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Jackson v. Kotter

September 2, 2008

MICHAEL F. JACKSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
OFFICER KOTTER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Terre Haute Division. No. 97 C 157-John Daniel Tinder, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kanne, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED APRIL 4, 2008

Before POSNER, KANNE, and ROVNER, Circuit Judges.

After suffering back injuries on two occasions while incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, Michael Jackson brought a lawsuit against employees of the prison. He raised a negligence claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), see 28 U.S.C. § 2679, and constitutional claims pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Jackson amended his original complaint to name the United States as the proper defendant of his FTCA action, but the district court dismissed the claim against the United States because the amendment was filed after the applicable six-month statute of limitations specified in 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b)(1). Jackson appeals the district court's dismissal of the United States, as well as the district court's dismissal of three individual defendants; its grant of summary judgment in favor of Physician's Assistant ("P.A.") Williams, whom Jackson alleged was deliberately indifferent to his medical needs; its refusal to allow an amendment naming a new defendant after the applicable statute of limitations had expired; and its refusal to assist Jackson in securing counsel. We affirm all of the district court's decisions except for its dismissal of the United States of America in the FTCA action, because Jackson's amendment naming the United States related back to his original pleading, which was timely filed. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c).

I. HISTORY

Jackson suffered injuries on two occasions while incarcerated at the Terre Haute penitentiary. On May 16, 1996, the day Jackson was transferred to the facility, he fell while walking across a freshly mopped floor. At the time, Jackson was being escorted to his housing unit by four officers-Bushy, Gregg, Robinson, and an unknown individual-with his hands cuffed behind his back. The officers walked behind Jackson and two other prisoners as they cautiously crossed the wet floor, but according to Jackson, the officers did not place their hands on the inmates to help them maintain balance. Because his hands were cuffed behind his back, Jackson was unable to break his fall when he slipped, and he landed "full force" on the concrete floor. As Jackson laid on the floor, one officer ordered him to get up. Another officer grabbed Jackson's cuffs and arms to help him to his feet. As he was being helped up, Jackson began experiencing back pain, which worsened after the officers left the area. Jackson had difficulty sitting and bending over, and the stretches he attempted provided him no relief. Jackson was seen by a physician's assistant and given pain medication. When the pain did not subside, Jackson was taken for an x-ray and referred to orthopedics. He did regular exercises and took medication for the pain for a prolonged period (at least until December 16, 1997).

A second incident occurred on October 8, 1996, when Jackson was escorted out of his cell for a strip search. The details of this incident are not at issue in this appeal, so a condensed version of the facts will suffice. Jackson alleged that Officers Kotter and Grenier, and Counselor Rodriguez, used excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment by pressing him against a window, dragging him down the hall, ramming him against walls, and dragging him down a stairway. Jackson also alleged that a lieutenant watched the guards as they did these things, and failed to intervene.

Later that day or early the next morning (Jackson's affidavit suggests it was the same day, but prison medical records indicate it was the following morning at 7:30 a.m.), Jackson talked with P.A. Williams during Williams's medical rounds. Jackson says he told Williams about his back and the incident with the guards, and explained to Williams that he needed an x-ray. Jackson alleges that Williams told him that nothing was wrong with his back, and refused to give Jackson the pain medication he took on a daily basis for his back pain.

Having not received the medical treatment he desired, Jackson purposefully clogged his toilet and flooded his cell. Jackson told an officer that he was causing trouble in an attempt to get medical attention. P.A. Williams then returned to Jackson, provided him with pain medication, and according to Jackson, was "trying to act concerned."

Shortly thereafter, Jackson was taken to get an x-ray of his spine. The accounts vary regarding the date of the x-ray-Jackson says it was the next day, but prison medical records indicate that it occurred on October 18. The x-ray showed "no evidence of any recent fracture or any destructive bone disease."

