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Lanier v. Henderson County Detention Center

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

November 6, 2017



          Frank D. Whitney, Chief United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendants Christy Adams, Linda Corn, Brian Helton, Neil McDonald, and Jim Player, (Doc. No. 83). Also pending before the Court is a Motion to Strike Surreply, filed by the moving Defendants, (Doc. No. 87).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Pro se Plaintiff Ricardo Lanier, a North Carolina inmate currently incarcerated at Albemarle Correctional Institution in Badin, North Carolina, filed this action, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, on November 25, 2015, after he was assaulted by fellow inmates Kendall Rudisill and Deshawn Perry on October 20, 2015, while Plaintiff was a pre-trial detainee at the Henderson County Detention Center (“the Jail”).

         On November 30, 2015, this Court dismissed Plaintiff's complaint without prejudice because the only named Defendants were the Henderson County Detention Center and “Jail officials.” (Doc. No. 4). Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint on December 14, 2015, alleging claims of failure to protect, deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, and unconstitutional conditions of confinement against the Henderson County Detention Center, Henderson County Sheriff's Office employees Jim Player, Brian Helton, Neil McDonald, Linda Corn, and Flora Hernandez, a nurse at the Jail. (Doc. No. 8).

         On March 18, 2016, on initial review, this Court held that Plaintiff sufficiently stated a failure-to-protect claim against Helton, McDonald, and Corn, a conditions-of-confinement claim against Player, and a deliberate indifference claim against Hernandez. (Doc. No. 16). The Court subsequently granted a motion to dismiss filed by Hernandez, and Hernandez was dismissed as a Defendant. (Doc. No. 57).

         On November 29, 2016, Plaintiff amended his complaint to add a failure-to-intervene claim against Helton and Henderson County Sheriff's office employee Christy Adams. (Doc. Nos. 45, 58). This Court entered a scheduling order on January 11, 2017, setting the deadline for dispositive motions as June 11, 2017.

         On June 9, 2017, Defendants Adams, Corn, Helton, McDonald, and Player filed the pending summary judgment motion. (Doc. No. 83). In their summary judgment motion, Defendants Corn, Helton, and McDonald contend that they are entitled to summary judgment on the failure-to-protect claim because they had no knowledge that Rudisill and Perry posed a threat to Plaintiff. Defendant Player contends that he is entitled to summary judgment on the conditions-of-confinement claim because he placed Plaintiff in a booking cell used to monitor injured inmates on orders of the Jail medical staff. Adams and Helton contend that they are entitled to summary judgment on the failure-to-intervene claim because they had no opportunity to intervene in the assault against Plaintiff. Defendants have attached the following documents to their summary judgment motion: excerpts from Plaintiff's deposition taken on April 28, 2017, the sworn Declarations of each of the moving Defendants, as well as by Defendants' counsel Sean Perrin, and two CDs containing video footage of the assault incident and events leading up to the assault incident.

         On August 14, 2017, this Court entered an order in accordance with Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), advising Plaintiff of the requirements for filing a response to the motion for summary judgment and of the manner in which evidence could be submitted to the Court. (Doc. No. 91). Plaintiff has responded to the summary judgment motion. See (Doc. Nos. 84, 93). Attached to Plaintiff's response are his sworn Declaration, as well as his deposition, and other exhibits obtained during discovery from Defendants. This matter is therefore ripe for disposition.

         B. Factual Background

         1. Plaintiff's Relationship with Inmates Rudisill and Perry While a Pre-trial Detainee at the Henderson County Detention Center before the Assault

         On August 1, 2015, Plaintiff was incarcerated as a pre-trial detainee at the Henderson County Detention Center on pending charges. (Doc. No. 83-2 at 23:2-4, 20-22; 25:17-20: Pl. Dep.). At some point before being assaulted, Plaintiff was cellmates with Kendall Rudisill for a “couple of days, maybe a week at the most” until a week before the October 20th incident. (Id. at 26: 20-23, 27:1-2; 35:3-4, 18-20). Rudisill then moved to Deshawn Perry's cell because Plaintiff and Rudisill were not “get[ting] along with each other, ” although they weren't in the cell “about to fight each other. It wasn't like that.” (Id. at 27:7-9; 35:23-24; 36:1-2). Indeed, both during their time as cellmates, as well as after the time they were cellmates, Plaintiff and Rudisill never fought one another until the incident on October 20. (Id. at 36:15-17). Plaintiff “never had problems with anybody in there, in that cell block at all.” (Id. at 40:18-19). Plaintiff stated “[t]he whole time I was in that pod I've got along with everybody.” (Id. at 40:23-24). There is also no indication that Rudisill and Perry were violent inmates. When asked about them, Plaintiff stated that he didn't remember them “getting into it the whole time I was there” or assaulting other inmates. (Id. at 40:25; 41:1-12).

