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Bates v. Saad

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

March 13, 2018

JENNIFER SAAD, Warden, FCI Hazelton, R. MULAC, Correctional Officer, FCI Hazelton, R. SMITH, Correctional Officer, FCI Hazelton, C. FLOYD, Correctional Officer, FCI Hazelton, J. SQUIRES, Correctional Officer, FCI Hazelton, M. DOYLE, Correctional Officer, FCI Hazelton and UNKNOWN PARTIES, Defendants.



         The pro se[1] plaintiff filed this civil action asserting claims under Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). The case was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Michael John Aloi. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss or, alternatively, for summary judgment, and the plaintiff filed a motion for discovery. Magistrate Judge Aloi issued a report recommending that the defendants' motion be granted and that the plaintiff's motion be denied as moot. The plaintiff filed timely objections to the report and recommendation.

         I. Background

         The plaintiff, Donald Choya Bates, raises claims of excessive force, deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, and destruction of personal property arising out of an incident at the federal correctional institution in Hazelton, West Virginia, ("FCI Hazelton"). The plaintiff alleges in his complaint that, on December 10, 2015, he was assaulted by an FCI Hazelton staff member who accused him of not saying "good morning." ECF No. 1 at 9. The plaintiff alleges that he was grabbed by the top front of his shirt or neck, thrown to the floor of his cell, kicked and punched, jumped on, and taken to an outside stairwell where he was dragged backwards down the stairs. The plaintiff alleges that the beating and kicking of his face and head continued even through he was handcuffed and not resisting. After the assault, the plaintiff alleges that he was placed in a holding cell for "numerous hours, " not fed anything, and not provided with medical care. ECF No. 1 at 12. The plaintiff also alleges that all of his legal and personal property was destroyed by "[O]fficer R. Mulac or whoever packed [his] property." Id. Next, the plaintiff alleges that he was "sent to a USP from a lower security" institution and transferred far away from his family because they "jacked up [his] points beyond the norm." Id. Lastly, the plaintiff alleges that the staff participated in creating a false incident report against him, which blamed him for the altercation and resulted in the loss of 40 days good time and other sanctions. As a result of the alleged assault, the plaintiff alleges that he sustained a dislocated or broken middle finger, injury to his lower back, a swollen right eye, and bruises and/or scarring to both elbows, knees, wrists, and his face.

         The plaintiff maintains that he has exhausted his administrative remedies with regard to all claims in his complaint. For relief, the plaintiffs requests $50, 000, 000.00 in compensation for his personal injuries and $2, 000, 000.00 in compensation for the destruction of his personal property. The plaintiff also requests injunctive relief in the form of dismissal of the incident report and the sanctions against him, the restoration of his 40 days of lost good time, that he be "restored back to FCI, " and that all of the officers involved be held accountable for their actions.

         The defendants' motion to dismiss or, alternatively, for summary judgment, contends that the complaint should be dismissed because: (1) defendants Saad, Doyle, Floyd, and Squires had no personal involvement in the plaintiff's alleged incident of excessive force, and thus they should be dismissed from this action; (2) the use of force by defendants Mulac and Smith was a good faith effort to restore discipline to an unrestrained aggressive inmate, and was not excessive; (3) the plaintiff's version of events is discredited by the video and documentary evidence submitted to the Court for in camera review; (4) as government officials performing discretionary functions, the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity; (5) the plaintiff's claims regarding his disciplinary actions over his incident report are not cognizable in a Bivens action but must be brought under 28 U.S.C. § 2241; (6) the plaintiff's claim that he was left without medical attention for hours is contradicted by documentary evidence; and (7) the plaintiff's claim that his property was destroyed is contradicted by documentary evidence.

         In response to the defendants' motion, the plaintiff contends that the defendants have withheld parts of the video surveillance recording that would reveal the guards assaulting him. The plaintiff further contends that the sworn declarations of the prison guards regarding the incident are conflicting and inconsistent with their statements. Lastly, the plaintiff argues that the copies of his medical records produced by the defendants are inconsistent with the guards' statements. In sum, the plaintiff argues that the guards "are now attempting to cover up their misconduct by withholding evidence of the assault that took place in the stairwell after [the plaintiff] was removed from the housing unit." ECF No. 53 at 2. The plaintiff also filed a separate motion for discovery, which asks that the Court compel the defendants to disclose to the Court the recording from the camera that is located in the stairwell area where the alleged excessive force took place.

         II. Applicable Law

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), this Court must conduct a de novo review of any portion of the magistrate judge's recommendation to which objection is timely made. Because the petitioner filed objections to the report and recommendation, the magistrate judge's recommendation will be reviewed de novo as to those findings to which objections were made. As to those findings to which objections were not filed, the findings and recommendations will be upheld unless they are "clearly erroneous or contrary to law." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) (1) (A) .

         III. Discussion

         A. Excessive Force Claims

         "[T]he Eight Amendment forbids 'the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain'" by a prison official. Hill v. Crum, 727 F.3d 312, 317 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986)) . To prove an excessive force claim, a plaintiff must show: (1) that the prison official's use of force was objectively harmful such that it violates contemporary standards of decency; and (2) that the prison official's use of force was not "applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, " but was intended to "maliciously and sadistically . . . cause harm." Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7 (1992) . It is the nature of the force used, and not the extent of the injury caused, that serves as the relevant inquiry. Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 34 (2010). However, "not every malevolent touch by a prison guard gives rise to a federal cause of action." Id. at 37-38. Thus, "an inmate who complains of a 'push or shove' that causes no discernible injury almost certainly fails to state a valid excessive force claim." Id. at 38.

         As to the excessive force claim against defendant Saad, this Court agrees with the magistrate judge that the plaintiff does not allege any personal involvement on the part of defendant Saad. See Trulock v. Freeh, 275 F.3d 391, 402 (4th Cir. 2001) ("In a Bivens suit, there is no respondeat superior liability. . . . Instead, liability is personal, based upon each defendant's own constitutional violations."). Thus, remedy under Bivens is not available against defendant Saad in her official capacity, and she must be dismissed with prejudice from this civil action.

         The plaintiff does allege that the other defendants named in the excessive force claim all subjected him to excessive force. However, this Court agrees with the magistrate judge that a review of the materials supplied by the defendants establishes that the force used was applied in good faith and in an effort to restore discipline and order. In reaching this conclusion, this Court reviewed the DVD containing the Vicon surveillance video footage of eight different ...

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