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Leone v. Goodwin

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

December 18, 2017

CORY BRYAN LEONE
v.
JERRY GOODWIN, ET AL.

          MAGISTRATE JUDGE HORNSBY

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          S MAURICE HICKS, JR., CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Before the Court is Defendants Jerry Goodwin, Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, James M. LeBlanc, Chris Evans, Lonnie Nail, Scott Cottrell, and Mark Hunter's (collectively the “State Defendants”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Record Document 34) pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure seeking to dismiss all of Plaintiff Cory Leone's (“Leone”) claims. Leone opposed the motion. See Record Document 40. For the reasons which follow, the State Defendants' Motion is hereby GRANTED.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On August 16 and 17, 2015, offender Ronnie Hongo (“Hongo”) and Leone were housed on David Wade Correctional Center's (“DWCC”) North Compound in the H3B dormitory. On August 16, Leone and Hongo got into a verbal dispute over a fan located in their dormitory, which was unwitnessed by corrections officials, where Leone called Hongo a homosexual. See Record Document 34-11 at 16-17. Hongo told another offender, Onge Washington (“Washington”), that he and Leone had had words. See Record Document 34-13. Washington stated that he “successfully diffused” the dispute, and that Hongo told him that everything was fine and the issue was settled. See id. No one informed corrections officials of the dispute that day.

         On August 17 just after 9:00 a.m., Hongo assaulted Leone, who was asleep at the time, with two padlocks he secured to a belt. See Record Document 34-8 at 51. Pursuant to a review of the security video during the investigation, at 8:53 a.m., Hongo entered the dormitory and went to his bed where he removed the padlocks from his lockers and put his weapon together, hiding it from view. See id. at 43. At 8:58 a.m., a corrections officer got up from his desk to make a round in the dormitory, and stopped to speak to offender Morian Spivey (“Spivey”). See id. at 44. While the corrections officer was speaking to Spivey, Hongo approached Leone and began to strike him without warning just after 9:00 a.m. See id. at 50-51.

         A corrections officer immediately ran over to restrain Hongo, with additional corrections officers responding to assist. See id. at 52-53. By 9:03 a.m., medical personnel had arrived at the scene and began life-saving response on Leone. See id. at 54. Leone was transported to the North Infirmary, where medical personnel continued to assess him, stabilize his condition, and called for transportation to University Health-Shreveport. See Record Document 34-10 at 44-46. A 911 call was made from DWCC to the Claiborne Parish Sheriff's Office at 9:08 a.m. requesting a trauma unit to the North Infirmary. See id. at 65. Prior to the assault, corrections officers were unaware of the verbal dispute of August 16, or that Hongo intended to harm Leone the following day. See Record Document 34-11 at 5-6. On August 27, Lt. Col. Scott Cottrell (“Cotrell”) made an investigative report to Warden Jerry Goodwin (“Warden Goodwin”). See Record Document 34-10 at 50-56.

         After treatment at University Hospital-Shreveport, Leone was returned to DWCC on August 28, and interviewed by Cottrell. See id. at 1. Cottrell then issued an addendum to his investigative report. As a result of the investigation, Hongo received discipline for both the August 16 and 17 incidents, and was criminally charged for the August 17 attack on Leone. See Record Document 34-8 at 13-15. Leone and Washington also received discipline for their participation in the verbal argument with Hongo on August 16. See id.

         On December 7, 2015, Leone submitted a request for protective custody claiming that DWCC had failed to protect him. See Record Document 34-10 at 2. Protective custody, a non-punitive housing option, is a form of separation from the general population for offenders requesting or requiring protection from other offenders for reasons of health and safety. See id. at 60-61. During the interview for protective custody, Leone told Warden Goodwin and Col. Chris Evans (“Evans”) that he was concerned for his safety being housed in the same unit where he was previously attacked, and that he was following the advice of his attorney in seeking protective custody. See id. at 2.

