United States District Court, D. Nevada
RICKIE L. HILL, Plaintiff,
WAYNE OAKLEY, Defendant.
ROBERT C. JONES, District Judge.
This case is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 for Defendant's alleged use of excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Before the Court are the Report and Recommendations ("R&R") of United States Magistrate Judge William G. Cobb (ECF No. 105, 106) relating to Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction (ECF No. 78) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 79).
This Court "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). For the reasons contained herein, the R&R on the Preliminary Injunction Motion is ACCEPTED, the R&R on the Motion for Summary Judgment is REJECTED, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
At the time relevant to this action, Plaintiff was a prisoner at Ely State Prison ("ESP") in Ely, Nevada. Defendant was a correctional officer at ESP. On October 19, 2010, Plaintiff was transferred to ESP where he would serve out a five year sentence. (Compl. 4, ECF No. 7). Plaintiff had previously spent time at ESP during which he and Defendant had a couple of disagreements. ( Id. ). Upon arrival in 2010, Plaintiff and a few other inmates waited in a hallway to be processed, while fully restrained. ( Id. ). Plaintiff was allegedly the last of the group to be stripped and classified. ( Id. ). Plaintiff claims that he was waiting in the hallway when Defendant Oakley commented "so you brought your ugly black ass back, huh?" ( Id. ). Plaintiff responded by telling Defendant to "go to Hell, " to which Defendant allegedly responded "you're in no position to be talking shit." ( Id. ).
At this point, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant hit him in his stomach with full force after which Plaintiff claims to have felt "a sharp pain in his midsection." ( Id. ). Plaintiff claims that he believed his ribs had been broken and that he later spit up blood. Plaintiff was then taken into the "property room" where he was met by Caseworker Oxborrow and Nurse Fields. Plaintiff claims that Defendant then hit him again "in view of Oxborrow/Fields, the surveillance cameras, and two inmates who rode on the bus with [him]." ( Id. at 5). After Defendant allegedly punched Plaintiff a second time, Plaintiff was led to his cell unit.
Proceeding pro se, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Defendant under Section 1983 for excessive force and violation of due process. The Complaint was screened and dismissed with leave to amend. (ECF No. 4). Plaintiff filed the Amended Complaint, which was also dismissed at the screening stage, but with prejudice. (ECF No. 9). Plaintiff appealed the dismissal. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the screening order as to the due process claim, but it reversed the dismissal as to the excessive force claim and remanded it to this Court. (ECF No. 19). The parties then engaged in discovery, after which Plaintiff filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Defendant filed the Motion for Summary Judgment.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
A principal purpose of the summary judgment rule is to "isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). A court grants summary judgment only if "the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In making this determination, the court "must draw all reasonable inferences supported by the evidence in favor of the non-moving party." Villiarimo v. Aloha Island Air, Inc., 281 F.3d 1054, 1061 (9th Cir. 2002). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). Rather, only genuine issues of material facts are relevant to the summary judgment analysis. A fact is material if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id. at 248. "The moving party bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Fairbank v. Wunderman Cato Johnson, 212 F.3d 528, 531 (9th Cir. 2000). The burden is met by demonstrating to the court "that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325. This is done by citing to depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). Once the initial burden is met, however, "Rule 56(e) requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and identify facts which show a genuine issue for trial." Fairbank, 212 F.3d at 531.
Furthermore, summary judgment is mandated "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., 477 U.S. at 322. "In such a situation, there can be no genuine issue as to any material fact, since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id. at 322-23. Conversely, where reasonable minds could differ on the facts proffered in support of a claim, summary judgment should not be granted. Petzak v. Nevada ex rel. Dep't of Corr., 579 F.Supp.2d 1330, 1333 (D. Nev. 2008). "Summary judgment is inappropriate if reasonable jurors... could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor." Diaz v. Eagle Produce Ltd. P'ship, 521 F.3d 1201, 1207 (9th Cir. 2008).
Defendant argues that Plaintiff has not established a genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether he used excessive force on October 19, 2010. In the alterative, Defendant asserts that he is entitled to qualified immunity and that the Motion for Summary Judgment may be granted independently for that reason.
A. Excessive Force
The Eighth Amendment protects prisoners from cruel and unusual punishments including the use of excessive force by prison guards. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). A prisoner claiming excessive force must allege and prove that the force applied was an "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 320 (1986). This question "ultimately turns on whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline or maliciously and sadistically for the ...