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Marzett v. Gusman

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

August 27, 2019




         Plaintiff, Delmon Marzett, a state prisoner, filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. Because some his claims arose during his incarceration at the Orleans Justice Center in New Orleans, Louisiana, those claims were severed and transferred to this Court. Marzett v. Tigner, Civ. Action No. 1:18-CV-110, 2018 WL 3734221 (W.D. La. July 6, 2018), adopted, 2018 WL 3733614 (W.D. La. Aug. 6, 2018).[1]

         In his complaint, plaintiff stated the severed and transferred claims as follows:

On January 19, 2017, I was arrested in New Orleans and brought to the booking area of Central Lock-up. At the time, the booking officers refused to admit me to jail because my medical condition required more than their facility could provide. Because I had recently undergone knee replacement surgery and my knee was still badly swollen and appeared to be infected, the jail sent me to LSU-University Medical Center. Eventually I was released back to Orleans Parish Jail and into police custody.
After being returned to the Lock-up the deputies informed me that I was being called to appear in court. After a disagreement between the transporting officers as to the use of restraints on my legs I was fully restrained in shackles on my hands and legs that were handcuffed with a metal box at the hip which allowed no movement of my hands at all. This type of restraint demands that a prisoner with severe medical issues be assisted in every movement up or down stairs, or in or out of any vehicle.
After I was secured in full restraints and without a wheelchair, crutches or a cane, I was made to walk without assistance to a van for transport. I was in severe pain and discomfort and was very agitated telling the officers this was wrong and they were risking future damages to my knee. The officers ignored my pleas and eventually I was placed into a waiting transport van. The trip was made to the courthouse and after arrival the transporting officers stood outside the van smoking cigarettes instead of assisting me in getting out of the van. As a result I fell head first onto the concrete and was knocked unconscious. I was immediately rushed back to the LSU Medical Center. At UMC a MRI was done which indicated severe damage to my spine. I remain in severe pain and am unable to sleep for any extended period of time without waking up due to the pain. I am unable to turn my head but rather have to turn my entire body to see behind me.
I received no follow up treatment from Sheriff Gusman despite my repeated pleas to him by correspondence and phone calls from family members to be seen by medical again. As a result Sheriff Gusman was personally aware of the situation and deliberately failed to act due to his policies in place regarding outside medical assistance.[2]

         Plaintiff has properly named only one defendant with respect to the foregoing claims: Sheriff Marlin Gusman. To the extent that plaintiff also intended to sue the transporting deputies or any other jail or medical department employees, he never amended the complaint to identify those individuals and, as a result, they have never been properly named as defendants.[3]

         I. Motion for Summary Judgment

         Sheriff Gusman has now filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[4] Plaintiff opposes that motion.[5]

         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).

         A. Transportation Claim

         In this lawsuit, plaintiff claims that his rights were violated because he was transported in an unsafe manner. In connection with his motion for summary judgment, Sheriff Gusman has submitted an affidavit of Michael Laughlin regarding the applicable policy for transporting inmates. In that affidavit, Laughlin states:

1. I am employed by the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office and am commissioned at the rank of Chief.
2. I am familiar with the policies and procedures of the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office.
3. Inmates who were recently arrested and booked into the Orleans Justice Center are transported to the Criminal District Court within 48 hours of their arrest for purposes of appearing before a magistrate pursuant to La. C.Cr.P. art. 230.1.
4. All inmates in the custody of the OPSO are transported in full restraints, consisting of handcuffs, belly-chains (a belt to which handcuffs are secured at the waist to prevent vertical movement) and shackles, which are restraints placed on the ankles to prevent an individual from running, though allowing sufficient movement to walk and traverse stairs. This is done for the safety of OPSO staff, other inmates, the Court, and the general public.[6]

         In the complaint, plaintiff did not specify his theory for holding Sheriff Gusman liable with respect to his transportation claim. However, two possible theories readily spring to mind, although neither aids plaintiff.

         First, Sheriff Gusman could be held liable with respect to the transportation claim if he was personally involved in the incident giving rise to the claim. See Thompson v. Steele, 709 F.2d 381, 382 (5th Cir. 1983) (“Certainly § 1983 does not give a cause of action based on the conduct of subordinates. Personal involvement is an essential element of a civil rights cause of action.” (citation omitted)). However, there is no allegation that Sheriff Gusman was personally involved in transporting plaintiff on the occasion at issue in this case.

         Second, Sheriff Gusman could also be held liable if he was deliberately indifferent to a need to protect plaintiff from substantial risk of serious harm while being transported.[7] Specifically, under this theory, the claim would be that Sheriff Gusman failed to properly train his subordinates on safe methods of transportating restrained prisoners who, like plaintiff, suffer from mobility impairments. However, while it is true that such failure-to-train claims are generally actionable, plaintiff's allegations fall far short of what is required to state such a claim for the following reasons.

         The United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has held:

A supervisor may … be liable for failure to … train if: (1) the supervisor … failed to … train the subordinate official; (2) a causal link exists between the failure to train … and the violation of the plaintiff's rights; and (3) ...

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