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Mercer v. Prator

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

October 29, 2018




          Mark L. Hornsby, U.S. Magistrate Judge


         Todd H. Mercer (“Plaintiff”) is a self-represented inmate who was formerly housed as a pretrial detainee at the Caddo Correctional Center (“CCC”). Plaintiff's primary complaint is that, during the approximately one year he was housed at CCC, he was exposed to black mold in the showers and on blue mats provided for sleeping. Plaintiff alleges that the exposure has caused respiratory and other health problems. Before the court are competing motions for summary judgment (Docs. 97 and 100). For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that Plaintiff's motion be denied and that Defendants' motion be granted.

         Summary Judgment Burdens

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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. Pro. 56(a). A fact is “material” if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510 (1986). A dispute is “genuine” if there is sufficient evidence so that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for either party. Anderson, supra; Hamilton v. Segue Software Inc., 232 F.3d 473, 477 (5th Cir. 2000).

         The party seeking summary judgment has the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those parts of the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1986). If the moving party carries his initial burden, the burden then falls upon the nonmoving party to demonstrate the existence of a genuine dispute of a material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1355-56 (1986).

         Most motions for summary judgment are filed by defendants, but Plaintiff has filed his own motion in this case. Plaintiff bears the burden of proving his claims at trial. To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, he must present evidence that would entitle him to judgment as a matter of law if it went uncontroverted at trial. International Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d. 1257, 1264 (5th Cir. 1991). All facts and inferences are viewed in the light most favorable to the defendant, and all reasonable doubts are resolved in the defense's favor. Puckett v. Rufenacht, Bromagen & Hertz, Inc., 903 F.2d 1014, 1016 (5th Cir. 1990).

         Relevant Facts

         A. The Complaint

         A summary judgment challenge requires one to go beyond his complaint and present competent summary judgment evidence, but a summary of the allegations in the complaint is useful as a background for the dispute. Plaintiff's original complaint named as defendants Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator, Bossier Parish Sheriff Julian Whittington, and the wardens at the jails in those two parishes. Plaintiff alleged that his primary complaint was “gross negligence and endangerment with exposure to black mold” while housed at the two facilities. He alleged that at CCC the showers had black mold growing on the tile, in the mortar, and on the floors and ceilings. He also alleged that blue mats provided for sleeping were “covered with black mold.” He made similar allegations regarding the Bossier jail. Plaintiff asked that the court order the removal of the harmful materials and award him $20, 000, 000 in damages.

         Plaintiff later filed an amended complaint and stated that he would continue this civil action against Sheriff Prator and the CCC officials, but he would pursue his complaint regarding conditions at the Bossier jail in a separate civil action. He later filed that action, and Magistrate Judge Hayes recommended it be dismissed as frivolous and for failing to state a claim on which relief could be granted. Mercer v. Whittington, 5:16-cv-1272, 2016 WL 8222012 (W.D. La. 2016). Judge Foote adopted that recommendation and dismissed the case. 2017 WL 507621 (W.D. La. 2017).

         Plaintiff alleged, with respect to the Caddo Parish defendants, that he was housed at CCC from August 6, 2014 through October 15, 2015. He claimed there was “constant daily exposure to black mold” during those 14 months from the mold found in the shower areas and on the blue mats. He claimed that the exposure caused him to suffer chronic dry cough, sneezing, irritation to his eyes and mucous membranes, and related symptoms. Plaintiff later filed a clarification as to the defendants who are named in this civil action. Doc. 40. Those six defendants-Sheriff Prator, Commander Wyche, Sergeant Dunn, Sergeant Hall, Deputy Fair, and Deputy Herrington-have joined in a motion for summary judgment.

         B. Defendants' Summary Judgment Evidence

         Sheila Wright has been the CCC Health Services Director since 1994. Defendants offer her affidavit in support of their motion. Ms. Wright testifies that she is in a position where she would be aware if inmates were diagnosed with respiratory problems associated with mold. She states that there “has never been such a diagnosis” by a physician or other medical personnel to her knowledge. With respect to Plaintiff, he “did not ever report any difficulties related to mold, nor did he report any ...

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