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McFadden v. Nicholson

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

March 13, 2017

MS. NICHOLSON, Defendant.


          Joe L. Webster United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court upon Plaintiff Abraham McFadden's motions for default judgment against Defendant Ms. Nicholson. (Docket Entries 22, 23.) Also before the Court are two motions to compel filed by Plaintiff. (Docket Entries 39, 40.) All matters are ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated herein, the Court will deny Plaintiffs motions to compel as moot. Furthermore, the Court will recommend that Plaintiff motion for default judgment (Docket Entry 22) be granted.[1]


         Plaintiff, a pro se prisoner, filed this § 1983 action against several Defendants regarding alleged sexual harassment and retaliation. (Docket Entry 2.) The undersigned recommended dismissal of all claims against all Defendants except Defendant Nicholson. (Docket Entry 3.) Subsequently, a summons was issued for Defendant Nicholson. (Docket Entry 17.) After failing to answer or otherwise respond, Plaintiff sought entry of default against Defendant Nicholson which was granted. (Docket Entry 20.) Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a motion for default judgment which is now pending before the Court. (Docket Entry 22; see also Docket Entry 23.) Several hearings were held regarding the motion for default judgment. (Minute Entries dated 11/16/2016; 1/24/2017.) The Court then set this matter for an evidentiary hearing on the issues of liability and damages. (Docket Entry 32.) Plaintiff was instructed to bring all evidence of damages resulting from his alleged injuries. (Id.) Prior to the evidentiary hearing, Plaintiff filed two letter motions seeking to compel the North Carolina Department of Public Safely ("NCDPS") to provide Plaintiff with a copy of his medical records. (See Docket Entries 34, 35.) On February 15, 2017, an evidentiary hearing was held. Plaintiff and Defendant provided testimony in this matter.[2] However, Plaintiffs evidence was limited to his personal knowledge as he had no access to his medical records. The Court thereafter ordered the NCDPS to provide to the Court, for in-camera inspection, Plaintiffs prison records, specifically medical records from April 2014 through November 2014, and grievances filed between March 2014 and November 2014. (Docket Entry 37.) Plaintiff subsequently filed two motions to compel video surveillance and dental records. (Docket Entries 39, 40.) The Court obtained documents from the NCDPS on March 2, 2017, and reviewed the records for consideration of Plaintiff s motion for default judgment.


         Plaintiff seeks default judgment against Defendant Nicholson for her failure to answer or otherwise respond to his Complaint. Once entry of default has been entered pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(a), Rule 55(b) permits entry of default judgment against properly served defendants who failed to file responsive pleadings. In determining whether to enter judgment on the default, "[t]he court must . . . determine whether the well-pleaded allegations in [Plaintiffs] complaint support the relief sought in this action." Ryan v. Homecomings Fin. Network, 253 F.3d 778, 780 (4th Or. 2001) (citation omitted). Additionally, "[i]f the court finds that liability is established, it must then determine damages." J & J Sports Prods., Inc. v. Romenski, 845 F.Supp.2d 703, 706 (W.D. N.C. 2012) (citation omitted). In its findings, "[t]he court must make an independent determination regarding damages, and cannot accept as true factual allegations of damages." Id.

         Here, Plaintiffs Complaint alleges the following pertinent facts:

Please be advised on 3-16-14, I Abraham B. McFadden filed a Grievance on [Defendant Nicholson] concerning sexual harassment. Once this took place [Defendant Nicholson] started a form of retaliation against me and informed other prisoners that I was a snitch . . . On 4-30-14 at 12:35 pm I was out in Rec cage with about 18 other prisoners when I asked [Defendant Nicholson] about my 6 month phone call that I was to be able to make every 6 months due to being on I-Con. When we began to talk about this she became very angry and began yelling out that I was a snitch and check off. And that I send her snitch notes all the time. She also said I was afraid to go to yard because I was gonna to get beat up. When I returned to cell, I wrote a grievance concerning this matter and wrote to our Governor Pat McCrory explaining the date and time concerning this matter . . . Due to [Defendant Nicholson] making such a statement, this has put my life in great danger, and shortly after her statements, I started receiving threats from other prisoners. Due to such threats I filled out rightful form to be kept in [protective custody]. This form was signed, and turned in to [Defendant Nicholson] by Sgt. Hasty. On 4/30/14, 1 found a note up under my door stating that if I returned to yard, I would be stabbed. On this same day, 4-30-14 at 8:40 p.m. I gave [the] note to Sgt. Hasty and she also have [Defendant Nicholson] the note as well. This fact Sgt. Hasty told me she would document if she was asked. Two days after [Defendant Nicholson] made statement on [the] rec yard, on 5-12-14 at 8:40 pm, I was returning from shower, when another prisoner sprayed human waste through the side of his cell door on me and a[n] officer, stating "this is what snitches get." This mater was also documented by my statement and officer's statements. That's when I knew for sure that returning to yard after release from I-Con would be a great danger to me ... On 7-10-14 at 4 pm med. call, I was returning to my cell when another inmate rushed in behind me, and started beating me in my head with his fist. Once he ran out my cell, I ran out behind him back downstairs. [Correctional Officer] Hunt told me if I reported the matter, I would get 6 more months in I-CON . . . Again on 7-22-14 at med call 4:00 p.m. I was getting water for meds at water fountain, when a guy walked up behind me and started beating me in my head. [Correctional Officer] Monrow and other staff responded to this, and sprayed the prisoner ... I received big knots on my head in back, and at this time I can't get rid of headaches and very bad dizziness ....

(Compl. ¶ V, Docket Entry 2 at 3.)

         The undersigned finds that Defendant Nicholson's failure to answer or otherwise defend against well-pled allegations in Plaintiffs Complaint are deemed admitted. Ryan, 253 F.3d at 780. However, "a default is not treated as an absolute confession by the defendant of his liability and of the plaintiffs right to recover." Id. (citation omitted). Thus, it is for the Court to determine whether the facts, as alleged, support Plaintiffs Motion for Default Judgment and the relief sought. Id. (citation omitted).

         Here, the undersigned finds as a matter of law that Defendant Nicholson's calling Plaintiff a "snitch" in the presence of other prison inmates constituted "deliberate indifferent conduct." In Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994), the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution "imposes duties on [prison] officials, who must provide humane conditions of confinement; prison officials must ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, and must 'take reasonable measures to guarantee the safely of the inmates.'" Id. at 832 (citation omitted). A successful Eighth Amendment claim contains two elements: the deprivation must be, objectively, "sufficiently serious, " and the prison official must have demonstrated a "'deliberate indifference' to inmate health or safety." Id. at 834 (citation omitted). In Farmer, the Supreme Court held:

[A] prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health and safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference. This approach comports best with the text of the Amendment as our cases have interpreted it.

Id. at 837. "Deliberate indifference is a very high standard-a showing of mere negligence will not meet it." Grayson v. Peed, 195 F.3d 692, 695 (4th Or. 1999). Rather, the "deliberate indifference" prong requires Plaintiff to make "two showings:"

First, the evidence must show that the official in question subjectively recognized a substantial risk of harm. It is not enough that the officers should have recognized it; they actually must have perceived the risk. Second, the evidence must show that the official in question subjectively recognized that his actions were "inappropriate in light of that risk." As with the subjective awareness element, it is not enough that the official should have recognized that his ...

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