United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division
LAWSON, SENIOR JUDGE
Arnold Johnson filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, alleging that on June 23, 2009, while
incarcerated at Valdosta State Prison (“VSP”),
Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to
timely intervene when Plaintiff's cellmate attacked
This case is now before the Court on the Recommendation of
United States Magistrate Judge Thomas Q. Langstaff. (Doc.
141). The Magistrate Judge recommends denying Defendants'
Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 130). Defendants object,
arguing that the Magistrate Judge erred (1) in finding that a
genuine issue of material fact remains regarding the
reasonableness of Defendants' response to the attack on
Plaintiff; and (2) in concluding that Defendants are not
entitled to qualified immunity. (Doc. 142). Upon conducting a
de novo review of the portions of the Recommendation to which
Defendants' object, the Court overrules the objections
and ADOPTS the Recommendation. The Court
DENIES Defendants' Motion for Summary
Judgment. (Doc. 130).
Magistrate Judge thoroughly set forth the facts and the
procedural history of this case in his Recommendation.
Accordingly, the Court will not endeavor to repeat them here.
objections to the Recommendation are limited to two points.
First, Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to
establish an Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim
and that the Magistrate Judge erred in determining that there
is any dispute of material fact concerning their intervention
between Plaintiff and his cellmate. Second, Defendants
contend that the Magistrate Judge erred in denying them
qualified immunity, arguing that there is no clearly
established body of law that would place them on notice that
their conduct was unlawful.
Failure to Intervene
prison official's ‘deliberate indifference' to
a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate violates the
Eighth Amendment.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S.
825, 828 (1994); see also Harmon v. Berry, 728 F.2d
1407, 1409 (11th Cir. 1984) (“Prisoners have a
constitutional right to be protected from violence while in
custody.”). The Eighth Amendment imposes a duty on
prison officials “to protect prisoners from violence at
the hands of other prisoners.” Id. at 833
(internal quotation marks omitted). “It is not,
however, every injury suffered by one inmate at the hands of
another that translates into constitutional liability for
prison officials responsible for the victim's
safety.” Id. at 834. Rather, an Eighth
Amendment violation “will occur when a substantial risk
of serious harm, of which the official is subjectively aware,
exists and the official does not respond[ ] reasonably to
that risk.” Marsh v. Butler County, Ala., 268
F.3d 1014, 1028 (11th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted).
order to rise to the level of a constitutional violation, a
prison official “must have been deliberately
indifferent to a known danger before we can say that [his]
failure to intervene offended evolving standards of
decency.” Brown v. Hughes, 894 F.2d 1533, 1537
(11th Cir. 1990) (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). To survive summary judgment, a plaintiff must
“produce evidence of (1) a substantial risk of serious
harm; (2) the defendant[‘s] deliberate indifference to
that risk; and (3) causation.” Goodman v.
Kimbrough, 718 F.3d 1325, 1331 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting
Carter v. Galloway, 352 F.3d 1346, 1349 (11th Cir.
2003)). In the context of a failure to intervene claim, the
Eleventh Circuit has held that “[e]ven when an officer
is not a participant in the [altercation], he can still be
held liable if he fails to take reasonable steps to protect
the victim.” Ledlow v. Givens, 500 Fed.Appx.
910, 914 (11th Cir. 2012) (citing Skritch v.
Thornton, 280 F.3d 1295, 1301 (11th Cir. 2002)).
“The plaintiff has the burden to demonstrate that the
defendant was in a position to intervene but failed to do
so.” Id. (citing Hadley v. Gutierrez,
526 F.3d 1324, 1330-31 (11th Cir. 2008)).
do not object to the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that
Plaintiff met his burden of producing evidence sufficient to
establish the objective element that during the altercation
with his cellmate he faced a substantial risk of serious
harm. Defendants do object to the Magistrate Judge's
finding that a material question of fact exists concerning
the length of time it took for Defendants to intervene in the
altercation and the reasonableness of their response.
Defendants argue that the Magistrate Judge erred in ignoring
evidence of the reasonableness of their response under the
circumstances and that they followed established protocol for
responding to inmates fighting. However, the Recommendation
very specifically sets forth the steps taken by Defendants in
responding to the situation. Rather, it is Defendants'
position that ignores Plaintiff's testimony that the
officers remained outside of the cell for several minutes,
knowing that Plaintiff was under attack yet doing nothing.
Court concurs with the Magistrate Judge's assessment
that, were a jury to credit Plaintiff's testimony, the
jury could conclude that Defendants were subjectively aware
of the risk faced by Plaintiff and infer that Defendants
disregarded that risk by remaining outside of the cell for a
number of minutes without intervening. Whether or not
Defendants had the opportunity to intervene earlier, and
whether the delay in intervening was reasonable, is
materially disputed and must be determined by a jury.
Accordingly, summary judgment is not appropriate.
immunity offers complete protection for government officials
sued in their individual capacities “insofar as their
conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800,
818 (1982). Accordingly, qualified immunity “balances
two important interests - the need to hold public officials
accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the
need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and
liability when they perform their duties reasonably.”
Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009).
“When properly applied, [qualified immunity] protects
all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly
violate the law.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563
U.S. 731, 743 (2011) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Nevertheless, the defense does not protect an official who
“knew or reasonably should have known that the action
he took within his sphere of official responsibility would
violate the constitutional rights of the [plaintiff], or if
he took the action with the malicious intention to cause a
deprivation of constitutional rights or other injury.”
Wood v. Strickland, 420 U.S. 308, 322 (1975)
(alternation in original).
receive qualified immunity, the official first must
“prove that he was acting within the scope of his
discretionary authority when the allegedly wrongful acts
occurred.” Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1194
(11th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted). Once the
official establishes that he was engaged in a
“discretionary function, ” the burden shifts to
the plaintiff “to show that the defendant is
not entitled to qualified immunity.”
Holloman ex rel. Holloman v. Harland, 370 F.3d 1252,
1264 (11th Cir. 2004) (emphasis in original). To demonstrate
that the official is not entitled to qualified immunity, the
plaintiff must show (1) that the official violated a
constitutional right; and (2) that the constitutional right
violated was “clearly established” at the time of
the alleged violation. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S.
194, 201 (2001); Holloman, 370 F.3d at 1264.
plaintiff can demonstrate that the right violated was clearly
established in three ways. First, the conduct involved in the
case may “so obviously violate[ ] th[e] constitution
that prior case law is unnecessary.” Terrell v.
Smith, 668 F.3d 1244, 1257 (11th Cir. 2012). Second, the
plaintiff may show that “a materially similar case has
already been decided” at the time of the alleged
incident by the United States Supreme Court, the Eleventh
Circuit, or the Georgia Supreme Court. Id. at 1255.
In assessing whether the law is clearly established, courts
ask whether the factual scenario faced by the official
“is fairly distinguishable from the circumstances
facing a government official in a previous case. If so, the
cases are not materially similar and, thus, provide
insufficient notice to the official to clearly establish the
law.” Id. at 1256. And third, a plaintiff may
point to a “broader, clearly established principle
[that] should control the novel facts.” Id.
However, the principle must be established ...