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Geddings v. Roberts

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

March 30, 2018

MICHAEL CHADWICK GEDDINGS, Plaintiff,
v.
MR. ROBERTS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Loretta C. Biggs, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, Michael Chadwick Geddings, initiated this action, pro se, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of the United States Constitution. (ECF No. 2.) Before the Court is Defendant Michael McDougald's (“Defendant”) Motion for Summary Judgment.[1] (ECF No. 47.) The matter is ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, the Court will GRANT Defendant's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of a correctional officer's use of physical force against Plaintiff, a prisoner of the State of North Carolina in the custody of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (“NCDPS”).[2] In March, 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant alleging that Defendant subjected him to excessive force while enforcing the “unconstitutional practice”[3] of punishing inmates by denying them dayroom (out of cell) recreation for up to (2) two days for even a minor infraction.” (Compl., § V ¶¶ 2-3, ECF No. 2.) Specifically, Plaintiff asserts the following account.

         On December 17, 2014, Defendant entered C Pod, the unit in which Plaintiff was housed, alone at approximately 7:40 p.m. (Id. § V ¶ 3, ECF No. 2 at 4.) Defendant approached Plaintiff in an unprofessional manner (id.) and disrespectfully demanded that Plaintiff lock down in his cell (Geddings Aff. ¶ 7). When Plaintiff asked why, Defendant stated that another inmate had been in Plaintiff's cell, which was prohibited. (Compl. § V ¶ 3.) Plaintiff denied any wrongdoing and, instead of complying with what he perceived to be an unlawful order, Plaintiff “respectfully requested” to speak with the sergeant on duty before locking down. (Id.) Plaintiff then attempted to walk in the opposite direction of Defendant in order to sit at a table and wait for the sergeant. (Id.) Defendant blocked his path, bumping Plaintiff's chest with his own. (Id. ¶ 5; Geddings Aff. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff attempted twice more to walk in the opposite direction before he made it to a table where he sat down. (Compl. § V ¶ 5.) He made no movements which could be construed as threatening or aggressive. (Id.) Defendant came over to Plaintiff, and began pacing back and forth beside him, using profanity to repeat his request. (Id.; Geddings Aff. ¶ 18.) Defendant's conduct became threatening and angry. (Geddings Aff. ¶ 18.) Defendant demanded Plaintiff stand up, but did not indicate why. (Compl. § V ¶ 5.) Plaintiff remained seated, and again requested to see the sergeant on duty. (Id.; Geddings Aff. ¶ 19.) Then, without provocation or warning, Defendant sprayed pepper spray on Plaintiff's face “from point blank range.” (Geddings Aff. ¶¶ 20-21.) Plaintiff “continue[d] to show no signs of aggression or threat” although he “may have pushed [Defendant's] arm away due to a natural reflex to protect [him]self.” (Geddings Aff. ¶ 21.)

         Plaintiff stated in his complaint that after hesitating, Defendant tackled Plaintiff onto the table. (Compl. § V ¶ 5.) Defendant hesitated again, then pulled Plaintiff off the stool, slamming Plaintiff's head and face into the floor. (Id.) Plaintiff almost lost consciousness. (Id.) In his affidavit, Plaintiff stated that Defendant

attempt[ed] to tackle [him] immediately after spraying [him] with pepper spray. When [Defendant] [couldn't] move [Plaintiff], he then wrap[ped] his arm around [Plaintiff's] neck and pulled [Plaintiff] backward by way of [Plaintiff's] neck. When Defendant [couldn't] pull [Plaintiff] off the stool, he then pushe[d] [Plaintiff] sideways off the stool and slam[med] [Plaintiff's] face into the floor, almost knocking [Plaintiff] unconscious.

(Geddings Aff. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff further states that later, when Sergeant Locklear was attempting to cuff him,

[a]n officer assisting Sergeant Locklear accidentally placed the right cuff on [his] left wrist and when she attempted to place the left cuff on [his] right wrist, the cuff on [his] left wrist turned and pinched [his] wrist, causing [him] to jump a little bit from the unexpected shock of pain. . . . Sergeant Locklear wasn't paying attention to the handcuffs and when [Plaintiff] jumped, she mistakenly thought [Plaintiff] was trying to resist. She placed [him] against the table. [Plaintiff] then explained the problem with the handcuffs. Sgt. Locklear look[ed] down and the officer correct[ed] the mistake made.

