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Moore v. Castro

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Dublin Division

January 17, 2019

JORGE CASTRO, Ex-CERT Team Officer, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, an inmate at Telfair State Prison (“TSP”) in Helena, Georgia, is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this case brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For the reasons set forth below, the Court REPORTS and RECOMMENDS Defendant Castro's motion for summary judgment be GRANTED, (doc. no. 71), a final judgment be entered in favor of Defendant, and this civil action be CLOSED.


         On February 8, 2017, the Court screened Plaintiff's complaint and directed service of process on Defendants Phillip Hall, Jacob Beasley, and Jorge Castro based on Plaintiff's allegations of deliberate indifference to his safety. (See doc. no. 7.) On April 10, 2017, those three Defendants filed a pre-answer motion to dismiss. (Doc. no. 18.) Plaintiff opposed the motion to dismiss and requested to amend his complaint, which the Court granted. (Doc. nos. 21, 22, 26.)

         Plaintiff filed his amended complaint, (doc. no. 30), which supersedes and replaces in its entirety the original pleading. See Hoefling v. City of Miami, 811 F.3d 1271, 1277 (11th Cir. 2016). Although Plaintiff originally named three Defendants, he voluntarily dismissed his claims against Warden Hall and CERT Sergeant Beasley. (See doc. no. 30, pp. 10-11.) The Court screened the amended complaint, dismissed Defendants Hall and Beasley, along with any official capacity claims for monetary damages against Defendant Castro, and allowed Plaintiff to proceed with his Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Castro. (Doc. nos. 31, 32, 37.) Defendant Castro then withdrew his motion to dismiss the original complaint and moved to dismiss the amended complaint, which the Court denied. (Doc. nos. 38, 39, 46, 48.) In ruling on the second motion to dismiss, the Court explained any claims related to alleged activities prior to the attack were raised against the two Defendants whom Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed. (Doc. no. 46, pp. 4-5.) Thus, as specifically delineated by United States District Judge Dudley H. Bowen, Jr., the case was allowed to “proceed against Defendant [Castro] only as to the individual capacity claim for money damages based on the actions taken after Inmate Norwood attacked Plaintiff.” (Doc. no. 48.)

         Defendant then timely filed his answer, and the Clerk of Court issued a Scheduling Notice setting deadlines for the case. (Doc. nos. 49, 50.) After several extensions of case deadlines, Defendant timely filed a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. no 71.) At that time, the Clerk issued a notice concerning the summary judgment motion and the summary judgment rules, the right to file affidavits or other materials in opposition, and the consequences of failing to comply with the requirements for responding. (See doc. no. 72.) Therefore, the notice requirements of Griffith v. Wainwright, 772 F.2d 822, 825 (11th Cir. 1985) (per curiam), are satisfied.

         As part of the extensive filings following Defendant's motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff submitted a document titled, “The Plaintiff Oppose the Defendant Motion for Summary Judgment Because Violation of the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. Alleging New Defense in Bad Faith.” (Doc. no. 75.) Therein, Plaintiff complains defense counsel's theory of the case set forth in the summary judgment motion does not match the explanation he received from prison officials who ruled on his grievance when the event at issue occurred over two years ago. (Id.) Consistent with the title, the Clerk of Court docketed the filing as a Response in Opposition to the summary judgment motion. However, Defendant interpreted the filing as motion for Rule 11 sanctions and filed his opposition to the perceived request. (Doc. no. 81.)

         However, the filing can in no way be interpreted as a viable motion for Rule 11 sanctions. First, under Rule 11, a motion for sanctions must be made separately from any other motion, and must not be filed or presented to the Court if the challenged filing is withdrawn or appropriately corrected within twenty-one of service on the opposing party. Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c)(2). Plaintiff did not follow the proper procedural requirements for filing a Rule 11 motion when he made his filing with the Court without first serving it on Defendant and waiting twenty-one days.