         On December 9, 2015, Leone was transferred from medium security to maximum security for protective custody in N4 on the South Compound. See id. There are three levels of protective custody. Protective Custody - Level 2 is the protection assignment which is usually made at an offender's request who has raised protection concerns, and it may be either short term or long term. Upon his arrival for Level 2-Protective Custody in N4, Col. Lonnie Nail (“Nail”) explained to Leone that maximum security for protective custody carried limitations as to his visitation, phone and other privileges, and Leone appeared to understand. See Record Document 34-7 at 8-9. An offender placed in protective custody receives a review by a Classification Review Board every seven days for the first 60 days, and then every 30 days thereafter. See id. at 6. Nail sits on Classification Review Boards for the South Compound, and stated that from December 9, 2015, until the middle of April, 2017, Leone never made a request for a classification change, and Leone's classification remained the same. See id. at 4. In April of this year, Leone's classification was changed to a different level of protective custody, and he is now housed in N1A. See id.

         Leone was seen by the medical staff prior to being placed in protective custody. See Record Document 34-10 at 43. During this examination, Leone denied any complaints or problems from his prior injuries. See id. Following the examination, Leone's routine medications were given to him by Security Staff, but there were times where he refused or did not request them. See id. at 3-10. While in protective custody, Leone continued to receive medical care. On January 5, 2016, the Mental Health Department conducted a follow up with Leone, where he voiced no mental health concerns, and no distress was noted. See id. at 49. On January 27, Leone was transported to University Health-Shreveport for a follow up medical examination with the Ophthalmology Clinic. See id. at 15. Dr. Pamela Hearn (“Dr. Hearn”), reviewed the medication recommendations by the Ophthalmology Clinic, and signed a physician's order for the medications recommended. See id.

         On February 15, 2016, another mental health follow-up was made, and Leone voiced no mental health concerns, and no distress was noted. See id. at 48. On February 17, Dr. Hearn reviewed Leone's medical chart, and issued a physician's order to continue his seizure medication, Dilantin. See id. at 14.

         On May 9, 2016, Leone was again seen by the Mental Health Department without having any mental health concerns. See id. at 47. On May 18, Leone was transferred to University Health-Shreveport for a follow-up Ophthalmology Clinic visit, and again Dr.

         Hearn reviewed the medication recommendations by the Ophthalmology Clinic and entered a physician's order for the medications recommended. See id. at 26-33. In late June and early July of 2016, routine blood work showed that Leone's Dilantin levels had risen. See id. at 21. Dr. Jeffrey Fuller responded by holding doses of Phenytoin Dilantin, monitoring periodic blood work, and adjusting doses. See id. at 11-13.

         Secretary James LeBlanc (“Secretary LeBlanc”) and Warden Goodwin have extensive experience in supervisory and administrative positions in the area of corrections. See Record Document 34-4 and 34-5. The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections' (“LDPSC”) practice of issuing padlocks to offenders to secure their personal belongings in lockers has been in place during the entire duration of both of their tenures with the LDPSC, and has not been changed. See id. While there is no specific written policy governing the issuance of padlocks, they are specifically listed as allowed property. See Record Document 34-5. Both Secretary LeBlanc and Warden Goodwin are aware that the practice of allowing offenders padlocks to secure their personal property is common in penal institutions throughout the United States, for both state and federal institutions, and that padlocks are sold in prison commissaries, including but not limited to, the Federal Bureau of Prisons at FCC Oakdale (Louisiana), FCC Pollock(Louisiana), FCI Waseca (Minnesota), FDC Houston (Texas), and FCI Tallahassee (Florida), as well as being on the items for purchase lists published by the state departments of corrections in Mississippi and Texas. See Record Document 34-4 and 34-5.

         Both Secretary LeBlanc and Warden Goodwin know that the reason padlocks are issued to offenders as a means of securing their personal belongings is that theft of an offender's property is a common occurrence, and incidents of theft often lead to violence between inmates. See id. In their experience, issuing padlocks is a reasonable means of controlling theft and reducing violent confrontations among offenders. See id. While both Secretary LeBlanc and Warden Goodwin are aware that offenders on occasion may use padlocks as weapons to assault other offenders, in their experience, padlocks are used as weapons on a small number offender-on-offender assaults. See id. Warden Goodwin has reviewed DWCC records of offender-on-offender assaults where a padlock was used as a weapon back to 2009, and found that there were 11 incidents prior to the subject assault. See Record Document 34-5.

