United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
WILLIAM L. OSTEEN, Jr., District Judge.
Presently before the court is a supplemental memorandum in support of summary judgment (Doc. 102) filed by Cory Fields, the sole remaining Defendant in this matter, in response to this court's order dated April 29, 2014 (Doc. 100). Pro se Plaintiff Jorge Gevara (a/k/a Jorge Galeas Jr.-Menchu© Trust), an inmate, has twice refused delivery of Defendant's supplemental memorandum and has failed to file a timely response. (See Docs. 101, 103.) This matter is now ripe for adjudication, and, for the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted.
The facts in the case are fully set out in the Magistrate Judge's Memorandum Opinion and Recommendation ("Recommendation") (Doc. 91) and were adopted by this court (Doc. 100); they will only be cursorily repeated here.
The following disputed facts are recited as alleged in Plaintiff's amended complaint. Plaintiff is an inmate in Scotland Correctional Institution where Defendant Fields serves as a correctional officer. This § 1983 action arises from the injuries Plaintiff sustained after Defendant Fields threw a meal tray into Plaintiff's cell. On June 1, 2007, Plaintiff received spoiled milk with his breakfast. Plaintiff informed Defendant Fields several times about the condition of the milk, but Defendant Fields refused to replace it. "Plaintiff [then] placed the trays on the floor outside of his door and placed his spoiled milk on the trap and stood at his door." (First Am. Complaint ("First Am. Compl.") (Doc. 59) ¶ 33.) Defendant Fields, who at the time was collecting the meal trays, "hit the milk off of the trap[, ] spilling it into Plaintiff's cell." (Id. ¶ 34.) Defendant then picked up the trays and threw them through the trap, one by one, causing one tray to hit Plaintiff's left hand. (Id. ¶¶ 35-36.) Plaintiff's hand then began to swell, resulting in pain. (Id. ¶ 40.) Plaintiff claims multiple injuries of varying severity resulted directly and indirectly from the tray striking his left hand.
According to Defendant Fields, he had no altercation with Plaintiff on the morning of June 1. The Assistant Superintendent of Programs at Scotland Correctional stated that "[i]t would be virtually impossible for any staff person to throw a food tray through the trap door [of the cells] due to the size and width of the trap door and the food tray." (Affidavit for Gary Crutchfield (Doc. 84) ¶ 9.)
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The Magistrate Judge's Recommendation granted summary judgment in favor of all claims, except for an excessive force claim under the Eighth Amendment against Defendant Fields. Plaintiff submitted affidavits of other inmates who claimed they witnessed Defendant Fields throw a tray at Plaintiff. As the Magistrate Judge correctly found, although Defendant Fields invoked qualified immunity, he simply argued that the facts were not as Plaintiff alleged. (Recommendation (Doc. 91) at 9.) Refusing to make credibility determinations at the summary judgment stage, the Magistrate Judge rejected Defendant Fields' argument without reaching qualified immunity.
In the objection to the Recommendation, Defendant Fields suggested for the first time that this court should grant summary judgment sua sponte on qualified immunity grounds, even though such argument was not developed in Defendant's original brief. (Defs.' Objections to Recommended Decision of Mag. J. (Doc. 94) at 3.) Because Defendant Fields offered insufficient explanation in his brief to justify this court taking such action, this court adopted the Recommendation as to all matters except the lingering qualified immunity question and ordered further briefing. (Order (Doc. 96).) After considering the briefing, this court found that the goals of qualified immunity weighed in favor of deciding the applicability of qualified immunity prior to trial. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f), this court then gave notice of its intention to rule on qualified immunity and gave the parties an opportunity to brief the issue. (Id. at 4-5.)
III. LEGAL STANDARD
A motion for summary judgment is appropriately denied when an examination of the pleadings, affidavits, and other proper discovery materials before the court demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact exists. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court is not to weigh the evidence, but rather must determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). The court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, drawing inferences favorable to that party if such inferences are reasonable. Id . at 255. However, there must be more than a factual dispute; the fact in question must be material, and the dispute must be genuine. Id . at 248. A dispute is only "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f) allows a court, "[a]fter giving notice and a reasonable time to respond, " to "grant the [summary judgment] motion on grounds not raised by a party...." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f)(2). "Failure to give the required notice is reversible error." Coward v. Jabe, 474 Fed.Appx. 961, 963 (4th Cir. 2012).
A. The Eighth Amendment and ...