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Womack v. Smith

March 26, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge

(Judge Conner)


Presently before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 23)*fn1 with respect to the Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment claim asserted by plaintiff David Lee Womack ("Womack"). For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

I. Statement of Facts*fn2

Womack is a District of Columbia Code offender who was transferred into federal custody in 2001. He spent two years at the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas ("USP Leavenworth") before being transferred to the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania ("USP Lewisburg") on August 7, 2003. (Doc. 27 ¶¶ 9, 11; Doc. 41 ¶¶ 9, 11.) The dispute in this case centers around the decision of certain USP Lewisburg officials to place Womack in restraints from December 8, 2004 to January 3, 2005.

A. Womack's Institutional History

The propriety of the decision to restrain Womack is best evaluated in the context of Womack's institutional history, the relevant portions of which are set forth here. During his period of federal incarceration, Womack frequently exhibited disruptive behavior. While at USP Leavenworth, he received more than fifty disciplinary incident reports for offenses including assault, destruction of property, possession of dangerous weapons, refusal of orders, threats of bodily harm, and self-mutilation. (Doc. 27 ¶ 12; Doc. 41 ¶ 12.) He threatened or attempted to commit suicide on at least five occasions. (Doc. 27 ¶¶ 13, 16, 19, 25, 37, 40; Doc. 41 ¶¶ 13, 16, 19, 25, 37, 40.) USP Leavenworth officials conducted several mental health evaluations of Womack to determine the root of his misbehavior. (Doc. 27 ¶¶ 31, 41; Doc. 41 ¶¶ 31, 41.) These examinations led to the conclusion that Womack had a personality disorder that would be "a management problem wherever he [wa]s housed." (Doc. 27 ¶¶ 35, 42; Doc. 41 ¶¶ 35, 42.) Psychology staff also characterized Womack's behavior as "manipulative" and "designed to either change his environment or to elicit a staff response." (Doc. 27 ¶ 28; Doc. 41 ¶ 28.)

After his transfer to USP Lewisburg, Womack's conduct improved for several months. (Doc. 27 ¶ 44; Doc. 41 ¶ 44.) Then, on February 11, 2004, Womack was placed in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU") after staff received reports that he had stolen property from other inmates. (Doc. 27 ¶ 46; Doc. 41 ¶ 46.) Shortly after his transfer to the SHU, Womack began self-mutilating by cutting his wrists and face on his restraints and on metal portions of his cell. When this behavior persisted, he was moved to a suicide watch cell. (Doc. 27 ¶¶ 47-52; Doc. 41 ¶¶ 47-52.) He informed an institution psychologist that he would continue to harm himself "by cutting, banging his head, or biting himself" and "asked to remain in ambulatory restraints [because] such restraints help him avoid acting on impulses to harm himself." (Doc. 27 ¶¶ 58, 60; Doc. 41 ¶¶ 58, 60.)

Womack's pattern of negative behavior continued for the next six months. During this time, Womack repeatedly attempted to harm himself by cutting his wrists and face on his restraints and cell wall, attempting to hang himself with his jumpsuit, slashing at his wrists, trying to swallow a plastic spoon, and ingesting a large quantity of pills. He also threatened to destroy his cell and began defecating on the floor. He frequently lashed out at staff members by engaging in such incidents as throwing his food tray at one staff member's groin and attempting to spit in another staff member's face. He threatened physical harm to some staff members, while refusing to speak to or acknowledge others. He also hampered prison security efforts by covering the camera and window in his cell. (Doc. 27 ¶¶ 62, 63, 67, 70, 72, 73, 75, 77, 79, 83, 87, 91; Doc. 41 ¶¶ 62, 63, 67, 70, 72, 73, 75, 77, 79, 83, 87, 91.)

B. The Restraint Period

On December 8, 2004, Womack was found lying on the floor of his SHU cell. After being moved to the health services area of the institution, he reported that he had fallen while cleaning water in his cell. He was treated and returned to his cell. (Doc. 27 ¶¶ 93-96; Doc. 41 ¶¶ 93-96.) The following day, defendant Correctional Officer Kenneth Gabrielson ("Officer Gabrielson") entered Womack's cell and attempted to remove his hand restraints. Womack lunged backwards and pulled Officer Gabrielson's arm through the food slot.*fn3 (Doc. 27 ¶¶ 98-99; Doc. 41 ¶¶ 98-99.) Officer Gabrielson applied hand and leg restraints and a waist chain and escorted Womack to another cell. (Doc. 27 ¶ 102; Doc. 41 ¶ 102.) Ultimately, defendant Warden Joseph V. Smith ("Warden Smith") authorized institution staff to keep Womack in ambulatory restraints.*fn4 (Doc. 27 ¶ 104; Doc. 41 ¶ 104.) While Womack was in restraints, he was monitored by medical and correctional staff on a regular basis. (Doc. 27 ¶ 108; Doc. 41 ¶ 108.)

