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Beaulieu v. Aulis

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

September 28, 2016

Christopher Robert Beaulieu, Plaintiff
John P. Aulis, Aaron M. Belanger, Edward P. Kirrane, Dominic M. Salce, Michael Shepley, Paul Laflamme, Kevin Washburn, Jason Whitney, Scott Collier, and Rueben James Ruiter, Defendants Opinion, 2016 DNH 171


          Steven J. McAuliffe, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, Christopher (Crystal) Beaulieu, is an inmate at the New Hampshire State Prison (“NHSP”). She has sued eight corrections officers and two inmates, asserting claims arising from three incidents in which Beaulieu alleges she was assaulted.[1] Before the court is a motion for summary judgment filed by the eight NHSP corrections officers who are named as defendants.[2] Plaintiff objects.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is warranted when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “An issue is ‘genuine' if it can be resolved in favor of either party, and a fact is ‘material' if it has the potential of affecting the outcome of the case.” Xiaoyan Tang v. Citizens Bank, N.A., 821 F.3d 206, 215 (1st Cir. 2016)(internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n v. JBW Capital, LLC, 812 F.3d 98, 105 (1st Cir. 2016) (“the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” (emphasis in original) (citation and internal punctuation omitted)). At the summary judgment stage, the court draws “all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, but disregard[s] conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation.” Fanning v. Fed. Trade Comm'n, 821 F.3d 164, 170 (1st Cir. 2016) (citation and internal punctuation omitted).

         “A party moving for summary judgment must identify for the district court the portions of the record that show the absence of any genuine issue of material fact.” Flovac, Inc. v. Airvac, Inc., 817 F.3d 849, 853 (1st Cir. 2016) Once the moving party makes the required showing, “the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, who must, with respect to each issue on which [it] would bear the burden of proof at trial, demonstrate that a trier of fact could reasonably resolve that issue in [its] favor.” Id. (citation and internal punctuation omitted). “This demonstration must be accomplished by reference to materials of evidentiary quality, and that evidence must be more than ‘merely colorable.'” Id. (citations omitted). The nonmoving party's failure to make the requisite showing “entitles the moving party to summary judgment.” Id.


         I. January 2012 Incident

         On January 19, 2012, Beaulieu was housed on C-tier, in the NHSP Special Housing Unit (“SHU”). Decl. of Christopher (Crystal) Beaulieu, Aug. 2, 2016 (doc. no. 87) (“Beaulieu Decl.”), at 1. NHSP Corrections Officer (“CO”) Kevin Washburn and CO Jason Whitney were on duty in the SHU control room and they were responsible for operating the control panels that are used to remotely open and close SHU cell doors. Id.; Statement of Jason Whitney, Jan. 26, 2012 (doc. no. 59-15) (“Whitney Statement”), at 16. NHSP Chef Paul Laflamme was also in the SHU control room at that time, socializing with Washburn. Aff. of Jason Whitney, Dec. 9, 2015 (doc. no. 59-7) (“Whitney Aff.”) at para. 8; Beaulieu Decl. at 1; Statement of Kevin Washburn, Jan. 25, 2012 (doc. no. 59-15) (“Washburn Statement”), at 15.

