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Thomas v. Porcher

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

September 30, 2014

OFFICER PORCHER, in his individual capacity, OFFICER HOPKINS, in his individual capacity, OFFICER SOLOMON, in his individual capacity, Defendants.


THOMAS D. SCHROEDER, District Judge.

In this case, pro se Plaintiff Alphonza Thomas brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 related to prison conditions and an assault that occurred while he was a pretrial detainee at the Alamance County Detention Center ("ACDC"). Defendants B. Porcher, K. Hopkins, and M. Solomon, all ACDC officials during some point in Thomas' detention, have moved for summary judgment and/or for judgment on the pleadings (Doc. 32), and both parties have filed other related motions (Docs. 78, 86, 92, 93, 97). Thomas was advised of his right to respond to Defendants' dispositive motion (Doc. 43), and has responded (Doc. 67, 82). For the reasons set out below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted, and all other motions will be denied.


At all times relevant, Thomas was a pretrial detainee at the Alamance County Detention Center ("ACDC") for several months in 2010. Defendant Porcher has been a detention officer at ACDC since 1990 and a sergeant since 2006. Defendant Hopkins has been employed as an ACDC detention officer since March 2007, and Defendant Solomon was an ACDC detention officer during 2010.

Thomas alleges a litany of grievances against the Defendants:

(1) On May 9, 2010, Hopkins exposed him to lice and Licenator, an aerosol pesticide, after a lice-infested inmate, Brandon Smith, was placed in Thomas' cell block at the ACDC. (Compl. at 4-5.)

(2) In October 2010, while Solomon was in charge of surveillance and monitoring in Thomas' cell block, Thomas was assaulted and knocked unconscious. ( Id. at 6.) A surveillance camera was allegedly "off rotation" and "focused on a wall." (Id.) A "call box" in the cell block was also not functioning, which frustrated Thomas' attempt to call an officer for help after the assault. (Id.)

(3) The detention center was overcrowded. Thomas had to sleep on the floor five feet away from a toilet, and there was one shower for his unit, which included twenty-three to twenty-seven men. ( Id. at 8.)

(4) From August 2 through 9, 2010, he was subjected to four strip searches. (Id.)

(5) He was not given a sufficient amount of soap and was refused more when he requested it. (Id.)

(6) No medical screening was conducted on incoming prisoners unless they had emergency medical conditions. ( Id. 9.)

(7) It was extremely hot in the ACDC and the ventilation was poor. (Id.)

(8)-(10) The ACDC staff were inadequately trained, pretrial detainees were not allowed face-to-face visits, and the phones in the cell blocks were turned off for periods of time as a means of punishment. ( Id. at 9-10.)

(11) The ACDC grievance system was inadequate. Thomas did not receive a response to many of his grievances, and inmates did not receive a carbon copy of their filed grievances. ( Id. at 10.)

Thomas has sued Defendants in their individual, but not official, capacities. ( Id. at 1.)[1] He seeks damages and relief in the form of the installation of electronic checkpoints within the cell blocks every few yards, for call boxes and cameras to be tested at the start of every shift, and for call boxes to be installed in each cell of the jail.

Thomas identifies five grievances he filed with the ACDC regarding the conditions there. ( Id. at 2.) These grievances were filed September 17, 2010, December 30, 2010, January 19, 2011, February 2, 2011, and August 1, 2011. (Doc. 34-7.) However, he acknowledges that he did not exhaust his remedies as to the grievances filed on January 19, 2011, and February 2, 2011. (Doc. 15 at 19.)


A. Standard of Review

Defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings, and, in the alternative, for summary judgment. (Doc. 32.) With all parties having completed discovery, and with each side having presented dueling affidavits and other documentary evidence, the court will treat Defendants' motion as one for summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d) (stating that where a court contemplates converting a Rule 12(c) motion to a summary judgment motion, "[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion"); Gay v. Wall , 761 F.2d 175, 177 (4th Cir. 1985) ("[T]he term reasonable opportunity' requires that all parties be given some indication by the court... that it is treating the... motion as a motion for summary judgment, with the consequent right in the opposing party to file counter affidavits or pursue reasonable discovery.'" (quoting Johnson v. RAC Corp. , 491 F.2d 510, 513 (4th Cir. 1974)) (internal quotation marks omitted)).

A court must grant a motion for summary judgment "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that no genuine dispute of material fact remains. Where, as here, the non-moving party has the burden of proof on a claim, the moving party is entitled to summary judgment if it demonstrates that the non-moving party's evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of his claim. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 325 (1986). For the purposes of this motion, the court regards Thomas' statements as true and draws all inferences in his favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). But he must establish more than the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" to support his position. Id. at 252. If the evidence is "merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Id. at 249-50. Ultimately, summary judgment is appropriate where the non-movant fails to offer evidence on which a reasonable fact-finder could find for him. Id. at 252.

B. Thomas' § 1983 Claims

As a pretrial detainee during the relevant time period, Thomas could not, consistent with due process, be subjected to "punishment." Bell v. Wolfish , 441 U.S. 520, 535 n.16 (1979). However, "not every inconvenience encountered during pretrial detention amounts to punishment' in the constitutional sense." Martin v. Gentile , 849 F.2d 863, 870 (4th Cir. 1988). "To establish that a particular condition or restriction of his confinement is constitutionally impermissible punishment, ' the pretrial detainee must show either that it was (1) imposed with an expressed intent to punish or (2) not reasonably related to a legitimate nonpunitive governmental objective, in which case an intent to punish may be inferred." Id.

Thomas' claims are subject to the administrative exhaustion requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). This requirement "applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong." Porter v. Nussle , 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). Under the PLRA, pretrial detainees count as "prisoners" who must exhaust their administrative remedies before filing claims under § 1983. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(h) ("[T]he term prisoner' means any person... detained in any facility who is accused of... violations of criminal law...."). Thomas was therefore required to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing this lawsuit.

1. Lice allegations

Thomas makes allegations against only Defendant Hopkins with respect to the Licenator incident. Hopkins states by affidavit that on one occasion in 2010 he brought an aerosol can of Licenator into the cell block where Thomas was housed. (Doc. 35 at 2.) He did so because the detention center was experiencing an outbreak of lice. (Id.) Licenator was one of several methods used at the detention center to combat the lice. (Id.) Hopkins was following the orders of his superiors when he brought the can into the cell block. (Id.) He further states that when inmate Brandon Smith was booked into ACDC, Hopkins did not know that the inmate had lice. Hopkins says that it was later brought to his attention when ...

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