         Leone filed his Complaint August15, 2016, and divided it into multiple claims. See Record Document 1. First, Leone claims an Eighth Amendment violation against State Defendants for failing to protect him from the attack by Hongo using padlocks issued by DWCC. Second, Leone contends that his write up for a rule violation related to the August 16, 2015, verbal altercation with Hongo, and his continued housing assignment in extended lockdown is retaliation for his failure to dismiss his Administrative Remedy Procedure (ARP) Complaint alleging that DWCC failed to protect him from Hongo's attack. Third, Leone makes a claim for inadequate medical care immediately after the assault, and while he has been in extended lock down. Fourth, that his continued stay in extended lock down constitutes an Eighth Amendment violation related to his conditions of confinement. Finally, Leone makes state law claims against the defendants for both intentional torts and negligence. See id.

         State Defendants filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment on September 18, 2017, asserting there are no issues of material fact and that they are entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. See Record Document 34. Leone responded by filing a Memorandum in Opposition on October 4, 2017, claiming State Defendants have not shown the absence of any genuine issues of material fact. See Record Document 40.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         I. Legal Standards

         A. Summary Judgment

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs summary judgment. This rule provides that the court "shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Also, "a party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the motion by citing to particular parts of materials in the record." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). "If a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may . . . grant summary judgment." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(3).

         In a summary judgment motion, "a party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings . . . [and] affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal quotations and citations omitted). If the movant meets this initial burden, then the non-movant has the burden of going beyond the pleadings and designating specific facts that prove that a genuine dispute of material fact exists. See id. at 325; see Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994).

         A non-movant, however, cannot meet the burden of proving that a genuine dispute of material fact exists by providing only "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence." Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. Additionally, in deciding a summary judgment motion, courts "resolve factual controversies in favor of the nonmoving party, but only when there is an actual controversy, that is when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Id. Courts "do not, however, in the absence of any proof, assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts." Id.

         The Court may “consider summary judgment on its own after identifying for the parties material facts that may not be genuinely in dispute.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f)(3). A court may grant summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f)(3) so long as it provides the parties with “ample notice [and] time to respond” and “consider[s] everything” that the parties claim to be probative of the matters that have been identified. Santana v. Cook Co. Bd. of Review, 679 F.3d 614, 619 (7th Cir. 2012); see also Wang v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 439 Fed.Appx. 359, 363 n.2 (5th Cir. 2011).

         Pursuant to Local Rule 56.1, the moving party shall file a short and concise statement of the material facts as to which it contends there is no genuine issue to be tried. Local Rule 56.2 requires that a party opposing the motion for summary judgment set forth a “short and concise statement of the material facts as to which there exists a genuine issue to be tried.” All material facts set forth in the statement required to be served by the moving party “will be deemed admitted, for purposes of the motion, unless controverted as required by this rule.”[1] Local Rule 56.2.

         B. Section 1983 Suits: Individual Capacity vs. Official Capacity Claims

         Section 1983 authorizes the assertion of a claim for relief against a person who, acting under the color of state law, allegedly violated the claimant's rights under federal law. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In § 1983 suits, government officials may be sued in either their individual or official capacities. A claim against a state or municipal official in his official capacity "generally represent[s] only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent." Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985). Individual or personal capacity suits “seek to impose personal liability upon a government official for actions he takes under color of state law.” Id.

         C. Qualified Immunity in Section 1983 Suits

         The qualified immunity doctrine often protects public officials from liability in § 1983 actions brought against a person acting under the color of state law in his individual capacity. “The basic thrust of the qualified-immunity doctrine is to free officials from the concerns of litigation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 685 (2009) (internal quotations and citations omitted). In fact, a qualified immunity defense is truly “an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009).

         Once the defendant raises a qualified immunity defense, the plaintiff carries the burden of demonstrating the inapplicability of qualified immunity. See Floyd v. City of Kenner, 351 Fed.Appx. 890, 893 (5th Cir. 2009). First, the court must determine whether the plaintiff demonstrated a genuine dispute of material fact as to a violation of a constitutional right. See Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232. Second, the court must determine whether the constitutional right at issue was “clearly established” at the time of the defendant's alleged misconduct. Id. A defendant who can validly raise a qualified immunity defense will enjoy its protection so long as the allegedly violated constitutional right was not clearly established at the time of the violation. See id. In other words, the defendant can only be held liable if he violates a right that is clearly established at the time of the violation.

         II. Analysis

         i. ...


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