         Like Plaintiff, the moving Defendants had no knowledge of any prior assaults committed by Rudisill and Perry against any other inmates. (Doc. No. 83-3 at ¶ 10: Corn Decl.; Doc. No. 83-4 at ¶ 6: Helton Decl; Doc. No. 83-5 at ¶ 8: McDonald Decl.). Plaintiff and Rudisill would also routinely play cards with one another, along with Perry and another inmate. (Doc. No. 83-2 at 37: 3-7; 39:17-21). Almost every day, the group would play “spades . . . the whole rec period. That's how we would pass our time by.” (Id. at 37:12, 20-21, 41:16). In fact, the “majority” of Plaintiff's free time was spent playing cards with Rudisill, Perry, and the other inmates. (Id. at 42:1-2). The group never fought or argued while playing spades, and officers would see them playing spades. (Id. at 37:23-25; 38:1-6). After the card games ended, Plaintiff stated that “sometimes we would sit there and we would talk and laugh because we weren't on bad terms until this incident… We was all all [sic] right. To my knowledge we were.” (Id. at 42:20-25).

         2. On October 20, Plaintiff Leaves His Cell, Receives His Dinner Tray, and Is Threatened By Perry

         During meal time, an inmate's door is opened and all inmates come downstairs to get a tray, and take it back to their cell to eat. (Doc. No. 83-2 at 30:16-25). On October 20, 2015, Helton and McDonald were serving trays to the inmates. (Doc. No. 83-4 at ¶ 4; Doc. No. 83-5 at ¶ 4). At 5:00 p.m., Plaintiff left his cell, HD212, the fourth cell on the top left, and walked downstairs to receive a dinner tray. (Doc. No. 83-6 at ¶ 16: Jim Player Decl.). According to Plaintiff, when he was going downstairs to get his food for dinner, Perry started “talking junk and I was talking junk back to him.” (Doc. No. 83-2 at 33:12-16; 43:6-8). Perry was walking up the stairs back to Perry's cell when he told Plaintiff “I'll kill you.” (Id. at 44:12-13; 16-17). Plaintiff responded, “You're not going to kill blank, blank, blank, blank because there's more than one.” (Doc. No. 83-2 at 44:17-24). According to Helton and McDonald, they did not hear any threats. (Doc. No. 83-4 at ¶ 4; Doc. No. 83-5 at ¶ 6).[1] Plaintiff is unclear what precipitated Perry's comment because there were no threats before it, and he was on good terms with both Perry and Rudisill. (Doc. No. 83-2 at 47:17-21).

         Plaintiff didn't “pay attention” to Perry's threat. (Doc. No. 83-2 at 72:2). In fact, he “didn't actually know that they were going to actually-how can I try-try to follow through with it or follow through with it.” (Id. at 141:5-7). Plaintiff “didn't take serious, what they were saying.” (Id. at 57:13-14). Plaintiff elaborated on how he construed Perry's comments: “When I was saying I didn't take it serious, it's not that I didn't take it serious. I thought-that's the exact way. I thought we were just words…because when you get mad, you say things.” (Id. at 141:13-16, 18-19).

         At 5:29, Plaintiff received his dinner tray. (Doc. No. 83-6 at ¶ 16). A bun was missing from Plaintiff's tray, so he was told to have a seat while Helton and McDonald went to get him an extra hotdog bun. (Doc. No. 83-2 at 48:9-11). Helton and McDonald left the housing area at 5:58. (Doc. No. 83-6 at ¶ 16). Plaintiff, Rudisill, and Perry began arguing after Helton and McDonald left. (Doc. No. 83-2 at 48:15-17). No officers were present during this argument. (Id. at 48:21-24).