(Geddings Aff. ¶¶ 25-26.)

         Plaintiff alleges that he was then taken to “segregation (lock up)” and placed in a holding cage, where he was examined by Nurse (FNU) Floyd, who noted a knot on his forehead and abrasions on his face and neck. (Compl. § V ¶ 6.) Nurse Floyd gave Plaintiff Tylenol for his head pain. (Id.) Sargent Simmons and Officer Hunt took photographs of Plaintiff's injuries (id. ¶ 7) which have not been made part of the record.

         In the section of the complaint entitled “Exhaustion of Inmate Administrative Remedies, ” Plaintiff indicates that he filed several grievances and refers to a written letter which expressed the “continual rejections of [his] grievance based upon frivolous reasons and justifications.” (Id. § III & Ex. I, ECF No. 2-9.)[4] Plaintiff now seeks a declaratory judgment that Defendant's acts violated Plaintiff's rights under the Constitution, as well as compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief. (Id. § VI ¶ 1, 4, 5.)

         On October 23, 2015, Defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings arguing that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. (ECF No. 20.) On July 11, 2016, this Court denied Defendant's motion. (ECF No. 35.)[5] Defendant now moves for summary judgment, again asserting that Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. (Def's Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 48 at 10-14.) Defendant also argues that

(2) the evidence demonstrates that on December 17, 2014 any force utilized by correctional staff was reasonably applied in a good faith effort to maintain and restore discipline because Plaintiff refused to comply with correctional orders to lock down; (3) Plaintiff cannot establish that on December 17, 2014 Defendant acted maliciously or sadistically for the purpose of causing harm; (4) qualified immunity bars any claims against Defendant in his individual capacity; and (5) Eleventh Amendment and sovereign immunity bar any claims.

(Def's Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 47 at 1.)

         In support of his motion for summary judgment, Defendant has submitted numerous affidavits and exhibits. To address the incident itself, Defendant has submitted: his affidavit and written statements (McDougald Aff. & Exs. A & B, ECF No. 48-10); the affidavits and written statements of then-Sergeant on duty, Lieutenant Helena Locklear (H. Locklear Aff. & Ex. C, ECF No. 48-7) and Correctional Officers Shaquanna Wall and Quatilla Wall (S. Wall Aff. & Ex. A, ECF No. 48-8; Q. Wall Aff. & Ex. A, ECF No. 48-9); the incident report (Bullard Aff. Ex. A, ECF No. 48-5) which contains written statements by Correctional Officers Jessica Gonzalez, Yolanda Covington, Danielle Henry, and Benjamin Harrington, and Nurse Amora Floyd, all of whom were present on December 17, 2014 (Gonzalez Statement, id. at 19; Covington Statement, id. at 20; Henry Statement, id. at 24; Harrington Statement, id. at 25; Floyd Statement, id. at 26); the affidavit of Nurse Supervisor Melissa Smith and selected medical records (Smith Aff. & Ex. A, ECF No. 48-11); the affidavit of Scotland's Assistant Superintendent for Custody and Operation III, William Bullard, who recommended an internal investigation based on the incident report (Bullard Aff. ¶¶ 5, 15, 31); the affidavit of Correctional Captain Marietta Barr (Barr Aff., ECF No. 48-6), her internal investigation report (id. Ex. A, ECF No. 48-6 at 10-31), North Carolina Department of Correction, Division of Prisons, Policies & Procedures § .1504, “Use of Force” (id. Ex. B, ECF No. 48-6 at 33-46); Scotland Standard Operating Procedures, Custody and Security § .6100, “Use of O.C. Pepper Spray” (id. Ex. C, ECF No. 48-6 at 48-55); and video footage of the incident (id. Ex. D, ECF No. 48-6 at 57).[6]

