him removed because of a verbal altercation between the two that occurred earlier that day over a telephone, during which Miller cursed at Defendant Allen and called him a name. (ECF No. 112 at 7.)

         Miller cooperated with Defendant Allen as he was removed from his cell. (Id. at 2.) Once out of his cell, Miller was stripped out of his clothing, placed in handcuffs and leg shackles (“mechanical restraints”), and was taken to the multi-purpose room. (Id.) Miller remained in the multi-purpose room while his cell was searched. (ECF No. 97 at 3.) Once correctional officers finished searching his cell, Miller was escorted back to the outside of his cell. (Id.) While the mechanical restraints on his legs were being removed, Miller moved into a position that caused him to fall face first onto the concrete floor and hit his head. (Id., ECF No. 96-1 at 7.)

         Miller alleges that he immediately requested medical attention for his head. (ECF No. 97 at 4.) Officers ordered Miller inside his cell and commanded him to place his hands through the metal slot so that his handcuffs could be removed. (Id.) Throughout this process, Miller continued to request medical attention. (Id.) Before leaving Miller in his cell, Defendant Allen requested medical attention for Miller. (ECF No. 93 at 2.)

         Approximately twenty minutes later, Miller was removed from his cell and taken to the multi-purpose room to receive medical attention from Nurse Joyce Coleman (“Nurse Coleman”). Nurse Coleman examined Miller and found that he had not suffered an injury and cleared him to be returned to his cell. (Id.) Correctional officers thus escorted Miller back to his cell. (Id.)

         After returning to his cell, Miller pressed a call button and stated that he was having chest pains. (ECF No. 97 at 4.) Correctional officers escorted Miller back to the multi-purpose room where Nurse Coleman administered an EKG. (Id.) Miller alleges that when Nurse Coleman left the room after the completion of the EKG, Defendant Allen poked Miller in the chest and stated that if he had to return to the unit to deal with Miller's alleged injury again he was going to “fuck him up.” (Id.) Miller was then escorted back to his cell. (Id.)

         During cell count, Miller informed two correctional officers that he was having head pain and requested to be evaluated by a medical professional other than Nurse Coleman. (Id.) The correctional officers informed Miller that they could not arrange for him to see another medical professional. (Id.) Miller then told the correctional officers to tell Defendant Allen that if he was not seen by a medical professional he might commit suicide. (Id. at 5.) The correctional officers relayed Miller's statement to Defendant Allen who obtained permission from Administrative Duty Officer Jason Collins to place Miller in a restraint chair to protect from self-harm. (ECF No. 97 at 5.) Miller, however, disputes that this was the reason he was placed in the restraint chair and instead asserts that Defendant Allen wanted him placed in the chair out of retaliation for requesting medical attention despite being told not to. (See ECF No. 109 at 10- 12.)

         Miller was then taken to the multi-purpose room and placed in a restraint chair. (Id.) Nurse Coleman again evaluated Miller and gave Miller pain medication and ice for his head. (Id.) An Intensive Supervision Log was created to document Miller's time in the restraint chair in real time and showed the following:

00:24 Inmate placed in the chair
00:35 Inmate arguing with staff
00:40 Inmate threatening to “shit staff down2”
00:42 Inmate threatening to spit on officers
00:44 Inmate threatening to kill CO Wynegar
01:30 Inmate threatening to make O.C. and spray Officers
02:40 Inmate attempting to loosen restraints
02:55 Inmate attempting to get out of restraints
03:35 Inmate attempting to loosen restraints
05:00 Inmate saying he was gonna beat up the Officers
05:20 Inmate acting aggressively towards LPN Coleman
05:35 Inmate rocking the restraint chair hollering
05:50 Inmate threatening to “shit down” COII Peters and Wynegar
06:05 Inmate rambling about Nurse and Officers saying when he gets a chance he is going to assault officers and nurses
06:22 Inmate attempted to head-but officer
06:30 Inmate screaming and yelling

(ECF 90-3 at 3-5.)

         Miller alleges that he was kept in the restraint chair for approximately ten hours and was never evaluated by a mental health professional. (ECF No. 97 at 5.) He further alleges that while in the restraint chair, Defendant Wynegar called him a racial epithet, made a comment about lynching him, and fastened zip-ties around his neck, where they remained for approximately an hour. (ECF No. 93 at 3.)

         Following this incident, Miller filed two separate Inmate Grievances dated June 8, 2015 and June 10, 2015. (ECF No. 91 at 5.) Miller's first grievance relates to Miller's time in the restraint chair and states the following:

On Sunday June 7th, 2015 @ 12:24 a.m. Lt. Allen authorized his officers COII Peters COII Mooney COII Maddox COII Fisher & COII Wynegar to put me in the restraint chair for 10 hours. I had never done anything that night to provoke this action.

(ECF No. 90-4 at 2.) Miller's second grievance relates to his treatment by Nurse Coleman and states the following:

On June 6th, 2015 on 2nd Shift LPN Joyce Coleman did deny proper medical care following Officer involved fall in Q2 Pod 4. She denied me an x-ray, ice and a talk with her superior. This is cruel and sadistic. On portable and stationary pod 4 cameras caught the whole event.

