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Henry v. Thomas

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 9, 2017

SIDDEEQ BASIL HENRY
v.
JOHN THOMAS, et al.

          MEMORANDUM

          THOMAS N. O'NEILL, JR., J.

         Pro se prisoner plaintiff Siddeeq Basil Henry brings § 1983 claims against defendant prison officials Arthur Johnson and L. Williams. Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 34.[1] He claims their actions violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and First Amendment right to free speech.[2] Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, Dkt. No. 52, to which plaintiff responded, Dkt. No. 58. For the following reasons, I will grant defendants' motion.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment will be granted “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating 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); see Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. If the movant sustains its burden, the nonmovant must set forth facts demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. A fact is “material” if it might affect the outcome of the case under governing law. Id.

         To establish “that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed, ” a party must:

(A) cit[e] to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or
(B) show[ ] that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1). The adverse party must raise “more than a mere scintilla of evidence in its favor” in order to overcome a summary judgment motion and cannot survive by relying on unsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions. Williams v. Borough of W. Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989). “At the summary judgment stage, facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a ‘genuine' dispute as to those facts.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007), quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'” Id., quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986).

         I. Excessive Force Claim Against Johnson

         Plaintiff claims Corrections Officer Johnson used excessive force against him when he choked, elbowed and tightly handcuffed plaintiff. However, because Johnson's actions followed plaintiff's aggressive assault of Johnson in a prison hallway-punching him in the head four times-and because plaintiff did not suffer serious injuries, no reasonable jury could conclude, on the evidence before me, that officer Johnson acted “maliciously and sadistically to cause harm” rather than “in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, ” as required to establish an Eighth Amendment claim for excessive force. Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7 (1992). I will therefore grant defendants' motion for summary judgment with respect to plaintiff's claim against Johnson.

         A. Background

         Plaintiff was heading toward the prison yard when Johnson confronted him and asked where he was going. Henry Dep. at 9:19-24. They began to argue, and Johnson told plaintiff “they didn't call the F-ing yard yet, go back to [your] housing unit.” Id. at 10:4-7. Plaintiff then assaulted Johnson, punching him in the head at least four times. Id. at 10:8-10; Dkt. No. 52, Ex. 2 (Video, 9 Corridor A, July 24, 2013) at 00:19-24. Immediately, Johnson and a guard standing with him began to struggle to restrain plaintiff and pin him against the wall. Id. at 00:22-28. Multiple guards emerged and attempted to restrain plaintiff, who struggled with them. Id. at 00:25-54; Henry Dep. at 10:10-14. Portions of the video are dark and plaintiff's body is out of view behind the swarm of officers around him. Plaintiff appears to be resisting the officers for at least twenty seconds. Video at 00:25-45. It is not clear from the video when plaintiff ceases to struggle against the officers. Id. at 00:48-1:57. It is also not clear from the video at what point plaintiff was securely handcuffed. Id. at 00:29-1:05. Plaintiff was on the ground for about a minute and half. Id. 00:31-1:57; Henry Dep. at 27:20-22.

         Plaintiff testified that Johnson put him in tight handcuffs that cut his wrists, only taking them off twenty minutes later. Id. at 11:23-12:3. He also testified that, during the take-down but after he was handcuffed, on the ground and subdued, Johnson choked him for approximately five seconds and elbowed him twice in the nose. Id. at 11:1-20. The video shows that while plaintiff is on the floor, Johnson, who unlike the other officers in the area is wearing a white shirt, placed his hands beside or around plaintiff's neck and kept them there for approximately ten seconds. Video at 1:36-1:46. Shortly after he removed them, the officers lifted plaintiff into a standing position and moved him to a standing position against the wall. Id. at 1:46-2:11. They then escorted him through a door and out of the hallway. Id. at 2:14-19. Plaintiff was taken to the prison's medical facility, where pictures were taken of his injuries and blood was cleaned from his face. Henry Dep. at 13:16-22.

         B. Discussion

         In order to establish an Eighth Amendment claim for excessive or unjustified force, a plaintiff must show that the force was not “applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline” but rather was used “maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.” Hudson, 503 U.S. at 7. “[C]orrections officers must balance the need to maintain or restore discipline through force against the risk of injury to inmates. Both situations may require prison officials to act quickly and decisively. Likewise, both implicate the principle that ‘prison administrators . . . should be accorded wide-ranging deference in the adoption and execution of policies and practices that in their judgment are needed to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security.'” Id. at 6, quoting Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 321-22 (1986). In determining whether force is excessive in violation of the Eighth Amendment, a court must consider the following factors:

(1) the need for the application of the force; (2) the relationship between the need and the amount of force that was used; (3) the extent of injury inflicted; (4) the extent of the threat to the safety of staff and inmates, as reasonably perceived by responsible officials on the basis of the facts known to them; and (5) any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response.

Brooks v. Kyler, 204 F.3d 102, 106 (3d Cir. 2000), quoting Whitley, 475 U.S. at 321.

         I view the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff and take as true that plaintiff was choked, elbowed in the face, and cut by the handcuffs. See McDowell v. Sheerer, 374 F. App'x 288, 292-93 (3d Cir. 2010) (taking plaintiff's testimony as true where the court was “unable to determine from the videos whether [the plaintiff] is resisting the officers or to determine the amount of force used on him. We cannot make this determination because [the plaintiff] is forced to the ground early in the confrontation, and the view of his body is completely obstructed by the bodies of at least five officers while they handcuff and shackle him”). The video does not contradict plaintiff's testimony, as plaintiff is largely obscured during parts of the incident. I therefore take plaintiff's testimony as true for the purposes of defendants' motion.

         Nonetheless, I conclude that no reasonable jury could find that Johnson's conduct was sadistic and malicious rather than taken in a good-faith effort to restore discipline. Each of the ...


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