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Luke v. Beagron

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

November 8, 2017




         Plaintiff, Jacob Luke, Sr., a state inmate, filed this pro se and in forma pauperis civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He named as defendants Captain S. Bergeron, [1] Sheriff Jerry Larpenter, [2] Lieutenant Nichallis Daigle, [3] Warden Trish, the Narcotics Team, [4] and Officer Scott Robinson.[5] He thereafter amended the complaint on numerous occasions, and he added Cory Daplantis, Lieutenant T. Schwausch, and Assistant District Attorney Amanda Mustin as additional defendants.

         The only claims currently remaining in this lawsuit are a claim against Robinson for excessive force and a claim against Mustin for interfering with plaintiff's right to counsel. All other claims were previously dismissed. Luke v. Beagron, Civ. Action No. 16-13461, 2016 WL 8740486 (E.D. La. Dec. 28, 2016), adopted, 2017 WL 1407719 (E.D. La. Apr. 20, 2017).[6] The remaining parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).[7]

         Robinson and Mustin have now filed a motion for summary judgment on the remaining claims pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[8] Plaintiff has opposed that motion.[9] For the following reasons, that motion is GRANTED.

         In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court may grant the motion when no genuine issue of material fact exists and the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). There is no “genuine issue” when the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmovant. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         “Procedurally, the party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the record which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Taita Chemical Co., Ltd. v. Westlake Styrene Corp., 246 F.3d 377, 385 (5th Cir. 2001) (quotation marks and brackets omitted). The party opposing summary judgment must then “go beyond the pleadings and by [his] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord Provident Life and Accident Ins. Co. v. Goel, 274 F.3d 984, 991 (5th Cir. 2001). The Court has no duty to search the record for evidence to support a party's opposition to summary judgment; rather, “[t]he party opposing summary judgment is required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate the precise manner in which the evidence supports his or her claim.” Ragas v. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., 136 F.3d 455, 458 (5th Cir. 1998). Conclusory statements, speculation, and unsubstantiated assertions are not competent summary judgment evidence and will not suffice to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment. Id.; Douglass v. United Services Auto. Ass'n, 79 F.3d 1415, 1429 (5th Cir. 1996).

         Claim Against Officer Scott Robinson

         In this lawsuit, plaintiff claims that Officer Robinson used excessive force during a search at the Terrebonne Parish Criminal Justice Complex. Based on plaintiff's complaint, as amended, and his Spears hearing testimony, [10] the Court finds that he is making the following allegations with respect to this claim: On May 3, 2016, at approximately 9:00 p.m., Lieutenant Bergeron and narcotics officers conducted a search at the jail. The officers had guns and were accompanied by dogs. Brandishing a gun, Officer Scott Robinson approached plaintiff, who was lying on his stomach on his mattress on the floor. When plaintiff raised his head, Robinson told him to stay down and stepped on his shoulder. From a standing position, Scott then dropped his knee onto plaintiff's back with such force that it caused something in his shoulders to “crack.” Robinson also forced plaintiff's arm to his back and restrained him with handcuffs and leg restraints. Plaintiff did not initially believe he was physically injured by Robinson's actions; however, he later began to experience symptoms such as neck pain and numbness in his arms and hands, and he still experiences those symptoms periodically. He requested medical care, and a doctor diagnosed plaintiff as having a pinched nerve and prescribed Flexeril (a muscle relaxer) and ibuprofen.

         Because plaintiff was a pretrial detainee at the time of the incident, his excessive force claim “lies under the Fourteenth Amendment.” Benoit v. Bordelon, 596 Fed. App'x 264, 267 n.2 (5th Cir. 2015). In this Circuit, it had long been the rule that excessive force claims brought pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment by pretrial detainees were to be considered using the same analysis as employed when considering excessive force claims brought pursuant to the Eighth Amendment by convicted prisoners. Valencia v. Wiggins, 981 F.2d 1440, 1446-47 (5th Cir. 1993). Under that analysis, courts were to employ the subjective standard announced in Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312 (1986), and Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1 (1992), which looked to “whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.” Valencia, 981 F.2d at 1446 (internal quotation marks omitted); accord Kitchen v. Dallas County, Texas, 759 F.3d 468, 477 (5th Cir. 2014). As part of that analysis, courts were to consider the following factors:

1. the extent of the injury suffered;
2. the need for the application of force;
3. the relationship between the need and the amount of force used;
4. the threat reasonably perceived by the responsible officials; and
5. any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response.

Hudson v. McMillian, 962 F.2d 522, 523 (5th Cir. 1992) (citing Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7 (1992)).

         However, in 2015, the United States Supreme Court clarified the law concerning excessive force claims brought pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court concluded that with respect to such a claim, a pretrial detainee need show only that the use of force was “objectively unreasonable.” Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466, 2470 (2015). In doing so, the Supreme Court expressly rejected the subjective standard of Whitley and Hudson, holding that those cases are relevant to a Fourteenth Amendment excessive force claim “only insofar as they address the practical importance of taking into account the legitimate safety-related concerns of those who run jails.” Id. at 2475.

         The United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has not yet considered the ultimate impact of Kingsley on this Circuit's precedents. However, shortly after Kingsley was issued, Judge Debra M. Brown of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi concluded:

In the approximately three weeks since Kingsley was decided, only one court in this circuit has addressed the Supreme Court's Kingsley opinion's impact on a Fourteenth Amendment excessive force claim in the Fifth Circuit. In Clark v. Anderson, a Texas District Court followed the Fifth Circuit rule that Fourteenth and Eighth Amendment claims are analyzed under the same framework, although it allowed that “this holding is called into question by the Supreme Court's recent decision in Kingsley ....” No. 4:15-cv-360, 2015 WL 3960886, at *3, *3 n. 3 (N.D. Tex. June 29, 2015). While Clark stopped short of recognizing that Kingsley overruled the Kitchen and Valencia line of cases, a reading of Kingsley compels such a conclusion.
Kingsley held that Fourteenth Amendment claims, unlike Eighth Amendment claims, must be decided under an objective standard. 135 S.Ct. at 2473-74. Kitchen and Valencia held that Fourteenth Amendment claims, like Eighth Amendment claims, must be decided under a subjective standard. Kitchen, 759 F.3d at 477. These holdings cannot be squared. Accordingly, this Court follows the Supreme Court's direction and holds that Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment claim must be evaluated under an objective standard -- that is, the Court must ask whether, from an objective point of view, [the defendant's] actions were rationally related to a legitimate, nonpunitive governmental purpose and whether his actions were excessive in relation to that purpose. Kingsley, 135 S.Ct. at 2473-74.

Thompson v. Beasley, 309 F.R.D. 236, 247 (N.D. Miss. 2015).

         Nevertheless, whatever the ultimate impact of Kingsley may be on this Circuit's traditional analysis, one thing is clear: the foregoing Hudson factors still play a role in a court's analysis of a Fourteenth Amendment excessive force claim. That is apparent from the fact that the Kingsley court referenced similar factors to be considered in resolving the objective reasonableness of an action on which a Fourteenth Amendment claim is based:

Considerations such as the following may bear on the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the force used: the relationship between the need for the use of force and the amount of force used; the extent of the plaintiff's injury; any effort made by the officer to temper or to limit the amount of force; the severity of the security problem at issue; the threat reasonably perceived by the officer; and whether the plaintiff was actively resisting. See, e.g., Graham, supra, at 396, 109 S.Ct. 1865. We do not consider this list to be exclusive. We ...

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