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Mclean v. Miller

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

June 15, 2018

CAPTAIN SANDRA MILLER, et. al., Defendants.


          Joe L. Webster United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court upon Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Docket Entry 47.) This matter is ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, the Court will recommend that Defendants' motion for summary judgment be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of correctional officers' use of physical force against Plaintiff James Howard McLean, a pro se prisoner of the State of North Carolina in the custody of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety ("NCDPS"). The uncontroverted facts are as follows. On September 24, 2015, Plaintiff-then a pretrial detainee at Scotland County Detention Center ("Scotland")-filed a grievance indicating that he was officially on a hunger strike. (Docket Entry 50-2 at 3.) He explained that because his specially-prepared and marked food trays had been tampered with, he feared for his safety. (Id.) He also specifically noted that he was not otherwise suicidal. (Id.) To address concerns of self harm arising from Plaintiffs hunger strike, Defendant Captain Sandra Miller ordered that Plaintiff be placed on suicide watch. (Miller Decl. ¶¶ 5-6, Docket Entry 48-1 at 3-4.) Defendant Sergeant Stephanie Hudson and Defendant Detention Officers Clinton Gooselin, Laura Prevatte, and Chris Strickland attempted to carry out Captain Miller's order by escorting Plaintiff, unrestrained, to the "drunk tank" where Scotland monitors inmates on suicide watch. (Compl. § V, Docket Entry 2 at 4-6; Hudson Aff. ¶ 3, Docket Entry 48-2 at 3-4; Gooselin Aff. ¶ 3, Docket Entry 48-3 at 3; Prevatte Aff. ¶ 2, Docket Entry 48-4 at 3-4; Strickland Aff. ¶ 2, Docket Entry 48-5 at 2-4.) As they approached the "drunk tank, " Plaintiff punched Officer Gooselin. (Compl. § V; Hudson Aff. ¶ 3; Gooselin Aff. ¶ 4; Prevatte Aff. ¶ 4; Strickland Aff. ¶ 2.) Officer Gooselin punched Plaintiff back. (Compl. § V; Hudson Aff. ¶ 3; Gooselin Aff. ¶ 4; Prevatte Aff. ¶ 4; Strickland Aff. ¶ 2.) Officer Gooselin restrained Plaintiff on the ground until Officers Prevatte and Strickland administered pepper spray. (Compl. § V; Hudson Aff. ¶ 3; Gooselin Aff. ¶ 4; Prevatte Aff. ¶ 4; Strickland Aff. ¶ 2.) The Officers then handcuffed Plaintiff, rinsed off the pepper spray, and made sure he was seen by the jail nurse. (Hudson Aff. ¶¶ 3-4; Gooselin Aff. ¶¶ 4-5; Prevatte Aff. ¶¶ 4-6; Strickland Aff. ¶ 2-4.) Plaintiff received further treatment at Scotland Memorial Hospital. (Docket Entry 20-2 at 15-36.) Hospital records reveal that Plaintiff had facial lacerations, head injury with headache, maxillary sinus fracture, neck strain, orbit fracture, and periorbital contusion. (Id.)

         On July 25, 2016, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging Defendants subjected Plaintiff to excessive force. [See generally, Compl., § V, Docket Entry 2.)[1] In his Complaint, Plaintiff recounts the incident as follows:

Detention Officer Clinton Gooselin grabbed Plaintiff in which Plaintiff struck Officer Gooselin one time and then dropped to his knees with his hands out to submit to the cuffs. Sgt. Stephanie Hudson took her handheld radio and struck Plaintiff on the right side of his face just below his right eye on top of his cheekbone while he was in this submissive position. Officer Clinton Gooselin then kicked Plaintiff in the face. Plaintiff was then peppered sprayed by Officer Laura Prevatte and Officer Chris Strickland.

(Id. at 5-6.)

         Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment and compensatory and punitive damages.

