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Wood v. Wade

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

September 27, 2017

JOHN L. WOOD, Plaintiff,


          LOUISE W. FLANAGAN, United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the court on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (DE 120), and defendant Stephen Batten's (“Batten”) motion for summary judgment (DE 134). The issues raised have been fully briefed and are ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, the court denies both motions.


         Plaintiff commenced this action pro se on October 27, 2014, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting that he was subjected to excessive force while imprisoned at Maury Correctional Institution (“Maury”) on January 2, 2014, in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Originally, plaintiff named as defendants only defendant Kevin Wade (“Wade”), former defendant Priscilla Sutton (“Sutton”), and three “John Does, ” all correctional officers at Maury. On March 25, 2016, after a period of discovery, plaintiff filed an amended complaint to add claims against defendant Batten, as well as former defendants Sidney Smith (“Smith”), Jerry Fitzgerald (“Fitzgerald”), and Melvin Adams (“Adams”), additional correctional officers at Maury.

         On May 6, 2016, the court directed North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services (NCPLS) to conduct an investigation of plaintiff's claims in the action, and to indicate whether it will represent plaintiff during any stage of the litigation. NCPLS entered a notice of appearance, for purposes of the mediation and summary judgment stages of the litigation. An additional period of discovery followed.

         Plaintiff filed the instant motion for summary judgment as to claims against defendant Batten and defendant Wade on February 15, 2017. In support of the motion, plaintiff filed a memorandum of law, statement of material facts, and appendix of exhibits comprising the following: 1) plaintiff's declaration; 2) plaintiff's medical records; 3) internal investigation statement by defendant Batten; 4) four sealed North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (“SBI”) reports containing accounts of statements made by defendant Wade, former defendant Smith, and non-parties John Herring and Joshua Barnes, all administrative or correctional officers at Maury. Defendant Batten responded in opposition, on March 30, 2017, including statement of material facts and appendix of exhibits comprising the following: affidavits of defendant Batten and former defendants Smith, Fitzgerald, and Sutton. Defendant Wade filed a response in opposition and statement of facts.

         In the meantime, defendant Batten filed the instant cross-motion for summary judgment on February 20, 2017, including memorandum of law, statement of material facts, and an appendix, including 1) reference to surveillance video previously filed by North Carolina Department of Public Safety, 2) affidavit and expert report of Dr. Moira Artigues, 3) affidavit of defendant Batten, 4) photographs, 5) inmate background information on plaintiff, and 6) plaintiff's medical records. Plaintiff responded in opposition, including a statement in opposition to defendant Batten's statement of facts.

         Former defendants Sutton, Smith, Adams, and Fitzgerald also filed a motion for summary judgment, on February 16, 2017, accompanied by appendix including surveillance video, photos, discovery responses, and affidavits of former defendants Sutton, Smith, and Fitzgerald. Upon plaintiff's motion, however, the court granted voluntary dismissal of former defendants Sutton, Smith, Adams, and Fitzgerald, on April 11, 2017.


         The undisputed facts may be summarized as follows. On January 2, 2014, plaintiff was an inmate housed at Maury. Around 11:00 a.m. that day, plaintiff assaulted former defendant Fitzgerald in an inmate day area located on the second floor of the facility, with a shank made from a toothbrush and a razor. Plaintiff came up behind Fitzgerald while walking through the day area and slashed Fitzgerald in the neck causing serious injuries to him. Former defendant Wade heard the altercation and ran to assist Fitzgerald, and the two officers struggled with plaintiff and ultimately took plaintiff to the ground and handcuffed him.

         Other officers, including defendant Batten and former defendant Sutton, arrived at the scene as plaintiff was being brought to the ground, and assisted in securing plaintiff. Additional officers escorted Fitzgerald away to the main medical area. Then defendants Batten and Wade, accompanied by several more correctional officers, walked plaintiff away from the day area, with plaintiff positioned to walk backwards in order to maintain control over plaintiff, who was resisting restraint.

         Defendants Batten and Wade brought plaintiff down a stairwell to the main hallway of the facility. Defendants Batten and Wade, assisted by several additional officers, took plaintiff to another hallway area and added leg restraints and a waist chain to plaintiff's handcuffs. Then, defendants Batten and Wade, accompanied by multiple additional correctional officers, brought plaintiff to an area known as the Receiving Area of the facility, towards a holding cell. At that time, defendants Batten and Wade were at plaintiff's sides and brought him into the holding cell, where they pushed plaintiff onto the floor of the holding cell. While plaintiff was on the floor of the holding cell in full restraints, in handcuffs, shackles, and a waist chain, defendant Wade kicked plaintiff in the head and defendant Batten kicked plaintiff in the lower back or buttocks area.

         Upon seeing actions by defendants Wade and Batten, two administrative officers present at the holding cell doorway, Herring and former defendant Smith, ordered defendants Wade and Batten to stop. Herring pulled Wade and Batten from the holding cell and directed them to leave the area, and they walked past a group of correctional officers and staff gathered around the doorway of the holding cell. Former defendant Sutton briefly stopped Batten and told him to “get himself together, ” and defendants Wade and Batten left the holding cell area.

         Plaintiff suffered physical injury, including bruises and cuts, as a result of his contact with correctional officers on that date. Additional facts and inferences drawn from the evidence of record, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, will be discussed in the analysis below.


         A. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate where “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 party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must then “come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (internal quotation omitted). Only disputes between the parties over facts that might affect the outcome of the case properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (holding that a factual dispute is “material” only if it might affect the outcome of the suit and “genuine” only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party).

         “[A]t the summary judgment stage the [court's] function is not [itself] to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 249. In determining whether there is a genuine issue for trial, “evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [non-movant's] favor.” Id. at 255; see United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962) (“On summary judgment the inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts contained in [affidavits, attached exhibits, and depositions] must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.”).

         Nevertheless, “permissible inferences must still be within the range of reasonable probability, . . . and it is the duty of the court to withdraw the case from the [factfinder] when the necessary inference is so tenuous that it rests merely upon speculation and conjecture.” Lovelace v. Sherwin-Williams Co., 681 F.2d 230, 241 (4th Cir. 1982) (quotations omitted). Thus, judgment as a matter of law is warranted where “the verdict in favor of the non-moving party would necessarily be based on speculation and conjecture.” Myrick v. Prime Ins. Syndicate, Inc., 395 F.3d 485, 489 (4th Cir. 2005). By contrast, when “the ...

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