         In his affidavit, Defendant offers his account of what occurred on December 17, 2014. According to Defendant he observed that Plaintiff had another inmate in his cell without authorization (McDougald Aff. ¶ 12.) He radioed the control booth operator to reopen the two inmates' cell doors so they could be locked down in their cells. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13.) Scotland had a staff shortage that evening, so he entered the Pod alone. (Id. ¶ 14.) Defendant ordered Plaintiff to lock down for unauthorized visitation. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) Plaintiff said, “Fuck that McDougald, I'm not locking down, and go get the Sergeant.” (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff then walked past Defendant, “brushing against [him] in an aggressive manner as [Defendant] attempted to block [Plaintiff's] path by standing in front of him.” (Id. ¶ 17.) For refusing a direct order and for brushing up against him aggressively, Defendant ordered Plaintiff to stand up and submit to handcuffs. (Id. ¶ 20.) When Plaintiff refused to comply, Defendant took out his handcuffs and displayed them to Plaintiff while repeating his order. (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff “continued to refuse and repeatedly stated, Fuck you, you can't make me move go get the Sergeant.” (Id. ¶ 22.) Defendant “was worried because [he] was the only officer in the Blue Unit surrounded by other inmates. Other inmates were walking up which made [him] scared. Anything could have happened to [him].” (Id. ¶ 30.)

         Defendant warned Plaintiff that he would spray him with OC Pepper Spray. Plaintiff still would not submit to handcuffs. (Id. ¶ 23.) Defendant then sprayed Plaintiff with one burst of pepper spray, and further attempted to grab Plaintiff's left hand while also trying to apply the mandibular angle pressure point technique. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25.) Plaintiff “smacked” away Defendant's first attempt to grab his right forearm. (Id. ¶ 26.) In so doing, Plaintiff pulled Defendant's arm inward toward Plaintiff's neck area. (Id. ¶ 27.) However, “at no time did [Defendant's] arm or hands go anywhere near Plaintiff's throat area, nor did [he] apply pressure to that region.” (Id.) Defendant lost his balance, “due to the intensity of the pepper spray fumes and [Plaintiff's] resistance, ” and “fell to the floor still holding on to Plaintiff.” (Id. ¶ 29.) At that time, Defendant heard the booth operator alert other staff members that an officer needed assistance in C Pod. (Id.) Defendant held Plaintiff in a secure position on the floor until other staff arrived and took over. Defendant had no further interactions with Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 31, 33.)

         Witness affidavits and written statements provide little detail to corroborate either account. Yolanda Covington stated that when she arrived at C Pod, Plaintiff was sitting at a table, and he looked like he had been pepper sprayed. (Covington Statement, Bullard Aff., Ex. A, ECF No. 48-5 at 20.) Her written statement does not detail any further observations. (Id.) Officer Quatilla Wall stated that she was working in the nearby medication window when she heard inmates being loud. (Q. Wall Aff. ¶ 6.) Jessica Gonzalez then notified Officer Quatilla Wall that Defendant needed assistance at C Pod. (Id. ¶ 7.) Officer Quatilla Wall further stated that she was first on the scene, that she called for assistance from the officer in the control booth, and that she later assisted others in handcuffing Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.) Neither her affidavit nor her written statement detail any other observations. (Id.) Jessica Gonzalez, in the control booth, observed Defendant talking with Plaintiff and another inmate. (Gonzalez Statement, Bullard Aff., Ex. A, ECF No. 48-5 at 19.) Officer Gonzalez stated that she “turned [her] head for a quick second to pop other cells . . . when [she] turned back around [she] observed [Defendant] restraining one of the inmates he was speaking with and that's when [she] called over the radio for back up.” (Id.)

