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McCoy v. C. O. Ferguson

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

August 13, 2019

CHAWNTEL McCOY, Plaintiff,
v.
C. O. FERGUSON, individually and in her official capacity; C. O. ENDICOTT, individually and in his official capacity; C. O. HALE, individually and in his official capacity; C O. JOHN DOES I-V, individually and in their official capacities; C. O. JOHN DOES VI-X, individually and in their official capacities; ADMINISTRATOR KIM WOLF, individually and in his official capacity; CAPT. CARL ALDRIDGE, individually and in his official capacity; THE WEST VIRGINIA REGIONAL JAIL AND CORRECTIONAL FACILITY AUTHORITY, an agency of the State of West Virginia; and JOHN DOE, unknow person or persons, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. CHAMBERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On June 6, 2018, Plaintiff Chawntel McCoy filed a Complaint in the Circuit Court of Cabell County, West Virginia. Defendants then removed the action to this Court based upon federal question jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441. Defendants Endicott and Hale now have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and a Motion to Supplement Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF Nos. 5 & 38. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS the Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES AS MOOT the Motion to Supplement Motion for Summary Judgment.

         As relevant here, Plaintiff states that on February 13, 2018, she was being held as a pretrial detainee at the Western Regional Jail (WRJ). That morning, Plaintiff states she requested medical assistance because she had experienced a diabetic seizure. Defendant Catlyn Ferguson, a correctional officer (C.O.) at the WRJ, was the first to respond to Plaintiff's cell.[1] The parties dispute what occurred between Plaintiff and Defendant Ferguson, and Defendant Ferguson has not moved for summary judgment. Plaintiff alleges in her Complaint that, after she left her cell, Defendant Ferguson told her “she was ‘going to take her [Plaintiff] down.' Without provocation, Defendant Ferguson began implementing knee-strikes to Plaintiff's legs. Defendant Ferguson offered no verbal demand to get on the deck or on the wall.” Compl., at 2. The parties both state that Defendants Endicott and Hale, who also are correctional officers at the WRJ, responded to the scene after a call for officer assistance. According to the Complaint, Defendants Endicott and Hale instructed her “to get on the wall” and she “complied with the order.” Id. Plaintiff further alleges that “Defendant Endicott [next] secured [her] arms behind her back and shoved her face against the wall. Defendant Hale then performed a leg-sweep, from right to left, while [her] arms were secured behind her back.” Id. When she fell, Plaintiff asserts she hit her face and suffered “a ruptured right ear, broken jaw, fractured mandible, pinched nerve in her face and various lacerations and bruises.” Id. Plaintiff states that Defendant Hale apologized to her several times over the next few days for using excessive force. Id.[2]

         Plaintiff then filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 asserting that Defendants, including Defendants Endicott and Hale, violated her federal and state constitutional rights and her statutory and common law rights. Defendants Endicott and Hale argue, however, they are entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff cannot show their actions were objectively unreasonable in light of a video recording of the incident. Additionally, they assert that they are entitled to qualified immunity.

         I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         To obtain summary judgment, the moving party must show that 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(a). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court will not “weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter[.]” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). Instead, the Court will draw any permissible inference from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986).

         Although the Court will view all underlying facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the nonmoving party nonetheless must offer some “concrete evidence from which a reasonable juror could return a verdict in his [or her] favor[.]” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. Summary judgment is appropriate when the nonmoving party has the burden of proof on an essential element of his or her case and does not make, after adequate time for discovery, a showing sufficient to establish that element. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The nonmoving party must satisfy this burden of proof by offering more than a mere “scintilla of evidence” in support of his or her position. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Here, Plaintiff complains that summary judgment is premature because she has not had adequate time for discovery. However, in light of the video evidence, the Court finds discovery on Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Endicott and Hale unnecessary.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Initially, the Court recognizes that “the Due Process Clause protects a pretrial detainee from the use of excessive force that amounts to punishment.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395, n.10 (1989) (citations omitted). “Punishment” can arise from an “expressed intent to punish” or when a pretrial detainee shows the defendant's actions are not “rationally related to a legitimate nonpunitive governmental purpose and whether they appear excessive in relation to that purpose.” Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 538, 561 (1979) (citation omitted).

         In evaluating Defendants Endicott and Hale's motion in this case, the Court further relies upon the United States Supreme Court's more recent decision in Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466 (2015). Much like this case, the plaintiff in Kingsley, a pretrial detainee, claimed that several jail officers used excessive force against him. Id. at 2470. The officers did not dispute that they used force, but the parties disagreed as to whether the force was excessive. Id. In determining what standard should apply to such a claim, the Supreme Court held that a pretrial detainee must satisfy an objective standard and “must show only that the force purposely or knowingly used against him was objectively unreasonable.” Id. at 2473. In applying this standard, courts should not act mechanically but, rather, look to the “‘facts and circumstances of each particular case.'” Id. (quoting Graham, 490 U.S. at 396). A court must consider “the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, including what the officer knew at the time, not with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” Id. (citation omitted).