         Second, and more importantly, Plaintiff has not shown anything in Defendant's summary judgment motion was filed in bad faith, or otherwise presented for an improper purpose as contemplated by Rule 11(b). Rather, for purposes of summary judgment only, Defendant has adopted - but still disputes (doc. no. 71-4, p. 3 & n.1) - Plaintiff's version of events to argue he is entitled to summary judgment even if the Court were to accept Plaintiff's version of the facts. To the extent Plaintiff argues defense counsel has taken a different approach to the case than that of Department of Corrections officials investigating the grievance, there is no evidence as to the standard by which such internal investigations are judged, let alone that the standard is the same as applies in a § 1983 case brought in federal court. There is simply no basis for concluding the defense of a claim in federal court must mirror administrative proceedings regarding a prison grievance.

         In sum, there was no properly filed motion for Rule 11 sanctions filed. To the extent the document titled, “The Plaintiff Oppose the Defendant Motion for Summary Judgment Because Violation of the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. Alleging New Defense in Bad Faith, ” (doc. no. 75), might be liberally construed as a request for Rule 11 sanctions, the Court REPORTS and RECOMMENDS it be DENIED. (Doc. no. 75.)

         The Court turns to the summary judgment motion.

         II. FACTS

         The general outline of relevant events occurring on May 6, 2016, is undisputed. While Plaintiff was working as an ly in the F-2 dormitory at TSP, an inmate on the second floor flooded his cell, causing water to accumulate where Plaintiff was working on the first floor. When Plaintiff opened a door leading to the outdoor recreation area in order to squeegee the water out of the building, Inmate Norwood, waiting outside the door, unexpectedly attacked Plaintiff by stabbing and cutting him with a weapon. Defendant Castro did not physically interject himself between Inmate Norwood and Plaintiff, and the altercation between the two inmates did not end until another correctional officer from the F-1 dormitory joined Defendant at the scene.

         A. Plaintiff's Version of Events

         Plaintiff was assigned on May 6, 2016, as an orderly in the F-2, administrative segregation dormitory where misbehaving inmates are located, and his general duties included cleaning up showers and floors. (Pl. Dep., doc. no. 71-2, pp. 44, 46.) Inmates in F-2 could not get out of their cells and move around at will, but they were given designated recreation time in pens outside the dorm. (Id. at 45.) Two officers were assigned to F-2: Floor Officer Newberry (Ofc. Newberry) and Defendant, who was there to assist with the showers and watch inmates. (Id. at 49-50.) Plaintiff states in his “Declaration, or Affidavit of the Plaintiff, ” that to the best of his knowledge, Defendant was “a special trained officer, trained in hand to hand combat and disarming inmates with a weapon.” (Pl. Aff., doc. no. 79-8, p. 2.) There was also an officer in the Control Room, Jones. (Pl. Dep., p. 50.) Ofc. Newberry and Defendant worked in tandem to escort one inmate to the shower and the other back to his cell. (Id. at 52.)

         While Plaintiff was performing his orderly duties, he saw Ofc. Newberry and Defendant run the showers and take inmates to the outside recreation yard. (Id. at 53-54.) Eventually, Ofc. Newberry left Defendant to run the showers by himself when Ofc. Newberry went to the central station for lunch. (Id. at 53, 59.) Plaintiff was buffing the floor when he saw water running down from the second floor to the first while Defendant was by himself running the shower, so Plaintiff went to ask Ofc. Newberry at the central station to come back and open the back door so Plaintiff could push the water out. (Id. at 59.) Ofc. Newberry acknowledged Plaintiff's request, but stayed in the central station. (Id. at 59, 62.) While standing by the showers, at the opposite end of the dorm from the back door, waiting for an inmate to finish, Defendant told Plaintiff to go to the back door, and Defendant would tell the control room officer to open it. (Id. at 63, 67-69, 71 & Dep. Ex. 7.) Plaintiff told Defendant he had to open the door, but Defendant told Plaintiff to push the door open. (Id. at 63, 67.) The door initially would not open, so Defendant told Plaintiff to push again. (Id. at 68.) When the door opened, Inmate Norwood attacked Plaintiff with a knife. (Id. at 68, 71.)

