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Graham v. Callahan

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

January 15, 2015



RICHARD L. BOURGEOIS, Jr., Magistrate Judge.

Please take notice that the attached Magistrate Judge's Report has been filed with the Clerk of the United States District Court.

In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), you have fourteen (14) days after being served with the attached Report to file written objections to the proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law and recommendations therein. Failure to file written objections to the proposed findings, conclusions, and recommendations within 14 days after being served will bar you, except upon grounds of plain error, from attacking on appeal the unobjected-to proposed factual findings and legal conclusions of the Magistrate Judge which have been accepted by the District Court.



This matter comes before the Court on the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (R. Doc. 17). This motion is opposed.

The pro se plaintiff, an inmate incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary ("LSP"), Angola, Louisiana, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Marcus Calahan, complaining that the defendant violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights on November 27, 2012, by subjecting the plaintiff to excessive force through the alleged application of a chemical irritant spray on that date without adequate justification.

The defendant moves for summary judgment relying upon the pleadings, a Statement of Undisputed Facts, a certified copy of the plaintiff's pertinent administrative remedy proceedings, a certified copy of the LSP Camp J Gar Unit Chemical Logbook for the dates November 26-28, 2012, certified copies of disciplinary reports issued against the plaintiff on November 27, 2012, by Major Trent Barton, Sgt. Kenneth Johnson, Nurse Katherine Bell and defendant Marcus Graham (charging the plaintiff with "Defiance" and "Aggravated Disobedience"), a digital audio recording of the plaintiff's disciplinary proceedings conducted on November 29 and December 3, 2012, photographs taken of the plaintiff on the date of the incident complained of, certified copy of excerpts from the plaintiff's medical records, and the affidavit of defendant Marcus Callahan.

Pursuant to well-established legal principles, summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine disputed issue as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Rule 56, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986). A party moving for summary judgment must inform the Court of the basis for the motion and identify those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, that show that there is no such genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corporation v. Catrett, supra, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party carries its burden of proof under Rule 56, the opposing party must direct the Court's attention to specific evidence in the record which demonstrates that the non-moving party can satisfy a reasonable jury that it is entitled to a verdict in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., supra, 477 U.S. at 248. This burden is not satisfied by some metaphysical doubt as to alleged material facts, by unsworn and unsubstantiated assertions, by conclusory allegations, or by a mere scintilla of evidence. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). Rather, Rule 56 mandates that summary judgment be entered against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corporation v. Catrett, supra, 477 U.S. at 323. Summary judgment is appropriate in any case where the evidence is so weak or tenuous on essential facts that the evidence could not support a judgment in favor of the non-moving party. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., supra, 37 F.3d at 1075. In resolving a motion for summary judgment, the Court must review the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and the Court may not evaluate the credibility of witnesses, weigh the evidence, or resolve factual disputes. International Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1263 (5th Cir. 1991).

In his Complaint, the plaintiff alleges that on November 27, 2012, he was "sprayed down with chemical agent, mace, " by defendant Marcus Callahan without sufficient justification. The plaintiff acknowledges that he was "hollering" in his cell on the morning of the referenced date, but he asserts that the defendant should have simply closed the door of the cell instead of using unnecessary and excessive force against the plaintiff.

In response to the plaintiff's allegations, the defendant contends in the instant motion that he is entitled to qualified immunity in connection with the plaintiff's claim of excessive force. Specifically, the defendant contends that the plaintiff's allegations and evidentiary showing fail to show the existence of a genuine issue of disputed fact relative to any alleged violation of the plaintiff's constitutional rights.

The qualified immunity defense is a familiar one and, employing a two-step process, operates to protect public officials who are performing discretionary tasks. Huff v. Crites, 473 Fed.Appx. 398 (5th Cir. 2012). As enunciated in Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001), the first step in the analysis is to consider whether, taking the facts as alleged in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the defendant's conduct violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights. Id. at 201. Second, the district court looks to whether the rights allegedly violated were clearly established. Id. This inquiry, the Court stated, is undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad, general proposition. Id. The relevant, dispositive inquiry in determining whether a constitutional right was clearly established is whether it would have been clear to a reasonable state official that his conduct was unlawful in the situation which he confronted. Id. at 202. The assertion of the qualified immunity defense alters the summary judgment burden of proof. Michalik v. Hermann, 422 F.3d 252, 262 (5th Cir. 2005). Once a defendant pleads qualified immunity, the burden shifts to the plaintiff, who "must rebut the defense by establishing that the official's allegedly wrongful conduct violated clearly established law and that genuine issues of material fact exist regarding the reasonableness of the official's conduct." Gates v. Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, 537 F.3d 404, 419 (5th Cir. 2008), citing Michalik v. Hermann, supra, 422 F.3d at 262.[1]

Undertaking the qualified immunity analysis with respect to the plaintiff's claim of excessive force, the Court finds that the defendant's motion should be granted. Specifically, the Court finds that the plaintiff's opposition and evidentiary showing are not sufficient to support a finding that there exist disputed issues of material fact in this case relative to the issue of excessive force.

A use of force is excessive and violates the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution only when such force is applied maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm rather than in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline. Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 37 (2010), quoting Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7 (1992). Not every malicious or malevolent action by a prison guard gives rise to a federal cause of action, however, and the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment necessarily excludes from constitutional recognition de minimis uses of physical force, provided that such force is not of a sort "repugnant to the conscience of mankind." Hudson v. McMillian, supra, 503 U.S. at 10, quoting Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 327 (1986). The fact that an inmate may have sustained only minimal injury, however, does not end the inquiry, and an inmate who has been subjected to gratuitous force by prison guards "does not lose his ability to pursue an excessive force claim merely because he has the good fortune to escape without serious injury." Wilkins v. Gaddy, supra, 559 U.S. at 38. The Court may consider the extent of injury, if any, as potentially relevant to a determination whether an alleged use of force was excessive under the circumstances, and other factors to be considered in determining ...

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