         A court also must keep in mind “the ‘legitimate interests that stem from [the government's] need to manage the facility in which the individual is detained,' appropriately deferring to ‘policies and practices that in th[e] judgment' of jail officials ‘are needed to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security.'” Id. (quoting Bell, 441 U.S. at 540). Although not exhaustive, an evaluation of the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the force used may take into account: “the relationship between the need for the use of force and the amount of force used; the extent of the plaintiff's injury; any effort made by the officer to temper or to limit the amount of force; the severity of the security problem at issue; the threat reasonably perceived by the officer; and whether the plaintiff was actively resisting.” Id. (citing Graham, 490 U.S. at 396). In applying an objective standard, the Supreme Court also “recognize[d] that [r]unning a prison is an inordinately difficult undertaking, and that safety and order at these institutions requires the expertise of correctional officials, who must have substantial discretion to devise reasonable solutions to the problems they face[.]” Id. at 2474 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). When disturbances arise, correctional officers “‘are often forced to make split-second judgments-in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving.'” Id. (quoting Graham, 490 U.S. at 397). Therefore, the Supreme Court has emphasized “that a court must judge the reasonableness of the force used from the perspective and with the knowledge of the defendant officer.” Id.

         In support of their motion, Defendants Endicott and Hale submitted a videotape of the event for the Court's review. The video has no audio, but it shows Defendant Ferguson walking through the “dayroom” to Plaintiff's cell.[3] Defendant Ferguson looks in the window of Plaintiff's cell and enters the cell at approximately 7:16:36 a.m. The video does not show the interaction between Defendant Ferguson and Plaintiff inside of her cell. After approximately three minutes, Defendant Ferguson exits the cell and is shown leaning against and attempting to push the cell door closed to prevent Plaintiff from escaping.[4] After several seconds, the door to the cell swings open, and Plaintiff exits the cell into the dayroom at approximately 7:20:08 a.m. The cell door closes behind them. Defendant Ferguson and Plaintiff clearly are engaged in a struggle with one another, and they end up in a corner of the dayroom not far from Plaintiff's cell door. At that point, Plaintiff's back is to the wall, and Defendant Ferguson is in front of her. Defendant Ferguson's hands are on Plaintiff. Two other inmates, who were at a table in the dayroom, get up and approach within feet of the scuffle and hold Plaintiff's cell door open. One of the inmates then walks over to what appears to be within arm's reach of where Defendant Ferguson and Plaintiff are fighting. Within a few seconds, at approximately 7:20:42 a.m., Defendants Endicott and Hale run into the dayroom through the same door Defendant Ferguson used to enter, and they go to the opposite corner where Defendant Ferguson continues to struggle with Plaintiff. Within approximately four seconds of entering the room, Defendants Ferguson, Endicott, and Hale surround Plaintiff and, within approximately two to three more seconds, she is forced to the floor, [5] striking her head. Three other correctional officers then enter the room, and Plaintiff is immediately removed from the room with her hands restrained behind her back.

         In her Sworn Statement, Plaintiff attempts to explain her actions in the video. Although Plaintiff states she was not disobeying orders, she admits that she refused Defendant Ferguson's order to go back to her cell and lockdown. Sworn Statement, at 12. Additionally, Plaintiff states she was “trying to stop [Defendant Ferguson] and just hold [her] stance so [Defendant Ferguson] didn't slam [her] to the ground.” Id. at 13. In essence, Plaintiff admits she was resisting, and the video clearly shows her resistance. She asserts that, when Defendants Endicott and Hale entered the room, they ordered her to be “‘on the wall, '” but Defendant Ferguson was holding and kneeing her so she could not. Id. at 14. Once she was able to separate herself from Defendant Ferguson, she put her hands and face on the wall, but she “jerked” to turn around when she heard Defendants Endicott and Hale approach. Id. Within seconds, she was “slammed” to the ground. Id. at 15.

         However, even if the Court accepts Plaintiff's explanation for her actions as true and draws all reasonable inferences in her favor, the critical inquiry is the reasonableness of the force from the perspective and knowledge of Defendants Endicott and Hale at that moment, not Plaintiff. See Kingsley, 135 S.Ct. 2474. Upon reviewing the video and Plaintiff's statement, the Court finds that Plaintiff cannot show the amount of force Defendants Endicott and Hale used was objectively unreasonable. Defendants Endicott and Hale were responding to an alert for officer assistance. When they ran into the room, they saw a dangerous physical altercation between Plaintiff and Defendant Ferguson, with two other inmates nearby, one approximately arm's reach from the fight. The video clearly shows Plaintiff resisting Defendant Ferguson's attempts to gain control, and Plaintiff freeing her arms and attempting to move away from her. Plaintiff admits that she “jerked” when Defendant Endicott and Hale approached. Without doubt, from their perspective and knowledge, Defendant Endicott and Hale easily, reasonably, and should have concluded that immediate action was necessary because the physical altercation between Plaintiff and Defendant Ferguson posed an imminent threat to the safety of Defendant Ferguson and the other two inmates. Additionally, they reasonably could have concluded the situation was a significant threat and danger to the security of the facility. Defendants Endicott and Hale were required to access a tense and uncertain situation and make a split-second judgment to put Plaintiff on the floor to gain ...


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