         Defendant was standing at the showers when Inmate Norwood attacked Plaintiff in the doorway from the recreation yard to the dorm. (Id. at 72.) Facing his attacker, Plaintiff “was just fighting him off. He hitting and [Plaintiff was] fighting the knife off on this side because he . . . . everything is on this side because [Plaintiff] would not turn. [Plaintiff] turned, fighting him off . . . .” (Id. at 73.) Defendant ran toward Plaintiff with his “taser and stuff, ” and Plaintiff said to Defendant, “Help me, man.” (Id. at 74.) However, when Defendant got within fifteen feet of the altercation, he “dropped the radio and turned and ran back and left [Plaintiff].” (Id. at 75.) Defendant had a Taser and pepper spray with him. (Pl. Aff., p. 2.)

         Plaintiff “went back to trying to fight” and does not know how much time passed before Defendant came back with another officer. (Id. at 76.) Plaintiff does not know exactly how much time passed during the attack but estimates the time Defendant was gone at “a little while, ” maybe five minutes, but not ten minutes, before he came back with another officer. (Id. at 76, 77.) Plaintiff does not know where Defendant went when he left, but in the interim Plaintiff managed to break away from Inmate Norwood, who was “holding [Plaintiff] while he was stabbing [him].” (Id. at 78.) Plaintiff initially could not get away because Inmate Norwood was holding Plaintiff by the shirt collar and hitting him with the other hand. (Id. at 78-79.)

         After Plaintiff broke free of Inmate Norwood's hold on his shirt collar, he fell to one knee. (Id.) As Plaintiff got back up, Defendant and another officer returned, and Defendant put out his Taser and told Inmate Norwood to drop his weapon, which he did. (Id. at 79-80.) As a result of the attack, Plaintiff sustained a bruised knee and cuts to his head, behind his ear, over his eye, and on his arm. (Id. at 90.) After receiving stiches and staples for his cuts, Plaintiff's wounds healed within approximately six to eight weeks. (Id. at 93.)

         B. Defendant's Version of Events

         Defendant was employed as a correctional officer assigned to work as a member of the TSP CERT Team on May 6, 2016. (Def. Decl. I, doc. no. 71-3, ¶ 2.) That day, he carried a Taser and O.C. spray with him on duty. (Id., ¶ 7; Def. Decl. II, doc. no. 87-1, ¶ 7.) As a correctional officer, Defendant received training prior to May 6th on how to respond to inmate-on-inmate physical altercations, to include use of force, use of a Taser, and use of O.C. spray. (Def. Decl. I, ¶ 4; Def. Decl. II, ¶ 6.) Regardless of whether the physical altercation began as a fight or unprovoked attack by one inmate against another, Defendant had been instructed to always have a backup officer present before attempting physical intervention and to never attempt to break up or interject himself between fighting inmates without the presence of a backup officer. (Def. Decl. I, ¶ 4; Def. Decl. II, ¶ 5.) No inmates, including Plaintiff, were present during his training. (Def. Dec. II, ¶ 6.) Inmates have not been permitted, since at least August 2014, to be present or observe officer training on security protocols, including use of force, use of a Taser, use of O.C. spray, or responding to inmate-on-inmate physical altercations, because of the serious risk such observation would pose for prison security, as well as for the safety of inmates and staff. (Williams Decl., doc. no. 87-2, ¶¶ 3-4.)

         During his training, Defendant learned several reasons for the policy not to attempt to break up a physical altercation between inmates without a backup officer present: (1) the altercation might be a ploy to lure an officer into the fray; (2) the inmates might quit fighting each other and turn the altercation into a two-on-one attack on a lone officer; and (3) the inmates might overpower or incapacitate on an officer, disarm the officer, or take the officer's keys, resulting in exposing the officer to further attack, an unguarded ...

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