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Fordham v. Keller

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

March 20, 2017

ALVIN KELLER, et. al, Defendants.


         This matter comes before the Court upon Defendants Gary Crutchfield, Meal Leakez, Chandra Ransom and Lisa Starr's motion for judgment on the pleadings, or in the alternative, for summary judgment. (Docket Entry 68.) Plaintiff Chris Fordham has not filed a response.[1] The matter is ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, the Court will grant Defendants' motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, a pro se prisoner, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants for their alleged failure to protect Plaintiff from an assault by other inmates and failure to grant his request for protective custody. (See generally Corrected Compl., Docket Entry 6.)[2] Plaintiff alleges that from December 18, 2009 until September 27, 2010, while housed at Scotland Correctional Institution ("Scotland"), he was subjected to hazardous and unsafe confinement conditions by Defendants and that they were "deliberate indifferently to [Plaintiffs] safety by their below and above violative act(s) or and inaction(s) of 'failing to protect [Plaintiff) from imminent known substantial risk of harm."' (Id. ¶¶ 3, 5.) Plaintiff further alleges that on or about July 19, 2010, Ransom and Chavis witnessed Plaintiff being attacked by gang members which Defendants ignored. (Id. ¶¶ 7-9.) The next day, Plaintiff alleges that prison staff "opened all the cell doors in the block at once, " subjecting him to a risk of serious harm. (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff was attacked by another inmate (Inmate Cromartie"). (Id., ¶¶ 12-15.) Chavis and other officers allegedly failed to intervene during the assault. (Id. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff suffered injuries to most of his upper body; he also had staples placed in his head and was confined to a wheelchair. (Id. ¶ 19.) According to Plaintiff, the assaults continued from inmates until September 27, 2010, when Plaintiff left the facility. (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff also alleges that he was subjected to hazardous conditions by Defendants because of Plaintiffs constant grievance submissions to the prison. (Id. ¶¶ 33- 35.) He further alleges that Starr, Barnes, and Leakez refused to properly investigate:Plaintiffs initial requests for protective custody which subjected him to an "imminent substantial [known] risk of harm." (Id. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff is suing Defendants in their individual and official capacities, and seeks punitive and compensatory damages against Defendants for his injuries in the amount of $250, 000.00 "per liable Defendant [and] per claim." (Id. ¶ VI.) Plaintiff also seeks other relief, including attorney's fees, the termination of all Defendants, and new protective custody policies at the prison. (Id.)

         Defendants' summary judgment material include briefs and the affidavit of Ransom with attached exhibits. Defendants' summary judgment materials first show that during July 2010, Ransom was employed as the Unit Manager of the Maximum Control ("MCON") housing unit at Scotland. (Ransom Aff. ¶ 2, Docket Entry 69.) During the time of the alleged incidents (July 19, 2010 and July 20, 2010), Ransom was on vacation and not present at work. (Id. ¶¶ 6-9; Ransom Time Sheet, Docket Entry 69-1.) Thus, Ransom did not witness any alleged attack upon Plaintiff by other inmates. (Ransom Aff. ¶ 10.) Furthermore, Ransom asserts that Plaintiff never requested protective custody during that time. (Id. ¶ 9.)

         Defendants' summary judgment material also includes the affidavit of Kristie Stanback. (Stanback Aff., Docket Entry 71.) In July 2010, Stanback was employed at Scotland as an Assistant Superintendent of Custody and Operations III at Scotland. (Id. ¶ 2.) According to Stanback, an incident report was prepared by Sergeant Mary Pettiford regarding events occurring on July 20, 2010. (Id. ¶ 5; see also Incident Report, Docket Entry 71 -1.) According to the report, on July 20, 2010, another officer, Raphael McNeil, inadvertently pressed the emergency release button for the MCON unit, and a series of three inmate assaults took place, one of which was Plaintiffs assault by Inmate Cromartie. (Incident Report at 2-3.) Officer McNeil was attempting to open a specific door for maintenance, but instead accidentally activated the emergency release button. (Id. at 1-2.) He immediately sought help. (Id. at 2.) Several officers responded, and Unit Manager Jeffrey Fields and Captain Brad Perritt observed Plaintiff and Inmate Cromartie fighting inside Plaintiffs cell. (Id. at 3-4.) With a shank, Inmate Cromartie struck Plaintiff several times and the two were ordered to cease fighting. (Id. at 3.) They refused, and additional action was taken by officers to separate the two inmates. (Id.) Plaintiff was placed in restraints, removed from the area, and eventually taken to medical services for treatment of his injuries. (Id. at 3-4.) Inmate Cromartie was subsequently disciplined for his actions and transferred to another prison. (Stanback Aff. ¶ 13; Incident Report at 9.) Inmate Cromartie and two other inmates asserted that it was Plaintiff who instigated the fight. (Inmate Statements, Docket Entry 71-2.) Plaintiff refused to provide a statement. (Id. at 4.)