         Sergeant Locklear was working canteen when she heard the control booth call her on the radio. (H. Locklear Aff. ¶ 14.) She was called a second time, and notified that she was needed in C Pod. (Id. ¶ 15.) When she arrived, Plaintiff was on the ground under the table and Defendant “was trying to control [Plaintiff] to maintain correctional order.” (Id. ¶ 16.) Sergeant Locklear stated that Plaintiff was visibly upset and combative and was threatening Defendant. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 20.) “Plaintiff was yelling that he was going to ‘kick [Defendant's] ass.'” (Id. ¶ 17.) She said that as Sergeant on duty, she “took over for Defendant to diffuse [Plaintiff's] anger.” (Id. ¶ 20.) Sergeant Locklear and Officers Shaquanna Wall, Quatilla Wall and Danielle Henry helped Sergeant Locklear handcuff Plaintiff. (H. Locklear Aff. ¶¶ 22-24; S. Wall Aff. ¶¶ 10-11; Q. Wall Aff. ¶ 9; Henry Statement, Bullard Aff. Ex. A, ECF No. 48-5 at 24). Sergeant Locklear stated that when they were attempting to handcuff Plaintiff, he “tried to resist and pull away. He became combative. [Plaintiff] was upset that he was pepper sprayed.” (H. Locklear Aff. ¶ 22.) Similarly, Officer Shaquanna Wall stated Plaintiff “would not submit to the handcuffs. He became very aggressive.” (S. Wall Aff. ¶ 10.) Officer Shaquanna Wall also stated, as did others, that Plaintiff has a history of being “aggressive and combative toward staff and other inmates.” (Id. ¶ 7; H. Locklear Aff. ¶ 11; Bullard Aff. ¶ 9; M. Barr Aff. ¶ 9.) Sergeant Locklear and Officer Shaquanna Wall also stated that, in their experience, Defendant had been professional and had followed procedures and policies. (H. Locklear Aff. ¶ 8; S. Wall Aff. ¶ 8.)

         Nurse Supervisor Melissa Smith reviewed the medical records, which showed that both Plaintiff's eyes and the right side of his face, his ear, and his forehead were red. (Smith Aff. ¶¶ 9-10 & Ex. A, ECF No. 48-11 at 6-7.) Plaintiff also had a quarter-sized lump on his left-upper forehead. (Id.) She further stated that Plaintiff reported minimal pain, his vitals were normal, that he was treated with cool water to rinse out his eyes, a cold compression for swelling, and non-aspirin medication for his headache. (Id.) “No additional medical treatment was documented for the alleged December 17, 2014 incident.” (Smith Aff. ¶ 15 & Ex. A, ECF No. 48-11 at 8-16.)

         Assistant Superintendent for Custody and Operation III William Bullard, who reviewed the initial incident report, and Correctional Captain Barr, who conducted a subsequent internal investigation, both made statements as to various policies and procedures. (Bullard Aff. & Ex. A, ECF No. 48-5; Barr Aff. & Exs. B & C, ECF No. 48-6 at 33-55.) Superintendent Bullard stated that Plaintiff had been notified by a November 21, 2014 Memorandum that any Blue Unit inmate could be subjected to disciplinary action if he “loiter[s] in the dayroom and [does] not return to [his] cell in a timely manner” “when count is called or it is time to lock down any time during the day.” (Bullard Aff. ¶ 19 & Ex. B, ECF No. 48-5 at 34.) Further, Superintendent Bullard stated that the mandibular angle pain pressure technique is an approved technique. (Bullard Aff. ¶ 28.) Bullard stated in his affidavit that

pepper spray is permitted as the first level of response to control or deter violent, threatening or aggressive inmates. Hands-on physical force may be used to restrain or move a non-compliant inmate. The officer is authorized to use whatever degree of force that reasonably appears to be necessary to defend the officer or a third party from imminent assault.

(Bullard Aff. ¶ 14; see also Barr Aff. ¶¶ 15-17 & Exs. B & C, ECF No. 48-6 at 33-55.)

         Per policy, an incident report was written and forwarded to Superintendent Bullard for approval. (Bullard Aff. ¶ 17.) The initial incident report, composed by Officer Brian M. McKnight, concluded,

After reviewing the statements and video of the incident it appears the force used was excessive and inappropriate. There are additional discrepancies in the reporting parties statement and others collected that are not corroborated by the video. These discrepancies have been brought to the attention of administration and will be handled according to DPS policy and procedure.

(Bullard Aff. Ex. A, ECF No. 48-5 at 13.) Superintendent Bullard also reviewed the video footage. (Bullard Aff. ¶ 17; Barr Aff. Ex. D, ECF No. 48-6 at 57.) He noted that when Plaintiff refused Defendant's direct orders, Defendant continued to talk to Plaintiff. (Bullard Aff. ¶¶ 25-26.) Defendant

then removed his pepper spray with his left hand, and passed it behind his back to his right hand. [Plaintiff] was sprayed in the face with pepper spray for about [one] second. . . . [Defendant] then attempted to restrain [Plaintiff]. . . . However, [Plaintiff] continued to resist and he grabbed [Defendant's] arm to stop him. ...

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