(ECF No. 90-5 at 2-3.)

         With regards to the grievance relating to the restraint chair, which is at issue in this action, a Captain reviewed Miller's grievance and seemingly found the use of the restraint chair was appropriate stating, “Restraint chair is based on behavior, once behavior becomes compliant.” (ECF No. 90-4at 2.) Miller appealed the Captain's finding to Defendant Ballard who accepted the Captain's finding that the use of the restraint chair was proper stating, “You were exhibiting destructive behavior on the date. You refused to comply with orders and control tactics were utilized to bring you into compliance you are mistaken regarding the timeframe.” (Id.) Miller appealed Defendant Ballard's decision to Defendant Rubenstein who accepted Defendant Ballard's finding. (Id.)

         Miller subsequently filed this action on August 25, 2016 against Defendants Rubenstein, Ballard, Wynegar, and Allen alleging excessive force arising from the alleged fall and use of the restraint chair, (Count I), (Count II), assault and battery, (Count III), intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”), (Count IV), false imprisonment, (Count V), and negligence (Count VI). (ECF No. 7.)

         Defendants Ballard and Rubenstein moved to dismiss Miller's Complaint. (ECF Nos. 28.) Defendant Wynegar also moved to dismiss the Complaint, (ECF No. 34), and for partial summary judgment on Miller's claims arising from the fall that occurred outside of his cell. (ECF No. 53.) This Court held a motions hearing on June 30, 2017, (ECF No. 74), and, based on the findings from the hearing, entered an order denying in part Defendants Rubenstein's and Ballard's motion to dismiss but granting it in part insofar as it sought to dismiss the substantive due process claim alleged in Count I and the supervisory liability claim alleged in Count I against Defendant Rubenstein. (ECF No. 76.) The Court further granted Defendant Wynegar's motion for partial summary judgment, but denied Defendant Wynegar's motion to dismiss. (Id.)

         Following the motions hearing, Miller filed an Amended Complaint bolstering his allegations against Rubenstein and removing Count II. (ECF No. 78.) Defendants Ballard and Rubenstein collectively, Defendant Wynegar, and Defendant Allen subsequently filed the present motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 90, 92, 96.) Miller timely responded to all three motions. (ECF Nos. 102, 109, 112.) Defendants filed timely replies. (ECF Nos. 104, 111, 114.) All three motions are now ripe for adjudication.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs motions for summary judgment. This rule provides, in relevant part, that summary judgment should be granted if “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact.” Summary judgment is inappropriate, however, if there exist factual issues that reasonably may be resolved in favor of either party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). “Facts are ‘material' when they might affect the outcome of the case, and a ‘genuine issue' exists when the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” The News & Observer Publ. Co. v. Raleigh-Durham Airport Auth., 597 F.3d 570, 576 (4th Cir. 2010). When evaluating such factual issues, the Court must view the evidence “in the light most favorable to the [party opposing summary judgment].” Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970).

         The moving party may meet its burden of showing that no genuine issue of fact exists by use of “depositions, answers to interrogatories, answers to requests for admission, and various documents submitted under request for production.” Barwick v. Celotex Corp., 736 F.2d 946, 958 (4th Cir. 1984). Once the moving party has met its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to “make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). If a party fails to make a sufficient showing on one element of that party's case, the failure of proof “necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. at 323.

         “[A] party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon mere allegation or denials of his pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 256. “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence” in support of the nonmoving party is not enough to withstand summary judgment; the judge must ask whether “the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Id. at 252.

         III. DISCUSSION

         In their respective motions, all three Defendants argue that Miller failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with regard to Defendant Wynegar's alleged use of zip-ties and racial slurs and Defendant Allen's alleged threat and assault of Miller. (See ECF No. 91 at 7-8; ECF No. 93 at 4-6; ECF No. 9 at 13-15.) Defendants Rubenstein and Ballard and Defendant Allen further argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity and that Miller's Eighth Amendment claim and state claims fail factually. (See ECF No. 91 at 18; ECF No. 97 at 17-19 respectively.) However, all three Defendants have also included additional, differing arguments in their respective motions. Therefore, this Court will address each Defendant's summary judgment motion separately.

         A. Defendant Rubenstein's and Ballard's Motion for Summary Judgment

         In his Amended Complaint, Miller alleges that Defendants Rubenstein and Ballard violated his constitutional rights by implementing and continuing to allow polices that exposed Miller to excessive force as wanton forms of punishment. (ECF No. 78 at ¶ 62.). Miller further asserts that Defendants Rubenstein and Ballard are liable as supervisors for the actions of all Defendants who used or condoned the use of excessive force against Miller and otherwise violated Miller's rights. (See Id. at ¶¶ 4-5.)

         In their motion for summary judgment, Defendants Rubenstein and Ballard argue that Miller failed to exhaust his administrative remedies under the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act and its West Virginia equivalent. (See ECF No. 91 at 7-9.) Defendants further argue that, with regards to Miller's exhausted claims, Defendants did not violate Miller's Eighth Amendment rights or common law rights, and to the extent that they did, they are protected by qualified immunity. (See Id. at 9-16.) Lastly, Defendants argue ...


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