         Following the incident Officer McNeil and another officer were disciplined for their actions. (Incident Report at 9.) Additionally, the emergency release bottom was rerouted to the Master Control booth and password protected. (Id.) Stanback asserts that Ransom and Leakez were not involved in the incident. (Stanback Aff. ¶ 18.) Crutchfield responded to the emergency call. (Id.) Stanback also asserts that none of Defendants were at fault, nor were they disciplined for the incident. (Id.) Plaintiff filed a grievance for the incident on July 20, 2010 and named several prison employees, but not Leakez, Starr or Ransom. (Pl's Grievance, Docket Entry 71-3 at 2.) Stanback is also unaware of any report regarding an inmate assault on Plaintiff on July 19, 2010. (Stanback Aff. ¶ 20.)


         Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleading, or In the Alternative. Motion far Summary Judgment

         Defendants have filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, or in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment. (Docket Entry 68.) Courts "appl[y ] the same standard for Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) motions [for judgment on the pleadings] as for motions made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)." Independence News, Inc. v. City of Charlotte, 568 F.3d 148, 154 (4th Cir. 2009); see also N.C. Farmers' Assistance Fund, Inc. v. Monsanto Co., 740 F.Supp.2d 694, 703 (M.D. N.C. 2010) ("Although distinct from a motion to dismiss, a motion brought under Rule 12(c), at least when essentially asserting a failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, is subject to the same standard."). However, Rule 12(d) states, in part:

If, on a [Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings], matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56. All parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d). Here, affidavits and exhibits have been presented by Defendants and considered in the undersigned's recommendation. Thus, Defendants' motion is more appropriately considered under the summary judgment standard.

         Summary judgment is appropriate when there exists no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Zahodnick v. Infl Bus. Mads. Corp., 135 F.3d 911, 913 (4th Or. 1997). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of coming forward and demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Temkin v. Frederick County Comm'rs, 945 F.2d 716, 718 (4th Or. 1991) (citing Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must then affirmatively demonstrate that there is a genuine issue of material fact which requires trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). There is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a fact finder to return a verdict for that party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); Sylvia Dm Corp. v. Calvert County, Md, 48 F.3d 810, 817 (4th Cir. 1995). Thus, the moving party can bear his burden either by presenting affirmative evidence or by demonstrating that the non-moving party's evidence is insufficient to establish his claim. Cehtex, 477 U.S. at 331 (Brennan, dissenting). When making the summary judgment determination, the Court must view the evidence, and all justifiable inferences from the evidence, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Zahodnick, 135 F.3d at 913; Halperin v. Abacus Tech. Corp., 128 F.3d 191, 196 (4th Cir. 1997). However, the party opposing summary judgment may not rest on mere allegations or denials, and the court need not consider "unsupported assertions" or "self-serving opinions without objective corroboration." Evans v. Techs. Applications <& Sew. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 962 (4th Cir. 1996); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49.

         In support of their motion for summary judgment, Defendants assert the following arguments: (1) Plaintiff has failed to state a claim against Crutchfield, Leakez, and Starr; (2) Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to Ransom, Leakez and Starr; (3) Plaintiffs conditions of confinement did not, and do not constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment; (4) Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity from any claims by Plaintiff for monetary damages arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (5) Sovereign and Eleventh Amendment immunities bar Plaintiffs claims for relief seeking damages from Defendants in their official capacities and from claims premised on negligence; and (6) Plaintiffs requests for injunctive relief are moot. (Defs.' Br. 6-20, Docket Entry 70.)

