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Thompson v. Barker

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

January 15, 2020

RICHARD BARKER, et al., Defendants.



         Before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Jimmy Thompson (“Plaintiff”), (ECF No. 84), and Defendants Richard Barker (“Barker”) and PsiMed, Inc., (“PsiMed”) (collectively, “Defendants”), (ECF No. 79). For the reasons provided herein, both Plaintiff's motion, (ECF No. 84), and Defendants' motion, (ECF No. 79), are DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This action arises from the prolonged application of mechanical restraints to an inmate at the Mount Olive Correction Complex (“MOCC”). Barker is the Vice President of Jail Services at PsiMed, which is a third-party mental health service provider at MOCC. (ECF No. 5 at 2 ¶ 2, 3 ¶ 5 (Am. Compl.).) Plaintiff, who is serving a life sentence upon a guilty plea of first-degree murder, has been incarcerated since March 21, 2011. (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff has a troubled background and significant history of mental illness. (Id. ¶¶ 9-11.) Since being incarcerated at MOCC, Plaintiff has threatened suicide and repeatedly acted violently towards himself and others. (ECF No. 80-11 (WVDOC Investigation Report).)

         On October 2, 2016, Plaintiff was placed in a four-point restraint for a total of sixteen hours due to his expressions of suicidal ideations and disruptive behavior. (ECF No. 5 at 4 ¶ 12.) During his restraint, Plaintiff “urinated on himself and the metal bed” to which he was shackled. (Id. ¶ 13.) At no time did prison officials attempt to clean the bodily fluids from Plaintiff or the metal platform. (Id.) After the first eight hours of his restraint, Barker authorized prison officials to keep Plaintiff in the four-point restraint for an additional eight hours. (Id. ¶ 14.) Barker, who is not a licensed medical professional, delivered this verbal order without a PsiMed physician personally examining Plaintiff. (Id. at 3 ¶ 5, 4 ¶ 14.)

         Per PsiMed's policy, a psychiatrist may order the use of restraints for up to eight hours “[if] after personally examining the inmate, it is determined that the inmate is actively suicidal or poses a threat of serious harm to self or others in the near future, and a strip cell does not provide adequate safeguards.” (ECF No. 80-9 (PsiMed Policy).) In the absence of a psychiatrist during an emergency, “a licensed psychologist may order therapeutic restraints not to exceed two hours.” (Id.) The policy does not provide for a procedure in the event of an emergency when neither a psychiatrist nor psychologist is present.

         On September 26, 2018, Plaintiff filed the instant action asserting six causes of action against PsiMed and Barker.[1] The Amended Complaint asserts two 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims for violations of the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause (Counts I and II). (ECF No. 5 at 6-9.) The Amended Complaint also asserts state law claims for aiding and abetting assault and battery (Count III), intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) (Count IV), conspiracy (Count V), and medical malpractice for breach of the applicable standard of care (Count VI). (Id. at 9-12.) With respect to these claims, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages and equitable relief. Plaintiff and Defendants filed the pending cross-motions for summary judgment on November 7, 2019. (ECF Nos. 79, 84.) The parties timely responded to the respective motions on November 21, 2019. (ECF Nos. 86, 89.) Plaintiff filed a timely reply in support of his motion, (ECF No. 90), and Defendants filed a reply in support of their motion on November 29, 2019, (ECF No. 91). As such, the motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for adjudication.


         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 and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. 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.” News & Observer Publ'g Co. v. Raleigh-Durham Airport Auth., 597 F.3d 570, 576 (4th Cir. 2010). When construing such factual issues, the Court may neither weigh the evidence, Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, nor make determinations of credibility. Sosebee v. Murphy, 797 F.2d 179, 182 (4th Cir. 1986). Rather, 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); see also Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255 (“The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” (citation omitted)).

         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 Court must ask whether “the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Id. at 252.


         A. Eighth Amendment Violations

         Plaintiff asserts two Eighth Amendment violations of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for excessive force and deliberate indifference to safety and personal needs. Section 1983 provides a civil cause of action to redress violations of the Constitution or of federal rights. Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 145 n.3 (1979) (this “section is not itself a source of substantive rights, but a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred by those parts of the United States Constitution and federal statutes that it describes.”). To establish a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate a violation of a federal right and “that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988) (citations omitted). Here, the state action element of Plaintiff's claim is not in dispute. Defendants concede this point as both a corporation and its employees contracting with the state to provide constitutionally required medical services to inmates qualify as state actors for purposes of § 1983. See Id. at 55-56 (explaining that “[i]t is the physician's function within the state system, not the precise terms of his employment, that determines whether his actions can fairly be attributed to the state.”). The present issues are limited to whether Defendants violated Plaintiff's constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

         The Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments.” U.S. Const. amend. VIII. In the prison context, the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishments “protects inmates from inhumane treatment and conditions while imprisoned.” Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 238 (4th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation omitted). This protection prohibits the use of excessive force against inmates and imposes affirmative duties on prison officials to “ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, and . . . to guarantee the safety of the inmates.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (internal quotations omitted). Claims under the Eighth Amendment have two components: (1) a subjective component of whether the official “act[ed] with a sufficiently culpable state of mind[, ]” and (2) an objective component of whether “the alleged wrongdoing was objectively harmful enough to establish a constitutional violation.” Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 8 (1992) (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991)) (alterations in original). The showing required for each of these components varies “according to the nature of the alleged constitutional violation.” Id. at 8; Wilson, 501 U.S. at 302 (stating “wantonness does not have a fixed meaning but must be determined with due regard for differences in the kind of conduct against which an Eighth Amendment objection is lodged”) (citations omitted). Further, the objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim must be guided by “contemporary standards of decency.” Id. at 311.

         1. Excessive Force

         In Count I of the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' prolonged use of restraints was an unnecessary application of excessive force in violation of his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. (ECF No. 5 at 6-8.) Plaintiff contends that Eighth Amendment claims involving the use of mechanical restraints must be analyzed under a conditions of confinement framework, subject to a deliberate indifference standard. However, case law establishes that the extended use of restraints can be viewed through the lens of a conditions of confinement claim or an excessive force claim. The analysis applied to a claim depends on the factual circumstances that led to the use of restraints. See Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730 (2002); Zimmerman v. Schaeffer, 654 F.Supp.2d 226 at 248-49 (M.D. Pa. 2009) (distinguishing cases where the use of mechanical restraints fell under a conditions of confinement or excessive force analysis). In Whitley v. Albers, the Supreme Court established that in non-emergency situations when the State's responsibility to an inmate “does not ordinarily clash with other equally important governmental responsibilities, ” deliberate indifference applies. 475 U.S. 312, 320 (1986). In contrast, where “officials act in response to a prison disturbance, their actions are necessarily taken ‘in haste, under pressure,' and balanced against ‘competing institutional concerns for the safety of prison staff or other inmates.'” Wilson, 501 U.S. at 302 (quoting Whitley, 475 U.S. at 320-21). Under these circumstances, the Supreme Court in Whitley concluded ‚Äúthat ...

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