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Meier v. Sgt. Austin Clark County Jail

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

May 18, 2018

BILLY J. MEIER, Plaintiff,
v.
SGT. AUSTIN CLARK COUNTY JAIL and CLARK COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE CUSTODY BRANCH, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          J. RICHARD CREATURA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights matter has been referred to Magistrate Judge J. Richard Creatura pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 636 (b)(1)(A) and (B) and Local Magistrate Judge Rules MJR 1, MJR 3, and MJR 4. Before the Court is defendants' motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 16.

         Plaintiff Billy J. Meier filed a complaint alleging that his constitutional rights were violated when defendant “Sgt. Austin” “slammed” him into a wall, pulled his arm behind his back with “more force than necessary, ” and gave him a black eye. However, plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, and so the Court cannot grant relief on his claims. Further, plaintiff has provided no evidence that defendant Austin's actions were objectively unreasonable because he has provided no evidence of any unlawful action other than the general and unsubstantiated allegations in his complaint. Finally, plaintiff names the Clark County Sheriff's Office (Custody Branch) (“Sheriff's Office”) as a defendant, but the Sheriff's Office is not a “person” under § 1983 and so cannot be liable. Reading the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the Court concludes that he has not stated a claim on which relief can be granted and so the Court recommends that defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 16) be granted.

         BACKGROUND and PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff initially filed his complaint in April of 2017. Dkt. 1. He alleges that defendant Austin violated his constitutional rights, but does not specifically name which right was allegedly violated. Dkt. 3.

         The parties do not dispute that, on February 22, 2017, defendant Austin and non-party Hatcher entered plaintiff's cell for inspection. Dkt. 3 at 3; Dkts. 17, 18. Plaintiff and two other prisoners were in the cell. Id. Upon inspection, Hatcher discovered two tumblers full of “pruno, ” a combination of water and food-waste left to ferment and produce alcohol. Id. Defendant Austin also discovered a third tumbler of pruno. Id. When asked whose pruno it was, none of the prisoners immediately answered, but plaintiff eventually admitted it was his. Id. Defendant Austin issued an infraction and received instructions that plaintiff was to be re-housed. Id. Here, plaintiff and defendants' accounts differ.

         Plaintiff alleges in his complaint, with no supporting declarations, affidavits, or other evidence, that defendant Austin returned to his cell and ordered plaintiff to “roll [his] shit up” because he was being rehoused. Dkt. 3 at 3. Plaintiff stayed on the edge of his bunk, about to ask defendant Austin a question, when defendant Austin and non-party Hatcher allegedly pulled plaintiff from his bed. Id. Defendant Austin then allegedly “slammed” him against the wall and pulled his arm behind his back “with more force than necessary considering the fact [he] wasn't even struggling.” Id. Defendant Austin also allegedly punched plaintiff in his left eye, causing a black eye. Id.

         Defendant Austin, in contrast, states that he returned to plaintiff's cell and ordered plaintiff to pack up in preparation for re-housing. Dkt. 18. Plaintiff did not move and began to become agitated. Id. Defendant Austin and non-party Hatcher placed their hands on plaintiff's wrists, and plaintiff allegedly began to resist violently. Id. Eventually, defendant Austin was able to restrain plaintiff without incident. Id. He states that plaintiff suffered no injury, and that neither defendant Austin nor any other correctional officer hit or struck plaintiff. Id.

         Defendants have submitted evidence that plaintiff had a black eye shortly after the incident. Dkt. 20-7. However, defendants have also submitted evidence showing plaintiff striking himself in the left-eye multiple times while he was alone in a holding cell, immediately after the incident but before being examined by medical staff. Dkt. 20, Ex. 6.

         Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 16. Plaintiff did not file a response or any additional evidence to support the assertions in his complaint, and defendants have also not filed anything in addition. See Dkt.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The purpose of summary judgment is to avoid unnecessary trials when there is no dispute over the material facts before the court and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Zweig v. Hearst Corp., 521 F.2d 1129, 1136 (9th Cir. 1975), overruled on other grounds by Hollinger v. Titan Capital Corp., 914 F.2d 1564 (9th Cir. 1990). The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if the evidence produced by the parties permits only one conclusion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251 (1986). To determine if summary judgment is appropriate, the court must consider whether particular facts are material and whether there is a genuine dispute as to the material facts left to be resolved. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The materiality of a given fact is determined by the required elements of the substantive law under which the claims are brought. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Factual disputes that do not affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will not be considered. Id. Where there is a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the non-moving party's case on which the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, all other facts are rendered immaterial, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254 (“the judge must view the evidence presented through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden”). Further, if the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof at trial, the moving party can prevail by pointing out that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 f.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007). However, when presented with a motion for summary judgment, the court shall review the pleadings and evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (citation omitted), and “a pro se complaint will be liberally construed . . . .” Pena v. Gardner, 976 F.2d 469, 471 (9th Cir. 1992) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)) (other citation omitted).

         Once the moving party has carried its burden under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, the party opposing the motion must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The opposing party cannot rest solely on his pleadings but must produce significant, probative evidence in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material that would allow a reasonable jury to find in his favor. Id. at n.11; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50. In other words, the purpose of summary judgment “is not to replace conclusory allegations of the complaint or answer with conclusory allegations of an affidavit.” Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). However, weighing ...


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