On June 3, 1997, Jackson brought a lawsuit against numerous defendants, raising three distinct grounds for relief. First, in an FTCA claim, Jackson alleged that, on May 16, 1996, Officers Bushy, Gregg, Robinson, and "John Doe" negligently led him across a wet floor while his hands were cuffed behind his back, allowing him to fall. Second, Jackson alleged that Lieutenant John Doe #2, Officers Kotter and Grenier, and Counselor Rodriguez violated the Eighth Amendment on October 8, 1996, by beating him and dragging him with deliberate indifference, causing harm to his back and right leg. Jackson's final count was against P.A. Williams for knowingly and intentionally, with deliberate indifference, denying Jack-son's medical needs after the October 8 incident, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

On June 24, 1997, the district court dismissed the claims against Officers Bushy, Gregg, and Robinson for the May 16 incident, because the officers were not proper defendants under the FTCA. See 28 U.S.C. § 2679(b)(1). The district court instructed Jackson that he would have 30 days to amend his complaint to name the United States as the proper FTCA defendant. Jackson complied with the court's instruction by filing a First Amended Complaint on July 23, 1997. The district court first rein-stated Jackson's FTCA claim against the United States, but then later decided that Jackson's amended complaint against the United States was time-barred because it was filed more than six months after the date Jackson had exhausted his administrative remedies under the FTCA. See 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b). Jackson missed the FTCA deadline by nine days.

The district court also denied Jackson's request to amend his complaint to specify and name Lieutenant Canada in the place of John Doe #2. For some time, Jackson believed that Lieutenant "Brickbuild" was the lieutenant who witnessed the October 8 incident. That person-actually Lieutenant Brechbill-later proved that he was not present at the scene. By the time Jackson learned the proper identity of the lieutenant-Canada-the statute of limitations period had expired for bringing a Bivens claim against him. The district court did not grant Jackson's motion to add Lieutenant Canada as a defendant because the amendment would have been futile in light of the court's duty to dismiss the untimely claim. See 28 U.S.C. 1915A(b).

Throughout his litigation in the district court, Jackson asked the court to appoint an attorney to represent him. His first request was denied because he had not demonstrated to the court that he had made an effort to retain an attorney from the private bar. Thereafter, Jackson attempted to secure an attorney, to no avail. He renewed his request for counsel, but the district court again denied his request. The court stated that Jackson's claims were not of sufficient complexity such that they surpassed Jackson's ability to properly develop and litigate them. Several times after that ruling, Jackson requested appointed counsel but the district court also denied those requests. The court reiterated that Jackson appeared to be "fully capable of presenting his claim."

Ultimately, Jackson represented himself throughout the entire case. He served requests for production of documents and interrogatories; obtained copies of medical records; filed affidavits in response to notices that the defendants' factual assertions would be accepted as true unless contradicted by Jackson; filed his own motion for summary judgment; and succeeded in withstanding Officer Kotter and Counselor Rodriguez's motion for summary judgment.

After waiving a jury trial, Jackson represented himself during a bench trial on his excessive force claims against Kotter and Rodriguez, the remaining defendants. He made an opening statement and called as witnesses Kotter, Rodriguez, and his own parents. He cross-examined the government's witnesses, which included Kotter and Rodriguez. Jackson successfully had deposition testimony of two of his prisonmates admitted into evidence. Ultimately, the district court made factual findings that Kotter and Rodriguez did not apply excessive force on October 8, 1996, and concluded that Jackson had failed to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that his federally secured rights were violated. Jackson appealed, and we appointed an attorney to represent him.

II. ANALYSIS

On appeal, Jackson claims that the district court improperly dismissed Officers Bushy, Gregg, and Robinson, who, Jackson argues, were defendants in his Bivens action-not just defendants in his FTCA claim. He also argues that the district court abused its discretion by dismissing the FTCA claim against the United States, and by refusing to allow Jackson to add Lieutenant Canada as a defendant after the statute of limitations period had ended. Additionally, Jackson challenges the district court's ...


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