         Plaintiffs claims against Defendants Crutchfield, Leakez, and Starr

         Defendants seek clarity as to the claims against Crutchfield, Leakez and Starr. (Id. at 10-11.) The Court will address this issue first As Defendants state, when Plaintiff initially filed this action (along with his application to proceed in forma pauperis), he named several defendants, including Crutchfield, Leakez and Starr. (Original Compl, Docket Entry 2.) Plaintiff also filed a supplement to his original. Complaint. (Docket Entry 4.) In an Order, the Court informed Plaintiff of his deficiencies, and allowed Plaintiff thirty (30) days to file a corrected complaint. (Order, Docket Entry 3.) Plaintiff was informed that he should "name only defendants who are actually alleged to have violated his rights." (Id. at 2.) Thereafter Plaintiff filed a corrected complaint, naming the following Defendants: Joel Herron, Chandra Ransom, Correction Officer Chavis, and "et. al responding staff." (Corrected Compl, Docket Entry 6.) Plaintiff was permitted to proceed and he provided summonses to the Court for several Defendants, including some individuals named in the original Complaint. (Docket Entry 8.) This included Defendants Crutchfield, Starr, and Leakez although they were not named as Defendants in the corrected Complaint. They argue that they are not proper parties to this action as they are not named Defendants in the corrected Complaint. (Defs.' Br. at 10-11.)

         The Court first notes that as a "general rule ... an amended pleading supersedes the original pleading, rendering the original pleading of no effect. Thus, if an amended complaint omits claims raised in the original complaint, the plaintiff has waived those omitted claims. Young v. City of Mount Ranier, 238 F.3d 567, 573 (4th Cir. 2001) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Likewise, an amended pleading which no longer names a defendant as a party in the suit tacitly dismisses that individual from the suit. See Poison p. Woods, No. 9:08-CV-030. 2009 WL 2156908, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. July 15, 2009) (unpublished) (district court "ordering dismissal of [previously named defendant] from the action in view of plaintiff s failure to name him as defendant in his amended complaint"); Alvarez-Flores v. Shelton, No. CIVA 05-3261 SAC, 2006 WL 3004021, at *1 (D. Kan. Oct. 20, 2006) (unpublished) ("The amended complaint again names ... as a defendant, but no longer names [previously named defendants] as parties in the lawsuit . . . Pursuant to plaintiffs amended pleading, the court dismisses [previously named defendants] as defendants in this action."). Here, even after specific instructions, Plaintiffs amended Complaint fails to name Starr, Crutchfield and Leakez as defendants in this lawsuit. In view of Plaintiffs action, this matter should be dismissed against those defendants.

         In any event, a careful reading of Plaintiffs Corrected Complaint reveals that Crutchfield was neither named in the Corrected Complaint, nor were any allegations made against him specifically. Although Starr and Leakez were not named as defendants in this action, they were specifically mentioned in Plaintiffs statement of claims before the Court. (See Corrected Compl. ¶ VI.) Even if Starr and Leakez were correctly named as defendants in this action, Plaintiffs allegations against Starr and Leakez are presented in conclusory fashion which, as discussed below, are insufficient to survive summary judgment.

         Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;Leakez, Ransom, and Starr assert that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies against them. (Defs.&#39; Br. at 6-9.) The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") requires inmates to properly exhaust available administrative remedies before firing civil actions challenging the conditions of their confinement. See 42 U.S.C. &sect; 1997e(a); Woodford v. Ngo,548 U.S. 81, 84 (2006); Moore v. Bennette,517 F.3d 717, 725 (4th Cir. 2008). The exhaustion 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. Nuss/e,534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). "There is no question that exhaustion is mandatory under the PLRA and that unexhausted claims cannot be brought in court." Jones p. Bock,549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007) (citation omitted); see also Ai-Amin v. Shear, 218 F.App&#39;x 270, 273 (4th Cir. 2007) ("It is undisputed that the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) requires prisoners to exhaust their administrative remedies before seeking relief in the federal courts.") (citing 42 U.S.C. &sect; 1997e(a)). This "requirement requires &#39;proper exhaustion&#39;-that is, &#39;using all steps that the agency holds out, and doing so properly (so that the agency addresses the issues on the merits).&#39;" Ltatxft v. NC Dep &#39;t of Pub. Safety, 585 F.App&#39;x 171 (4th Or. 2014) (citing Woodford, 548 U.S. at 90) (emphasis in original). However, "an ...

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