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Cole v. Fluery

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

February 20, 2015

Christopher Cole
Corporal FNU Fluery and Corporal FNU Dube[1] Opinion No. 2015 DNH 030


LANDYA McCAFFERTY, District Judge.

Christopher Cole, an inmate at the New Hampshire State Prison ("NHSP") has sued in three counts. Against Corporal ("Cpl.") Randy Fleury and Corrections Officer ("CO") Michael Dube, he asserts: (1) a claim that those officers used excessive force against him in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution (Count I); and (2) a claim that those officers are liable to him for assault and battery under state common law (Count II). Cole also asserts a claim against Cpl. Fleury for exposing him to inhumane prison conditions that violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments (Count III).[2] Before the court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Cpl. Fluery and CO Dube. Cole has not objected. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.

I. Summary Judgment Standard

"Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Ponte v. Steelcase Inc., 741 F.3d 310, 319 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting Cortes-Rivera v. Dept. of Corr., 626 F.3d 21, 26 (1st Cir. 2010)); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must "view[] the entire record ^in the light most hospitable to the party opposing summary judgment, indulging all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.'" Winslow v. Aroostook Cnty., 736 F.3d 23, 29 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Suarez v. Pueblo Int'l, Inc., 229 F.3d 49, 53 (1st Cir. 2000)).

"The object of summary judgment is to ^pierce the boilerplate of the pleadings and assay the parties' proof in order to determine whether trial is actually required.'" Davila v. Corp. de P.R. para la Diffusion Pub., 498 F.3d 9, 12 (1st Cir. 2007) (quoting Acosta v. Ames Dep't Stores, Inc., 386 F.3d 5, 7 (1st Cir. 2004)). "[T]he court's task is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Noonan v. Staples, Inc., 556 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2009) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

"The nonmovant may defeat a summary judgment motion by demonstrating, through submissions of evidentiary quality, that a trialworthy issue persists." Sanchez-Rodriguez v. AT&T Mobility P.R., Inc., 673 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2012) (quoting Iverson v. City of Boston, 452 F.3d 94, 98 (1st Cir. 2006)). That is, "the party seeking to avoid summary judgment must be able to point to specific, competent evidence to support his claim." Sanchez-Rodriguez, 673 F.3d at 9 (quoting Soto-Ocasio v. Fed. Ex. Corp., 150 F.3d 14, 18 (1st Cir. 1998)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

II. Background

The court begins by identifying the sources of the facts recited in this section. Defendants' summary-judgment motion includes a statement of material facts, supported by record citations, as required by Local Rule 56(1)(a). Plaintiff has not objected to defendants' motion for summary judgment. Ordinarily under such circumstances, all properly supported facts set forth in defendants' statement of facts would be deemed admitted. See LR 56(1)(b). But, plaintiff has filed a verified complaint, and that complaint is properly "treated as the functional equivalent of an affidavit [for the purpose of opposing a summary-judgment motion] to the extent that it satisfies the standards explicated in Rule 56(e)." Sheinkopf v. Stone, 927 F.2d 1259, 1262 (1st Cir. 1991). That said, except as otherwise indicated, the following facts are undisputed.

At all times relevant to his claims, Cole was incarcerated in a section of the NHSP's Secure Psychiatric Unit called Echo Ward. On the evening of May 18, 2013, inmates on Echo Ward flooded the tier on which Echo Ward is located by plugging their toilets and then flushing them. In response, Cpl. Fleury cut off the water to the tier and began removing the water that had flooded it. Plaintiff does not allege in his amended complaint, nor may it be reasonably inferred from his allegations, that the flooding involved anything but water. That is, Cole does not allege, or even hint, that the water that flooded his cell contained human waste.

Cpl. Fleury shut off water to the tier shortly before midnight, and turned it back on at about 2:30 p.m. the next day. That forced Cole to spend 15 hours in a cell with a toilet he could not flush. He cleaned up the water on the floor of his cell without gloves or disinfectant, did so barefooted, and was denied the opportunity to take a shower immediately thereafter. During the clean-up process, inmates on Echo Ward were yelling and banging on their doors.

The day after the flooding on Echo Ward, the inmates housed there were still acting disruptively, and were served bag lunches, rather than lunches on trays, in an effort to minimize contact between inmates and correctional officers. Inmates housed on Echo Ward received all their meals in their cells. Their food was delivered by sliding it through a "tray slot, " which is an opening in a cell door that consists of a smaller door that may be opened, closed, and locked.

When Cpl. Fleury and CO Dube attempted to push Cole's bag lunch through his tray slot, Cole responded by declining his lunch and then attempting to push a wet trash bag back through the slot. Neither Cpl. Fleury nor CO Dube knew what was in the bag, but feared that it might contain a urine-soaked blanket and/or feces. Presumably because Cole was attempting to dispose of trash outside the designated time for doing so, Cpl. Fleury ordered Cole to stop pushing the bag through the slot. It is undisputed that Cole failed to comply; he has testified to that effect. Cpl. Fleury then ordered Cole to pull his arms and the bag back into his cell. Cole again failed to comply, and actually succeeded in pushing the trash bag all the way out of his cell. Then, when Cole continued to hold onto the edge of the tray slot, Cpl. Fleury and CO Dube pushed Cole's hands and arms back through and locked the door of the tray slot.

In his verified complaint, Cole alleges that Cpl. Fleury and CO Dube: (1) slammed the tray-slot door on his hands; (2) held, twisted, and pulled his fingers while applying pressure to them with the tray-slot door; and (3) stomped on his fingers. However, defendants have produced deposition testimony, elicited from Cole while viewing a videotape of the incident, in which he admitted that the tape showed no pulling or stomping by Cpl. Fleury or CO Dube. It is undisputed that the entire incident took about a minute and was captured in its entirety on the videotape.

This action followed. In Count I, Cole asserts that Cpl. Fleury and CO Dube pulled, twisted, and stomped on his fingers, hands, and arms, in violation of his Eighth-Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment in the form of excessive force. In Count II, he asserts that Cpl. Fleury and CO Dube are liable to him for committing assault and battery, under the common law of New Hampshire. In Count III, he asserts that Cpl. Fleury violated his Eighth-Amendment rights by acting with deliberate indifference to his medical needs by subjecting him to an unsanitary and unhygienic cell.

III. Discussion

Defendants move for summary judgment of each of Cole's claims, under a variety of legal theories. In the section that follows, the court considers each claim in turn, beginning with the two federal claims and ...

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