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Griffin v. Hooks

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

November 14, 2019

ERIC A. HOOKS, et al., Defendants.



         THIS MATTER is before the Court on initial review of Plaintiff's Complaint, filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. [Doc. 1]. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2); 1915A. The Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis. [Doc. 2, 7].

         I. BACKGROUND

         Pro se Plaintiff Matthew James Griffin (“Plaintiff”) is currently a New Mexico state inmate of the Penitentiary of New Mexico located in Sante Fe, New Mexico. Plaintiff filed this action on March 20, 2019, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. [Doc. 1]. On June 5, 2019, Plaintiff filed his Second Amended Complaint. [Doc. 13]. Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff also states a state law claim for assault and battery and a claim under the North Carolina Tort Claims Act, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-291, et seq. In his Complaint, Plaintiff names the following as Defendants in this matter: (1) Eric A. Hooks, identified as the Secretary of the N.C. Department of Public Safety (NCDPS); (2) W. David Guice, identified as the Chief Deputy, Secretary of the NCDPS; (3) Kenneth E. Lassiter, identified as the Director of Prisons for the NCDPS; (4) Eric T. Dye, identified as the Assistant Superintendent at the Alexander Correctional Institution (“Alexander”); (5) Kenneth A Beaver, identified as the Superintendent of Alexander; (6) Finesse G. Couch, identified as an Executive Director of the NCDPS; (7) Elizabeth D. Wallace, identified an investigator/examiner of the NCDPS; (8) FNU Hamilton, identified as a Captain at Alexander; (9) FNU Clifton, identified as a Correctional Lieutenant at Alexander; (10) FNU Quinn, identified as a Correctional Sergeant at Alexander; (11) FNU Clawson, [1] identified as a Correctional Officer at Alexander; (12) Does #2 and 3, identified as other unidentified officers who physically assaulted Plaintiff; (13) Does #4 through 10, identified as supervisors who allowed Plaintiff to be assaulted; (14) Does #11 through 40, identified as other individuals further described in Paragraph 55 of Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint.

         Plaintiff's allegations are extensive and can be summarized as follows:

         Plaintiff is a handicapped prisoner of the State of New Mexico. [Doc. 13 at ¶ 45]. He has a diagnosed serious visual impairment. [Id.]. On December 21, 2015, Plaintiff was transferred to Alexander from his place of incarceration in New Mexico under the terms of the Interstate Corrections Company (ICC). [Doc. 13 at ¶ 29]. Defendants Hooks, Guice, Lassiter, Beaver and Dye are employees of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) who, before, during and after March 21, 2017 had final policymaking authority within the NCDPS Division of Prisons and/or Alexander. [Id. at ¶ 35]. On March 21, 2017, Defendant Dye was the acting Superintendent of Alexander. [Id. at ¶ 37]. Prior to filing the Complaint, Defendant Dye was succeeded in office by Defendant Beaver. [Id.].

         During the last ten years, hundreds of prisoners of the State of North Carolina have complained that they were unlawfully attacked and beaten by employees or officers of the NCDPS while they were confided in a state prison or state correctional institution operated by the NCDPS while in physical restraints and/or in an area of their respective correctional institutions lacking retrievable video surveillance images. [Id. at ¶ 40].

         From January 1, 2008 to the present and continuing here from, Defendants Hooks, Guice, Lassiter, Beaver, Dye, and their predecessors have failed to adopt, promulgate, implement or maintain proper, meaningful or effective policies and procedures (1) to review and investigate allegations of excessive force or unlawful use of force within the NCDPS and Alexander and (2) to capture, record, retrieve or review video surveillance imagery through the correctional institutions of the NCDPS Division of Prisons and at Alexander. [Id. at ¶¶ 41-42]. Further, Defendants Hooks, Guice, Lassiter, Beaver, Dye, and Does #11 through #40 “failed to maintain complete or accurate records to track the use of justified or unjustified physical force used by their subordinates.” [Id. at 43]. The failure to track the use of force within the NCDPS prisons and correctional institutions “caused and encouraged subordinate NCDPS correctional officers and employees, including Defendants Caldwell, Quinn, Clawson, and Does #2 through #10, “to commit acts of misconduct and use excessive force with impunity.” [Id. at ¶ 43].

         On the morning of March 21, 2017, Plaintiff was housed within the close custody general population of Alexander at Unit Blue North, JA Wing. [Id. at ¶ 44]. Plaintiff had a Call Out Pass to attend a mental health appointment. Plaintiff was escorted out of JA Wing by a medical orderly to attend the appointment. [Id. at ¶ 45]. After exiting the JA Wing, and while in the Blue North Rotunda, Plaintiff was involved in a physical altercation with a correctional officer. [Id. at ¶ 46]. Other correctional officers responded to the incident and Plaintiff was pepper sprayed, tackled to the ground, and handcuffs and leg shackles were applied. [Id.]. Plaintiff was then escorted, while in full restraints, by and under the control of over a dozen correctional officers and supervisors from the Blue North Rotunda to the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU). [Id. at ¶ 49]. Upon entering the RHU, Plaintiff was taken to the RHU D-Wing by Defendants Quin, Caldwell, Clawson, and Does #2 through #10. [Id. at ¶ 50]. There are two wall-mounted video surveillance cameras within D-Wing of the RHU. The interior of the D-Wing lower tier shower is not within the view of the cameras, creating a “blind spot” in camera coverage, which is known to all staff and RHU prisoners. [Id. at ¶ 54].

         Once inside D-Wing of the RHU, Plaintiff, still in full restraints, was placed in the D-Wing lower tier shower, at which time Defendant Quinn said, “do it quick.” [Id. at ¶ 51]. Defendants Caldwell, Clawson, and Does #2 and #3 attacked Plaintiff and beat him in the presence of Defendant Quinn and one or more of Does #4 through #10. [Id.]. Defendants Caldwell, Clawson, and Does #2 and #3 punched, kicked, hit and struck Plaintiff multiple times. [Id. at ¶ 52].

         Plaintiff claims his injuries include bruising and inflammation of his backside, extremities, and his neck, head, and face; laceration to the inside of his left cheek; and a traumatic brain injury/concussion. [Id. at ¶ 52]. Plaintiff seeks monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief. [Id. at 15].


         Because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court must review the Complaint to determine whether it is subject to dismissal on the grounds that it is “frivolous or malicious [or] fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Furthermore, under § 1915A the Court must conduct an initial review and identify and dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune to such relief.

         In its frivolity review, this Court must determine whether the Complaint raises an indisputably meritless legal theory or is founded upon clearly baseless factual contentions, such as fantastic or delusional scenarios. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989). Furthermore, a pro se complaint must be construed liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). However, the liberal construction requirement will not permit a district court to ignore a clear failure to allege facts in his Complaint which set forth a claim that is cognizable under federal law. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990).


         Plaintiff asserts five claims in his Complaint: (1) excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment against Defendants Caldwell, Clawson, and Does # 2 and #3; (2) “supervisory liability for failure to intervene in violation of the Eighth Amendment” against Defendants Quinn and Does #4 through #10; (3) “violation of the Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment” against Defendants Hooks, Guice, Lassiter, Dye, Beaver, Couch, Wallace, Hamilton, Clifton, Quinn, Caldwell, Clawson, and Does #2 through #40; (4) liability under the North Carolina Tort Claims Act against Defendant NCDPS for negligent ...

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