United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
W. Flanagan, United States District Judge
matter now comes before the court on defendant's motion
for summary judgment (DE 27) pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 56. The issues raised have been fully briefed
and are ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, the
court grants defendant's motion.
OF THE CASE
28, 2015, plaintiff, a state inmate, filed this civil rights
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging defendants
violated his constitutional rights by creating an unsafe work
environment that caused him to suffer “severe second
and third degree burns. ” (C o m p l . (D E 1 - 1) a t
7) . T h e c o u r t conducted a frivolity review on December
3, 2015 and dismissed former defendants North Carolina
Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) and
Correctional Enterprise from this action (DE 8).
Plaintiff's claims against Jo Lassiter
(“Lassiter”) survived review. On April 26, 2016,
plaintiff filed a motion to amend his complaint to correctly
reflect Lassiter's name as Jeffery Lassiter (DE 18),
which was granted (DE 24).
filed the instant motion for summary judgment on October 28,
2016. In support thereof, Lassiter attaches the following: 1)
DPS Offender Public Information report pertaining to
plaintiff; 2) affidavit of Finesse Couch, executive director
of North Carolina inmate grievance resolution board with
relevant grievances; 3) affidavit of Joe Simpson, director of
safety, occupational and environmental Health for DPS with
relevant policies and accident report; 4) affidavit of
defendant Lassiter with exhibits; and 5) affidavit of Lori
Lou Jackson, lead nurse/nurse supervisor at Caledonia
Correctional Institution (“Caledonia”) along with
relevant medical records. (See DE 30).
submitted a letter to the court on December 14, 2016, which
the court construes as his response to the instant summary
judgment motion (DE 36).
OF THE FACTS
facts viewed in light most favorable to plaintiff may be
summarized as follows. Plaintiff's claims are centered on
his assertion that Lassiter was deliberately indifferent to
his safety by creating a hazardous work environment.
(See, e.g., Compl. (DE 1-1), p. 3).
Plaintiff is a state inmate serving a life sentence.
(See DE 30-1). Defendant is employed by Correctional
Enterprise as a manager for Caledonia Cannery
(“cannery”). (Lassiter Aff. (DE 30-4) ¶ 3).
Correctional Enterprise trains inmates by mirroring a work
environment. (Id. ¶ 4). The cannery processes
and cans crops grown on the premises for distribution to
prison kitchens. (Id. ¶ 5). Plaintiff began
working at the cannery on October 8, 2013. (Id.
¶ 8). Before starting, plaintiff received orientation
and training on all cannery machinery. (Id.
¶¶ 12, 14). This training included a review of
proper safety procedures and practice. (Id.)
Plaintiff signed an acknowledgment indicating he received
this training on January 19, 2012. (Id. ¶¶
11, 13). Similarly, an Inmate Work Program Manual was also
reviewed with plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 14). After this
review, plaintiff again acknowledged that he was provided
with training on the safe operation of cannery equipment.
(Id.) In addition to this training, plaintiff was
instructed to ask for assistance whenever he needed help.
(Id. ¶ 12). Plaintiff was notified that failure
to adhere to proper procedures and rules would result in his
dismissal from Correctional Enterprise. (Id. ¶
14). Work gloves and aprons were available to plaintiff while
he was working. (Id. ¶ 15).
cannery, there are eight retorts operating simultaneously,
and it is the job of the front retort operator to monitor the
lights on the control panel to determine which retort is
nearing the cooking completion cycle. (Simpson Aff. (DE 30-3)
¶ 14). A blue light indicates an approximately 10 minute
long cooling cycle. (Id.) When the light turns red,
the front operator must then monitor a steam gauge to ensure
the reading is “0 PSI.” (Id.) After this
verification, the front operator must open the steam valve
located on top on the retort lid to ensure that there is not
any latent steam remaining in the retort. (Id.,
¶ 15). If steam is still escaping through the valve, the
operator is to close the valve and extend the cooling period.
(Id.) When steam is no longer escaping from the
valve, the front operator signals the back operator.
(Id.) As an additional precaution, the front
operator stands to one side and loosens the front lid
securing clamps. (Id.) This precaution allows any
remaining steam to exit and reduces the possibility of injury
for those standing near the securing clamp location.
(Id. ¶ 17). If no steam escapes, the front
operator indicates to the back operators that the clamps can
be removed. (Id. ¶ 16).
November 6, 2013, plaintiff was assisting another inmate with
removing baskets of cooked vegetables from the retorts.
(Id. ¶ 18). The cooking cycle was ending on
retort number three, and plaintiff was working as the front
retort operator. (Id.) Plaintiff was burned with
steam, incurring second degree burns on both legs.
(Id.). DPS investigated the incident. (Id.
¶¶ 6-8). It was determined that plaintiff failed to
ensure that steam had been fully released from the retort.
(Id. ¶ 19). Likewise, plaintiff did not stand
to one side and loosen the securing clamp before fully
opening it. (Id.) The investigation further revealed
that plaintiff had been properly trained, and, to this end,
plaintiff verified that he understood the proper safety
procedures for operating the retort equipment after the
incident. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22). Likewise,
reasonable safety equipment was provided for plaintiff.
(Id. ¶ 25). Based on these findings, it was
determined that plaintiff's injuries were caused by his
failure to follow the proper safety procedures and guidelines
for operating the retort. (Id. ¶ 24). There is
no evidence on the record indicating that defendant was
directly involved in this incident. Nor is there any evidence
that defendant had actual or constructive knowledge that any
of his subordinates were engaged in conduct that posed a risk
to plaintiff's safety.
received immediate medical treatment for his injuries at
Caledonia. (Id. ¶ 26). He was later transferred
to Halifax Regional Hospital. (Id.) Plaintiff also
received treatment at the North Carolina Jayce Burn Center.
24, 2014, plaintiff filed a claim for damages under the North
Carolina Tort Claims Act. (Def. Ex. 1 (DE 28-1) at 1). In
such claim, he alleged that defendant was negligent for
failing to provide reasonably safe equipment. Id.
Plaintiff's claim was dismissed with prejudice. (Def. Ex.
2 (DE 28-2) at 3). Specifically, it was determined that
plaintiff must pursue a negligence claim under the
Workers' Compensation Act instead. (Id. at 2).
Motion for ...