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Murray v. Withrow

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

September 26, 2019

Garland Murray Plaintiff,
Nathan Withrow; Corporal Taylor; and Lieutenant Hill Defendants.



         Pending before the court is Defendants Nathan Withrow, Corporal Taylor, and Lieutenant Hill’s motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 135]. The Plaintiff, Garland Murray, filed a response [ECF No. 141], and the Defendants filed a reply [ECF No. 144]. The matter is ripe for adjudication. For the reasons stated herein, the Motion is GRANTED on all counts.

         I. Background

         This case involves the Defendants’ treatment of Mr. Garland Murray during his incarceration at Mount Olive Correctional Complex (MOCC). On or around November 20, 2017, officers sprayed Murray with oleoresin capsicum (pepper spray). Compl. ¶ 13 [ECF No. 85]. These Defendants were not engaged in the use of pepper spray. However, the aftermath of that use of force is relevant to these Defendants.

         The parties agree that after Murray was sprayed with pepper spray, officers took him to a solitary confinement cell where they left him in his wet clothing, contaminated with pepper spray. Compl. ¶ 45-47 [ECF No. 85]. His cell did not contain bedding or a mattress, and he did not receive fresh clothing, bedding or a mattress until the following day, despite numerous requests. Id. Murray alleges that Defendant Withrow punished him for requesting these items by writing him up for “compromising an employee”[1] which led to his prolonged stay in solitary confinement. Pl.’s Resp. Opp’n Def. Lilly et. al. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. D [ECF No. 140-4].

         Murray asserts several issues with the conditions of his cell. First, he contends that Defendant Withrow publicized to other inmates that he sought protective custody, thus labeling him a snitch. Def. Lilly et. al. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 4 at 35-37 [ECF No. 131-4] (“Pl’s Dep.”). Murray claims that inmates subsequently “piled human feces outside of and under” his cell door, which the Defendants did not remove. Id. at 37; Pl.’s Resp. Opp’n Def. Lilly et. al. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. P [ECF No. 140-16]. Second, he claims that the sink in his cell was broken, resulting in unusable water. Pl.’s Resp. Opp’n Def. Lilly et. al. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. O, Ex. P [ECF No. 140-15, 16]. Thus, he claims that his only access to liquid was a small amount of milk, coffee, or juice given to him at meals, or water from his toilet. Pl’s Dep. at 39-40 [ECF No. 131- 4]. Third, he claims that Defendant Withrow dumped his food on the floor, deprived him of food, and threatened him not to make any more complaints about the conditions of the prison. Pl’s Dep. at 31 [ECF No. 131-4]; Pl.’s Resp. Opp’n Def. Lilly et. al. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. M [ECF No. 140-13].

         The Defendants acknowledge that Murray did not receive bedding, a mattress, or clean clothes until the day after being placed in solitary confinement. Def. Lilly et. al. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 3 at 45-48, Ex. 4 at 49-52 [ECF No. 131-3, 4]. The Defendants further acknowledge that the sink in the Plaintiff’s cell was broken. Def. Withrow et., al. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 2 [ECF No. 135-2]. However, they contend in response to Plaintiff’s grievance, the sink was fixed within approximately two weeks. Def. Withrow et., al. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 1, Ex. 2 [ECF No. 135-1, 2]. The Defendants deny that Defendant Withrow publicized comments about Plaintiff’s protective custody request. Def. Withrow et., al. Mot. Summ. J., 8. The Defendants further assert that Defendant Withrow did not deny the Plaintiff food, throw his food on the ground, or threaten him about making further complaints. Id.

         I. Legal Standard

         To obtain summary judgment, the moving party must show that there is no genuine dispute 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). “Facts are ‘material’ when they might affect the outcome of the case.” Lester v. Gilbert, 85 F.Supp. 3d 851, 857 (S.D. W.Va. 2015) (quoting News & Observer Publ’g Co. v. Raleigh-Durham Airport Auth., 597 F.3d 570, 576 (4th Cir. 2010)). “A genuine issue of material fact exists if . . . a reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict for the non-movant.” Runyon v. Hannah, No. 2:12-1394, 2013 WL 2151235, at *2 (S.D. W.Va. May 16, 2013) (citations omitted); Williams v. Griffin, 952 F.2d 820, 824 (4th Cir. 1991) (“[d]isposition by summary judgment is appropriate . . . where the record as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-movant.”). The moving party bears the burden of showing that “there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986).

         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. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986). 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., 477 U.S. at 322-23. 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. Likewise, conclusory allegations or unsupported speculation, without more, are insufficient to preclude the granting of summary judgment. See Dash v. Mayweather, 731 F.3d 303, 311 (4th Cir. 2013); Stone v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 105 F.3d 188, 191 (4th Cir. 1997).

         II. Discussion

         Defendants Withrow, Taylor, and Hill move for summary judgement as to all claims made against them in the Complaint: (Count II) violations of the Eighth Amendment based on conditions of confinement under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (Count V) Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress; and (Count VI) Negligence. The Defendants raise qualified immunity as a defense to the Eighth Amendment claim (Count II) and the Negligence claim (Count VI).

         a. Eighth Amendment and Federal Qualified Immunity

         Section 1983 subjects to civil liability any person who, acting under color of state law, deprives an individual of his or her constitutional or federal rights. Qualified immunity is “an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability.” Mitche l v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985). Thus, “immunity is a threshold issue which the court addresses before considering any of the defendants’ proffered substantive bases for summary judgment.” Weigle v. Pifer, 139 F.Supp. 3d 760, 768 (S.D. W.Va. 2015) (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200 (2001)). Under the doctrine of qualified immunity, “[g]overnmental officials performing discretionary functions are shielded from liability for money damages so long ‘as their conduct does not violate clearly ...

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