         According to Plaintiff, “theoretically they were probably threatening me or disrespecting me. I can't quote/ unquote recite what they were saying, but they were talking junk because if they weren't-if they weren't talking junk, I wouldn't be talking back to them.” (Doc. No. 83-2 at 49:1-6). The argument stopped when the officers came back. (Id. at 49:14-24). At 5:02:50 McDonald came back to the medium housing unit. (Doc. No. 83-6 at ¶ 17). When he entered the Pod, McDonald heard Plaintiff talking loud. (Doc. No. 83-5 at ¶ 5). McDonald asked Plaintiff what was going on, and Plaintiff did not respond. (Id.). Corn, who was near the female housing unit, came in with McDonald. (Doc. No. 83-3 at ¶ 4). Corn asked Plaintiff what was going on, and he did not respond. (Id. at ¶ 5).

         After receiving his bun from McDonald, Plaintiff went back to his cell. (Doc. No. 83-2 at 50:10-11, 18-23). Corn then asked the inmates on the second floor what was going on, and nobody responded. (Doc. No. 83-3 at ¶ 6). An inmate on the second floor stated that somebody was having a heart attack. (Id.). Corn asked who, but nobody responded. (Id.). At 5:03:07, Corn went upstairs to talk to the inmates on the second floor. (Doc. No. 83-2 at 53:2-7). Corn questioned the occupants of cells HD 205-208, and walked upstairs and talked to all the cells on the upper right side. (Doc. No. 83-3 at ¶ 7). After questioning the occupants, and not getting a response, Corn left the pod at 5:04:12. (Id. at ¶ 8).

         3. Inmates Rudisill and Perry Attack and Assault Plaintiff

         About 45-50 minutes later, when the inmates finished their meals in their cells, the cell doors were unlocked for inmates to place their trays downstairs. (Doc. No. 83-2 at 55:2-10, 23-25; 56:1). When he went to put his tray away at 5:51:21, Plaintiff passed Rudisill and Perry's cell, but they did not say anything to him. (Id. at 55:11-13; Doc. No. 83-6 at ¶ 19). Plaintiff also didn't say anything to Rudisill and Perry at this time. (Doc. No. 83-2 at 61:7-8). After putting his tray away, Plaintiff sat on a table and saw Rudisill and Perry by the phone. (Id. at 55:19-22). Instead of going back to his cell, Plaintiff stayed out in the common area “because I didn't think-I didn't think they were going to follow through with what they said. You know, people talk all the time.” (Id. at 56:17-19).

         At this time, a Sheriff's Officer, Vicky Moore, was ten feet away from Plaintiff, but Plaintiff didn't mention anything to her because “people argue all the time . . . I didn't know that they were going to actually try to kill me.” (Id. at 59:12-25, 182:13-18). Plaintiff “didn't know I needed help at that time.” (Id. at 60:6-8). After Moore finished her rounds, Plaintiff went to his cell to take a shower. (Id. at 61:2-3).

         Plaintiff saw Perry walk up the stairs towards Plaintiff's cell, but “I'm not really paying him any attention because I'm not thinking he's coming to me because he's not talking to me as he's coming up the stairs.” (Id. at 61:15-16). Another inmate, Timothy Waters, attempted to block Perry, but Waters got out of the way when he saw Rudisill with a broom. (Id. at 61:18-25; 62:1-5).

         Rudisill then came into Plaintiff's cell and started hitting him with a broom. (Id. at 62:9-11). Plaintiff didn't know that they were going to assault him and was “completely . . . taken aback” that they did. (Id. at 146:6-9, 15-18). Plaintiff defended himself by hitting Perry, (id. at 67:19-25), and by trying to get the broom from Rudisill. (Id. at 68:3-5). Rudisill then grabbed Plaintiff, (id. at 69:12-13), and Perry grabbed Plaintiff's foot, and threw him over the railing, thirteen-and-a-half feet from the floor. (Id. at 70:4-6, 16-17). Plaintiff held on to the railing and dropped. (Id. at 71:4-8). As ...

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