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Pinkney v. Eovaldi

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

January 6, 2017



          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Frank Eovaldi, Jerry Tanner, and Steven Conrad on September 16, 2016 (Doc. 87) and the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiff James Pinkney on September 30, 2016 (Doc. 90).


         Plaintiff James Pinkney was an inmate incarcerated at the Lawrence Correctional Center in July 2014.[1] He alleges that on July 9, 2014, after a strip search, he was compelled to sit at a steel table in handcuffs for three hours by Defendants Jerry Tanner and Steven Conrad. Defendants Tanner and Conrad are correctional officers at Lawrence. Pinkney claims that Defendants Tanner and Conrad, along with Defendant Frank Eovaldi, a correctional sergeant, slammed his head into the table and refused medical attention for the resulting headache. Pinkney filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint on April 6, 2015, and he has been permitted to proceed on one count of excessive force against Defendants Eovaldi, Tanner, and Conrad (Doc. 9).

         Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on this claim (Doc. 87) and notified Pinkney of the consequences of failing to respond (Doc. 89). Instead of filing a response, Pinkney filed his own motion for summary judgment (Doc. 90) to which Defendants have not responded. Pinkney's motion can be best characterized as a response to Defendants' motion, a conclusion that is supported by Defendants' lack of response. As such, all facts are viewed “in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party”-here, Pinkney. JCW Investments, Inc. v. Novelty, Inc., 482 F.3d 910, 915 (7th Cir. 2007).


         On July 9, 2014, Pinkney's cell was subjected to a search, during which he, along with other inmates, were placed in the dining hall. He was seated at a four-person table, while handcuffed, and was instructed by correctional officers to keep his head down on the table (Doc. 88-1, p. 5). Pinkney kept his forehead about six or seven inches off the table (Id., pp. 5-6). At some point during the three hours that Pinkney was in that position, his head began to hurt, and he raised it up to stretch his neck (Id., p. 6). There is no evidence that Pinkney was causing a disturbance. Defendants Conrad[2] and Tanner, who were five or ten steps away, ran over and pushed his head onto the table, hard, causing a severe headache, a “little bruise, ” and redness (Id., pp. 6, 7, 10). When Pinkney lined back up again to return to his cell, he told Defendant Eovaldi that his head hurt and that he needed to see a doctor (Id., p. 7). Eovaldi told Pinkney that “[t]his is how we treat inmates, ” and Pinkney walked back to his cell (Id.). It is undisputed that Eovaldi did not touch Pinkney on July 9, 2014.

         Within a day or two, Pinkney saw a nurse who gave him Tylenol for his headaches (Id., p. 9). Pinkney still suffers from headaches, although they are not as severe (Id., pp. 9-10). He has never seen a doctor for these headaches nor received any diagnostic treatment, and he stopped seeing a nurse because he had to pay a co-pay (Id., p. 10).


         Summary judgment is proper only if the moving party can demonstrate “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); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Ruffin-Thompkins v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc., 422 F.3d 603, 607 (7th Cir. 2005); Black Agents & Brokers Agency, Inc. v. Near North Ins. Brokerage, Inc., 409 F.3d 833, 836 (7th Cir. 2005). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that no material facts are in Defendants also point out that Pinkney, who normally wears glasses, was not wearing corrective lenses and that his vision was impaired (Doc. 88, p. 3). For his part, Pinkney appeared to become unsure during his deposition as to whether Conrad was involved when confronted with this evidence (Doc. 88-1, pp. 12, 14). And, he seems to vacillate in his brief as to Conrad's involvement (Doc. 90). Nevertheless, Pinkney maintained in his deposition that he was 100 percent sure Defendant Conrad put his hands on Pinkney and testified that the person involved looked like Conrad (Doc. 88-1, p. 14). Whether Conrad was present and acted as Pinkney describes is a material fact that is in dispute. genuine dispute; any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue must be resolved against the moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 160 (1970); Lawrence v. Kenosha Cty., 391 F.3d 837, 841 (7th Cir. 2004). A moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law where the non-moving party “has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. “[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. The Seventh Circuit has stated that summary judgment is “the put up or shut up moment in a lawsuit, when a party must show what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of the events.” Steen v. Myers, 486 F.3d 1017, 1022 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Hammel v. Eau Galle Cheese Factory, 407 F.3d 852, 859 (7th Cir. 2005) (other citations omitted)).

         “The Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause prohibits the ‘unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain' on prisoners.” Outlaw v. Newkirk, 259 F.3d 833, 837 (7th Cir. 2001) (quoting Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 5 (1992)). But “not every ‘malevolent touch by a prison guard' gives rise to a federal cause of action, even if the use of force in question ‘may later seem unnecessary in the peace of a judge's chambers.'” Outlaw, 259 F.3d at 838 (quoting Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9). “The use of de minimis force, so long as it ‘is not of a sort repugnant to the conscience of mankind, ' is not of Eighth Amendment concern.” Lewis v. Downey, 581 F.3d 467, 475 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9-10). If the force was more than de minimis, the core judicial inquiry is whether it “was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.” Id. (quoting Hudson, 503 U.S. at 7) (internal quotation marks omitted). Whether the use of force is excessive depends on the circumstances. Richman v. Sheahan, 512 F.3d 876, 883 (7th Cir. 2008). Several factors are relevant to this determination: the extent of the injury, the need for force, the amount of force used, the nature of the threat being addressed by the force, and efforts made to minimize the severity of the force used, among others. Hudson, 503 U.S. at 7.

         In this case, Defendants characterize the incident as a single push to the head, after Pinkney had been instructed to keep his head down, that resulted only in a little bruise and red mark. Defendants note that “not every push or shove by a prison guard violates a prisoner's constitutional rights.” Id. at 620. Thus, for example, the Seventh Circuit has held that a “simple act of shoving” an inmate into a door frame once and causing some non-serious bruising does not offend the Constitution. Id.

         Defendants over-simplify the facts in this case. There is no evidence that Pinkney was causing a disturbance or behaving in a threatening or obdurate manner. There is also no evidence that the officers first used other, tamer, responses to Pinkney's actions. See Guitron v. Paul, 675 F.3d 1044, 1045-1046 (7th Cir. 2012) (use of force not excessive when an inmate failed to heed a command and remained “defiant” after modest force was used). Thus, two officers “slamming, ” as Pinkney puts it, his head onto a metal table while handcuffed, seated, and posing no threat appears excessive. This, coupled with Pinkney's injuries, which include persistent headaches, cannot render Defendants' actions de minimis as a matter of law. See Mitchell v Krueger, 594 F. App'x 874, 876-877 (7th Cir. 2014) (continued use of force on a handcuffed inmate could be deemed excessive). A jury could find that such conduct, done without provocation or a significant need to restore order, exhibits the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain. See Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 321 (1986) (finding that “[f]rom such considerations as” the application of force, the need of that force in the circumstances, and the extent of injury, “inferences may be drawn as to whether the use of force could plausibly have been thought necessary, or instead evinced such wantonness with respect to the unjustified infliction of harm as is tantamount to a knowing willingness that it occur”). As such, Defendants Conrad and Tanner are not entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         As to Defendant Eovaldi, however, there is no evidence that he used any physical force on Pinkney on July 9, 2014. At most, he said a few words to Pinkney after the incident in question. Simple harassment, if that is what Eovaldi's words can be categorized as exhibiting, does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. DeWalt, ...

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