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Rodriguez v. Clupper

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

March 18, 2019

HJALMAR RODRIGUEZ, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
DEREK CLUPPER, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          MARC T. TREADWELL, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         In a 31-page Recommendation, United States Magistrate Judge Charles H. Weigle recommends denying the Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment (Doc. 235) and granting in part and denying in part the Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 233). Doc. 289 at 1. The Recommendation states the relevant facts in detail, and the Court does not repeat them here. Very generally, the Plaintiff's claims arise from three incidents. One involves the alleged use of excessive force by an officer when he slammed a “tray flap”-a 5-inch by 12-inch opening in the Plaintiff's cell door- onto the Plaintiff's hand and the alleged subsequent inadequate medical care for his hand injury. Id. at 2; Doc. 233-2 at 7:14-17. The second involves the alleged retaliation against the Plaintiff for his use of the prison grievance system. Id. Finally, the third incident involves the alleged inadequate medical care for a bullet that was stuck inside the Plaintiff's leg. Doc. 289 at 2-3. The Magistrate Judge recommends that the Plaintiff's deliberate indifference claim related to his hand injury against Defendant Burnside be dismissed and his remaining claims proceed to trial. Id. at 1. The remaining claims are: (1) an excessive force claim against Defendant Clupper; (2) retaliation claims against Defendants Clupper, Kyles, Powell and Logan; and (3) a deliberate indifference claim against Defendant Burnside related to the embedded bullet in the Plaintiff's leg. Id. Both the Plaintiff and the Defendants have objected to the Recommendation.[1] Docs. 293; 294. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court has considered the objections and made a de novo determination of the portions of the Recommendation to which the parties object.[2] For the following reasons, the Recommendation (Doc. 289) is ADOPTED.

         In their objection, the Defendants “do not object to the recommendation regarding Plaintiff's medical deliberate indifference claims” against Defendant Burnside. Doc. 293 at 2. Instead, they argue the Magistrate Judge erred in recommending summary judgment be denied on the Plaintiff's excessive force and retaliation claims because the Magistrate Judge relied on alleged facts not supported by the record. Id. On the contrary, it is clear from the Defendants' objection that the Defendants either do not understand the reasoning behind the Magistrate Judge's findings or are unfamiliar with the record, or both.

         For example, to rebut the Plaintiff's excessive force claim, the Defendants contend there is no evidence that the “Plaintiff broke his left pinky finger.”[3] Id. That is true, given that the hand at issue is the Plaintiff's right hand. Doc. 233-2 at 18:22-4, 19 at 11-12 (the Plaintiff testifying at his deposition that he felt pain on his right hand, not his left). Assuming the Defendants meant to say the Plaintiff's right pinky finger, their argument still fails.

         It is undisputed that on December 19, 2013, Defendant Clupper closed a “tray flap” onto the Plaintiff's right hand. As a result, the Plaintiff suffered injuries.

         Specifically, the Plaintiff stated the following at his deposition:

Q: These shooting pains that you mentioned, where do you feel them in your hand, just all over or specific- A: From the right side of-the right side of my hand up to my pinky finger. It was my right hand- Q: And the pinky finger is the one that you think was broken?
A: -yes, ma'am.
Q: Do you think anything else was broken in the incident?
A: I wouldn't know.

Doc. 233-2 at 18:22-8. Over a year later, an x-ray of the Plaintiff's right hand revealed a healed fracture of the “4th metacarpal” or “ring” finger. Doc. 113-2 at 11. Given these facts, the Defendants seem to believe that because the x-ray results do not show that the Plaintiff's right pinky finger was broken and because the Plaintiff did not say at his deposition that his right “metacarpal” or “ring” finger was broken, that undercuts his excessive force claim. Doc. 293 at 2.

         However, as the Plaintiff acknowledged at his deposition, “it felt” like his hand was broken; he did not know, and certainly cannot be expected to know, whether his fingers, including his “metacarpal” or “ring” finger, were actually broken. Doc. 233-2 at 18:12-15. All he knew was that on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most extreme, the pain level was a 10 for what he described as a “swelled up” and “purple-ish” hand. Id. at 10:5-13. Moreover, there is additional evidence to connect the tray flap incident to the broken “ring” finger. Though the Defendants rely only on the Plaintiff's deposition testimony, the Plaintiff, in one of his medical requests, stated that due to the incident, “it hurts to bend” his fingers, including his “right pinky and ring finger.” Doc. 116-5 at 3. Thus, given the Plaintiff's testimony, subsequent grievances, medical records and medical service requests, a jury could reasonably find that the Plaintiff sustained a fractured metacarpal bone on his right hand during the tray flap incident.

         The Defendants also argue that because the record shows the prison enforces a strict prohibition against “bucking the flap” and that the Plaintiff “bucked the flap, ” the Magistrate Judge erred in concluding otherwise. Doc. 293 at 3-4. The Court disagrees. Contrary to the Defendants' assertion that the Magistrate Judge “discounted Plaintiff's own sworn testimony, ” the Magistrate Judge did consider the Plaintiff's deposition testimony in concluding a jury could reasonably find that the Plaintiff did not “buck the flap” and that the prison did not regularly enforce its prohibition against “bucking the flap.” Docs. 289 at 15, 24; 293 at 4. At his deposition, the Plaintiff explained that “bucking the flap” means “[n]ot letting the officer close the flap.”[4] Doc. 233-2 at 10:20-23. The Plaintiff then recalled an instance in which he “bucked the flap” to get a supervisor's attention. Id. at 11:20-25. According to the Plaintiff, inmates usually “buck the flap” to get a supervisor to come to their wing because “any time an officer is getting ready to use force or needs to use force, ” that officer must first notify a supervisor. Id. at 9:3-6, 10:2-8. In that previous occasion, everything went smoothly for the Plaintiff. He placed his hand on the tray flap, an officer radioed his supervisor to come to the Plaintiff's cell, and after the Plaintiff and the supervisor talked, the supervisor addressed the Plaintiff's concern. Id. at 11:1-7.

         Thinking the same would happen here, the Plaintiff placed his hand on the tray flap so that Defendant Clupper, who allegedly had been ignoring him, would contact his supervisor. Id. at 7-8. But rather than calling his supervisor, Defendant Clupper allegedly “slam[med]” the tray flap onto the Plaintiff's hand without giving sufficient warning. Id. at 9:4-7. The parties do not dispute that the Plaintiff placed his hand on the tray flap. However, as the Magistrate Judge points out, a jury could reasonably find that the Plaintiff placed his hand on the tray flap not to prevent Defendant Clupper from closing the flap but to get Defendant Clupper's and his supervisor's attention. Doc. 289 at 24. A reasonable jury could also find that the Plaintiff, after getting Defendant Clupper's attention, had little or no opportunity to remove his hand until after Defendant Clupper had already closed and reopened the flap. In short, there are genuine factual issues not only as to whether the Plaintiff “bucked the flap” but also as to whether there was even a need or authority to use force, particularly given the ...


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