         After returning from a state court hearing, Beaulieu was being escorted by CO Michael Shepley back to her cell. Officers Washburn and Whitney were on duty in the control room. (First) Aff. of Christopher (Crystal) Beaulieu, Aug. 2, 2016 (doc. no. 87-1) (“Beaulieu Aff. #1”), at para. 2. As Shepley and Beaulieu approached the C-tier entrance, Beaulieu saw inmate Rueben Ruiter outside of his cell on the tier. Beaulieu Decl. at 1. Ruiter was a “tier worker, ” whose cleaning duties involved being outside of his cell in the tier corridor at times. Beaulieu asked Shepley to have Ruiter locked up before they entered the tier and it is undisputed that Shepley radioed the control room to have Ruiter returned to his cell. Id.; Statement of Michael Shepley, Jan. 19, 2012 (doc. no. 59-12) (“Shepley Statement”), at 1. Ruiter then entered his cell and the cell door closed behind him. See Shepley Statement, at 1. After Ruiter was secure in his cell, Shepley escorted Beaulieu to her cell and radioed the control room to secure the door to that cell. Id.; Aff. of Michael Shepley, Dec. 17, 2015 (doc. no. 88-1) (“Shepley Aff.”), at para. 6. Once the door to Beaulieu's cell closed, she backed up to the “cuff slot” and Shepley removed her handcuffs. Id. Shepley then walked off the tier and, as he did so, he radioed the control room to release Ruiter, so he could continue his cleaning work. Id.

         At some point thereafter, Ruiter entered Beaulieu's cell twice. See Defs.' Mem. of Law (doc. no. 59-1), at 16. After leaving Beaulieu's cell for the second time, see id., Ruiter approached the end of the tier, signaled the control room officers, and told them that the door to Beaulieu's cell was open. The control room officers then secured Beaulieu's door. See Washburn Statement; Whitney Statement. Shepley has specifically denied knowing either that Ruiter had entered Beaulieu's cell on January 19, 2012, or that Beaulieu's cell door had become unsecured at any time after Shepley put her in the cell and called for the door to be closed and secured. Shepley Aff. at paras. 4, 7. Moreover, says Shepley, Beaulieu never signaled to him that the door was unsecured; that if Beaulieu had done so, Shepley would have radioed the control room to have the door locked; and that Shepley never noticed anything wrong while he was on the tier. Id. at paras. 6-7. Beaulieu questions Shepley's statements and, in her declaration, she says she believes Shepley knew her cell door was unlocked. She bases that inference on her claim to have seen Shepley smile as he walked by the tier with another inmate, and her claim that Shepley did not check to make sure her cell door was secured before walking away with that inmate. Beaulieu Decl. at 1; see also Statement of Christopher Beaulieu, Jan. 19, 2012 (doc. no. 59-15) (“Beaulieu Statement”), at 6.

         Several hours later, during the second shift, CO David Miville noticed bruises on Beaulieu's face. Statement of David Miville, Jan. 19, 2012 (doc. no. 59-20), at 9. Investigators later determined that, at some point on January 19, 2012, during the first shift, Ruiter had entered Beaulieu's cell and hit her. See id.; Beaulieu Statement (doc. no. 59-15) at 5. Ruiter was written up for assault and, after a hearing, was found guilty of the lesser offense of being “out of place.” Disciplinary Hearing Results, Feb. 19, 2012 (doc. no. 59-20), at 13; Beaulieu Aff. #1, at para. 3.

         Each of the control room officers has filed an affidavit stating that he would not have purposefully opened Beaulieu's cell door while another inmate was out on the tier. Aff. of Kevin Washburn, Dec. 9, 2015 (doc. no. 59-9) (“Washburn Aff.”), at para. 7; Whitney Aff. at para. 8. Washburn has stated that he does not recall opening Beaulieu's cell when Ruiter was on the tier but that, if it somehow happened, it was accidental. Washburn Aff. at para. 7; Washburn Statement (doc. no. 59-10). Whitney also states that, if Beaulieu's door became unsecured, it would have been accidental. Whitney Aff. at para. 8. Both officers state that they did not know Ruiter had entered Beaulieu's cell while they were in the control room, and that they were unaware an assault had occurred at that time. Washburn Aff. para. 4, at 2; Whitney Aff. para. 4, at 2.