         On March 20, 2017, Plaintiff pled guilty in Scotland County Superior Court to the offense of assaulting a governmental official in the course of his duties in connection with his having punched Officer Gooselin on September 24, 2015. (Docket Entry 48-7 at 7). On June 22, 2017, the Court entered a discovery scheduling order establishing a discovery deadline of December 22, 2017 and a January 22, 2018 deadline to file dispositive motions. (Docket Entry 35.) On November 2, 2017, Defendants served Plaintiff via certified mail their first set of requests for admissions ("requests for admissions") and first set of requests for production of documents ("requests for production"). (Docket Entry 43-1.) On November 15 and 16, 2017, Plaintiff filed two letters in which he indicated that he did "not understand the things the Defendants' counsel is arguing" and asked the Court to appoint counsel to represent him. (Docket Entries 43, 44.) To these two letters, Plaintiff attached his copies of Defendants' requests for admissions and requests for production. (Docket Entries 43-1, 44-1.) On November 21, 2017, the Court denied Plaintiffs motions to appoint counsel. (Text Order dated Nov. 21, 2017.)

         Defendants now move for summary judgment. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Docket Entry 47.) In support of their motion, Defendants have submitted (1) a memorandum of law (Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J., Docket Entry 48); (2) their own declarations and affidavits (Miller Decl.; Hudson Aff.; Gooselin Aff; Prevatte Aff.; Strickland Aff.); and (3) Plaintiffs criminal records (Docket Entries 48-6, 48-7). Defendants also reference their requests for admissions. (Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 4; Docket Entry 43-1.) Defendants accurately represent the supporting declarations and affidavits in the following summary of their version of the September 24, 2015 incident:

As the Detention Officers and the Plaintiff reached the hallway leading to the segregated holding cell, the Plaintiff apparendy realized that he was being placed on a suicide watch. The Plaintiff stopped walking and became combative, loudly proclaiming that would not put on the "Turde Suit" or go to the segregated holding cell. After being told that he did not have a choice in the matter, the Plaintiff shouted "Fuck Captain Miller" and, without warning, punched Officer Gooselin in the left side of his face with a closed fist, injuring Officer Gooselin's eye and nose. Defending himself, Officer Gooselin punched the Plaintiff back, striking him in the right side of his face, and then wrestled the Plaintiff down to the floor.
Sergeant Hudson, Officer Prevatte, and Officer Strickland moved to assist Officer Gooselin in his efforts to gain control over the Plaintiff. The defendant Detention Officers repeatedly ordered the Plaintiff to surrender and stop resisting, but he refused to obey their commands.
The Plaintiff continued to resist efforts to subdue him until defendants Officer Prevatte and Officer Strickland deployed their OC pepper spray against him. The OC pepper spray had the intended effect, causing the Plaintiff to stop fighting and submit to being handcuffed. After Detention Officers handcuffed the Plaintiff, they assisted him to his feet and took him to a shower where he could wash the pepper spray residue out of his eyes and off of his face. Other than Officer Gooselin's counter-punch immediately after being punched in the face by the Plaintiff, none of the defendants hit, kicked or otherwise struck the Plaintiff in any way.

(Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J., Docket Entry 48 at 9-10 (internal citations omitted); Miller Deck ¶ 6-8; Hudson Aff. ¶¶ 3, 4, 6; Gooselin Aff. ¶¶ 3-5, 8; Prevatte Aff. ¶¶ 3-4, 6-7; Strickland Aff.¶¶2-5.)

         In opposition to Defendants' motion for summary judgment Plaintiff has filed (1) his own declaration (McLean Deck, Docket Entry 50-1); (2) records of Assistant District Attorney J. Shober's interviews with Officers Gooselin and Prevatte and Sergeant Hudson (Docket Entry 50-2 at 1-2, 9); records of Assistant District Attorney Ashley E. Weilman's interviews with Officer Gooselin and Detective Roger Alford (Docket Entry 50-2 at 7-8, 10); Plaintiffs September 24, 2015 grievance as well a similar grievance and related correspondence from September, 2014 (Docket Entry 50-2 at 3-6); the incident reports Officers Gooselin, Prevatte, Strickland, and Sergeant Hudson signed on September 25, 2015 (Docket Entry 50-2 at 11-14); Plaintiffs September 24, 2015 ...

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