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Ramirez v. Federal Correctional Institution Oakdale

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division

June 13, 2018


         Section P




         This is a civil rights action brought by Plaintiff Robert Allen Ramirez (“Ramirez”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Ramirez is currently incarcerated at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. However, he complains about the alleged actions and inactions of Defendants while he was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institute at Oakdale, Louisiana (“FCIO”). Ramirez brought suit against Defendants who are or were employees at the FCIO: Lt. Isiah Williams, Officer Caleb Gatreaux, Officer Roberto Rodriguez-Leon, and Officer Thomas Voisine. He also brought suit against the FCIO itself.

         On February 14, 2018, Magistrate Judge Kathleen Kay issued a Report and Recommendation [Doc. No. 153] recommending that the Court grant in part and deny in part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 142].[1] She recommended that the Court deny the Motion for Summary Judgment with regard to Ramirez's claims about restroom access, but grant the motion as to his claims about Defendants' failure to use a stretcher to transport him after a fall. She further recommended that FCIO be dismissed from the suit because of Ramirez's failure to raise a claim against it. As Magistrate Judge Kay noted, if the Court were to adopt her Report and Recommendation, Defendants FCIO, Gautreaux, and Voisine would all be dismissed from the suit.

         Following the issuance of the Report and Recommendation, Defendants filed objections [Doc. No. 155], and Ramirez filed a response [Doc. No. 159]. In their objections, Defendants argued that “Magistrate Judge Kay's does not address qualified immunity, a key defense pled on behalf of the individual defendants” and requested that the Court consider their immunity defense. [Doc. No. 155, p. 2].

         The Court finds that Magistrate Judge Kay accurately stated and applied the law to the facts and arguments presented to her. After a de novo review of the record, including the Ramirez's memorandum [Doc. No. 154] and the objections and response to the Report and Recommendation, the Court ADOPTS the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge.

         However, the Court issues this ruling to address the qualified immunity defense raised by Williams and Rodriguez-Leon. The Court notes that Magistrate Judge Kay did not address the defense because, while it was pled, it was not argued in the motions for summary judgment. As Magistrate Judge Kay pointed out in footnote 7 of her Report and Recommendation:

Though he raised the issue of qualified immunity in his answer [doc. 48, p. 1');">p. 1], Rodriguez-Leon did not argue qualified immunity in either this motion or his preceding motion for summary judgment. See doc. 142, att. 2; doc. 68, att. 2. Williams also asserted qualified immunity, apparently for all claims, in his answer [doc. 119, p. 1');">p. 1] but only argues the issue on the second claim, below, in his motion for summary judgment. See doc. 142, att. 2, pp. 9-10. Accordingly, we do not consider whether either defendant is entitled to summary judgment on this claim on the basis of qualified immunity.

[Doc. No. 153 n.7]. Nevertheless, Defendants have now raised the argument, and Ramirez has had the opportunity to respond, so the Court will now consider that defense.

         The Eighth Amendment “imposes duties on [prison] officials, who must provide humane conditions of confinement; prison officials must ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, and must ‘take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.'” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27 (1984)). A prison official's “‘deliberate indifference' to a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate violates the Eighth Amendment.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 828. To be liable under the Eighth Amendment, the prison official must “know[ ] of and disregard[ ] an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.” Id. at 837; see also Lawson v. Dallas Cty., 286 F.3d 257, 262 (5th Cir.2002) (“The deliberate indifference standard is a subjective inquiry; the plaintiff must establish that the jail officials were actually aware of the risk, yet consciously disregarded it.”).

         Under this standard, Magistrate Judge Kay found, and the Court agrees, that Ramirez raised a genuine issue of material fact for trial whether Defendants Williams and Rodrigues-Leon were deliberately indifferent to his safety by failing to provide him a wheelchair-accessible bathroom. However, Defendants may still prevail on summary judgment if they are entitled to qualified immunity for their actions or inactions.

         Under qualified immunity, a public employee is protected from liability if a plaintiff fails to show the deprivation of a federal right and that the defendant's misconduct violated a “clearly established statutory or constitutional right of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Importantly, once asserted by the defendant, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that the defense is inapplicable. See McCreary v. Richardson, 738 F.3d 651, 655 (5th Cir. 2013).

         Courts employ a two-step procedure to gauge the applicability of qualified immunity. These steps can be reviewed in any order, but the underlying inquiries are whether the plaintiff has alleged facts sufficient to state a constitutional violation and whether, at the time of the incident, the contours of the right were clearly established so that every reasonable officer would understand what he was doing violates that right. Cutler v. Stephen F. Austin State Univ., 767 F.3d 462, 471 (5th Cir. 2014). On the other hand, the clearly established prong does not necessarily require a case “‘directly on point.'” See Morgan v. Swanson, 659 F.3d 359, 372 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 741 (2011)). Still, precedent must have placed the pertinent constitutional issue beyond ...

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