         III. August 2013 Incident

         On August 16, 2013, Beaulieu was housed in the NHSP Secure Psychiatric Unit. On that date, Corrections Officers Edward Kirrane and Aaron Belanger were escorting Beaulieu back to her cell after an appointment. Aff. of Edward Kirrane, Dec. 15, 2015 (doc. no. 59-2) (“Kirrane Aff.”), at para. 4; Aff. of Aaron Belanger, Dec. 4, 2015 (doc. no. 59-4) (“Belanger Aff.”), at para. 4. In their sworn declarations, Kirrane and Belanger state that Beaulieu appeared agitated during the escort. Once the officers arrived at Beaulieu's cell, Kirrane released the buckle on the leather “belly belt” attached to Beaulieu's handcuffs. According to the officers, before they could close the door, Beaulieu turned quickly, while still handcuffed, and swung the leather belt and metal buckle toward Kirrane. Kirrane Aff., at para. 4; Belanger Aff., at para. 4. While Beaulieu does not specifically dispute that she swung the belt toward the officers, she previously described that act as inadvertent, stating in an (unsworn) Inmate Request Slip (“IRS”) that the officers “had the door closed most [of] the way when I slipped and hit the window [with] the buckle.” IRS, Aug. 17, 2014 (doc. no. 59-21), at 1. But, regardless of Beaulieu's subjective intent, both officers perceived that her conduct was intentional.

         Belanger and Kirrane then went into the cell to retrieve the belt and took Beaulieu to the floor. Kirrane Aff., at para. 4; Belanger Aff., at para. 4. According to the officers, Beaulieu became “resistive” and disobeyed their orders. While Beaulieu generally denies resisting, it is undisputed that during the struggle for the belt, she attempted to pull the handcuffs beneath her body. Kirrane Aff., at para. 4; Belanger Aff., at para. 4. And, at some point during the struggle with Beaulieu, Officer Belanger injured his shoulder. Belanger Aff. at para. 5. In an effort to secure Beaulieu's compliance and to stop her resistance, Belanger delivered a “knee strike” to Beaulieu's left leg, while Beaulieu was on the floor. Kirrane Aff., at para. 4; Belanger Aff., at para. 4. Once the officers regained control of Beaulieu, they took back the belt, brought Beaulieu to the cell door, and removed her handcuffs through the tray slot. Both officers join in saying that they used no more force against Beaulieu than was reasonably necessary to regain possession of the belt, after she had attempted to strike Kirrane with it. And, say the officers, they used that modest amount of force without malicious or sadistic intent. Kirrane Aff., at para. 5; Belanger Aff., at para. 6.[3]

         For her part, Beaulieu does not offer a specific account of the events in question. Rather, she generally denies the accuracy of defendants' version of the relevant events surrounding the August 2013 incident. Second Aff. of Christopher (Crystal) Beaulieu, Aug. 2, 2016 (doc. no. 87-7) (“Beaulieu Aff. #2”) at para. 11. She also generally denies offering any resistance during the incident - again, without providing any specific facts or details to rebut defendants' version. Id., at para. 8. Beaulieu also says the officers weighed more than she did; they called her a “rat bitch” during the incident; and Kirrane prevented her from blocking Belanger's knee strike. Id., at paras. 8-9.

         Following the incident, Beaulieu received medical attention, but only complained of wrist pain. Statement of Aaron Belanger, Aug. 16, 2013 (doc. no. 59-5). She appears not to have complained of pain in, or injury to, her leg where Belanger delivered the knee strike. Beaulieu was later found guilty of the disciplinary offense of “throwing or propelling an object or substance at another person or which may cause property damage.” DOC Disciplinary Log Search (doc. no. 87-9); Beaulieu Aff. #2, at para. 2.

         IV. March 2014 Incidents

         Finally, Beaulieu alleges that, while she was an inmate in the Secure Psychiatric Unit in March 2014, inmate Scott Collier harassed her and assaulted her by spraying her with a firehose. Beaulieu sent an Inmate Request Slip to SPU Capt. Paul Cascio, and then filed grievances with the SPU Director and the Commissioner's Office, in which she complained about a number of things, including that Collier had sprayed her with a hose. Beaulieu also complained that Collier had acquired information about her criminal charges - a sexual assault ...

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