Beginning on December 10, 2004, Womack's conduct began to degenerate. He repeatedly refused to speak to staff members or to allow them to inspect his restraints. He tore his bedclothes and used them to cover the window to his cell. He threw food about his cell, urinated on the floor, directed profanity at staff members, and flushed his undergarments down the toilet. (Doc. 27 ¶¶ 109-111, 114, 117, 119-120; Doc. 41 ¶¶ 109-111, 114, 117, 119-120.) On December 16, 2004, Womack told staff members that they were "fucked up for not putting him in restraints earlier." (Doc. 27 ¶ 118; Doc. 41 ¶ 118.) The next day, he told staff members that they would "be sorry" if they removed his restraints. (Doc. 27 ¶ 119; Doc. 41 ¶ 119.) Four days later, on December 21, 2004, he told staff that the situation would "get worse before it gets better" and that he intended to "stay in restraints." (Doc. 27 ¶ 123; Doc. 41 ¶ 123.) On the same day, he was evaluated by a staff psychologist who confirmed that he was suffering from a personality disorder and noted that his actions appeared to be "purposeful and calculated" attempts to exert control over his situation. (Doc. 27 ¶¶ 125-126; Doc. 41 ¶¶ 125-126.) Womack made clear to the psychologist that he intended "to remain disruptive." (Doc. 27 ¶ 125; Doc. 41 ¶ 125.)

On December 22, 2004, Womack complained about the circulation in his wrists and was evaluated by medical staff. (Doc. 27 ¶ 127; Doc. 41 ¶ 127.) Thereafter, medical staff periodically loosened Womack's restraints and cleaned and bandaged his wrists, at one point noticing a "mild swelling." (Doc. 27 ¶¶ 131, 133, 137, 146-147; Doc. 41 ¶¶ 131, 133, 137, 146-147.) Yet again, Womack's negative conduct resumed. He refused to acknowledge staff and covered his restraints to prohibit inspection. He "urinated and defecated in the cell and smeared feces on the cell bars and walls" and then refused orders to clean his cell. (Doc. 27 ¶¶ 129- 130, 134-135, 139-140, 145, 147; Doc. 41 ¶¶ 129-130, 134-135, 139-140, 145, 147.) At one point, he told staff members that he would only leave the cell in a "body bag" and that they should "stop knocking on [his] door and leave [him] the fuck alone." (Doc. 27 ¶ 134; Doc. 41 ¶ 134.) By December 30, 2004, he had begun declaring that he was "wearing these chains for the people of Africa" and would wear them "for fifty days before [going] back to a regular cell without a radio." (Doc. 27 ¶ 141; Doc. 41 ¶ 141.) The following day, he refused medical staff's attempts to check his restraints and wrist wounds, telling them to "eat shit" and stating "you punk asses think you can break me but I'm not going to break." (Doc. 27 ¶ 144; Doc. 41 ¶ 144.)

On January 3, 2005, Warden Smith ordered Womack's restraints removed after Womack "agreed to attempt to conform his behavior to Bureau of Prisons rules." (Doc. 27 ¶¶ 148, 150; Doc. 41 ¶¶ 150, 150.1.) Medical staff evaluated Womack and determined that his only injuries were minor abrasions on his wrist and left ankle, which did not require medical attention. (Doc. 27 ¶ 149; Doc. 41 ¶ 149.) For thirty days after Womack's release from restraints, he was kept in high-security solitary confinement. (Doc. 41 ¶ 1.8.) On February 4, 2005, he was placed in a cell with a cell mate. (Id. ¶ 1.11.)

C. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

Shortly after receiving a cell mate, Womack requested the materials necessary to file a grievance, which he received on February 19, 2005. (Id. ΒΆΒΆ 1.13, 1.14; Doc. 42 at 4; Doc. 40, Ex. A at 5.) On March 3, 2005, he filed an informal grievance ...

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