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Staples v. Gerry

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

April 24, 2019

FRANK STAPLES, Plaintiff, Appellant,
v.
RICHARD GERRY, Warden, New Hampshire State Prison, Defendant, in both his individual and official capacities, WILLIAM WRENN, Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Corrections, Defendant, in both his individual and official capacities, JEFFREY BROWN, New Hampshire Parole Board, Defendant, in both his individual and official capacities, DONNA SYTEK, New Hampshire Parole Board, Defendant, in both her individual and official capacities, MARK FURLONE, New Hampshire Parole Board, Defendant, in both his individual and official capacities, JAMES DALY, Chaplain of the New Hampshire State Prison, Defendant, in both his individual and official capacities, KIM LACASSE, Director of classifications at the New Hampshire State Prison, Defendant, in both her individual and official capacities, JOSEPH MICHAUD, Correctional Officer at the New Hampshire State Prison, Defendant, in both his individual and official capacities, RONALD GAGLIARDI, Correctional Officer at the New Hampshire State Prison, Defendant, in both his individual and official capacities, JON FOUTS, Head of Security at New Hampshire State Prison, Defendant, in both his individual and official capacities, CHRISTOPHER KENCH, Correctional Officer at the N.H. State Prison, Defendant, in both his individual and official capacities, LEO DEUSAULT, Correctional Officer at the New Hampshire State Prison, Defendant, in both his individual and official capacities, PAUL CASCIO, Correctional Officer at the New Hampshire State Prison, Defendant, in both his individual and official capacities, MARC MILLER, Correctional Officer at the New Hampshire State Prison, Defendant, in both his individual and official capacities, MICHAEL EDMARK, Correctional Officer at the New Hampshire State Prison, Defendant, in both his individual and official capacities, SCOTT MARSHALL, Correctional Officer at the New Hampshire State Prison, Defendant, in both his individual and official capacities, JOSEPH DIAMENT, Correctional Officer at the New Hampshire State Prison, Defendant, in both his individual and official capacities, MARC THERIAULT, Correctional Officer at the New Hampshire State Prison, Defendant, in both his individual and official capacities, PAUL COURCHESNE, Correctional Officer at the New Hampshire State Prison, in both his individual and official Defendant, in both his individual and official capacities, ROBERT PARENT, Correctional Officer at the New Hampshire State Prison, Defendant, in both his individual and official capacities. Defendants, Appellees.

          APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE [Hon. Paul J. Barbadoro, U.S. District Judge]

          Donna J. Brown, with whom Wadleigh, Starr & Peters, P.L.L.C., was on brief, for appellant.

          Francis C. Fredericks, Senior Assistant Attorney General, with whom Gordon J. MacDonald, Attorney General, was on brief, for appellees.

          Before Lynch, Thompson, and Barron, Circuit Judges.

          BARRON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         This appeal concerns three claims that a New Hampshire State Prison ("NHSP") inmate brought against two of the prison's officers in a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his federal constitutional rights. The inmate alleges in the first of these claims that, in 2013, one of the officers pushed him against a pillar, allegedly causing him to hit his head on it, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The inmate alleges in the other claims that, in 2015, the other officer sprayed pepper spray into his cell, in violation of both the First Amendment and the Eighth Amendment. The officers moved for summary judgment on those claims based on qualified immunity. The District Court granted the motion, and the inmate appealed. We affirm.

         I.

         The plaintiff is Frank Staples, a NHSP inmate at all relevant times. The defendants are two NHSP corrections officers, Robert Parent and Scott Marshall. The following facts are not in dispute, except where expressly noted otherwise.

         In November 2011, Staples was transferred from a New Hampshire county prison to the Special Housing Unit ("SHU") of the NHSP, a facility run by the New Hampshire Department of Corrections ("NHDOC"). Around that same time, Staples started practicing Taoism, including the Taoist practice of growing long hair.

         NHDOC policy set a one-fourth inch limit on facial hair length that was enforced in all units except the SH U.Staples grew a lengthy beard between November 2011 and September 2013.

         In September 2013, NHDOC staff decided to transfer Staples from the SHU to the Close Custody Unit ("CCU"), which did enforce the NHDOC facial hair policy. CCU staff escorted Staples and five other inmates to the office area of the CCU for intake. Parent, a sergeant in the CCU, ordered Staples to trim his beard. Staples became visibly upset and refused to shave. Parent asked Staples to fill out a written statement form.

         The parties dispute what Parent said when he handed Staples the form. The government claims that Parent asked Staples to explain why he was refusing to enter the CC U.Staples claims that Parent actually asked Staples, "[t]ell me why you want to be PC." Staples contends that "PC" is short for "protective custody," a label associated with "snitch[es]" and "sex offender[s]" that could put Staples in a dangerous position with other inmates.

         The parties agree that Staples took the form and tore it in half. At the moment at which Staples tore up the form, Staples was within "arms' reach" ("three to four feet") of Parent. Parent then swiftly pushed Staples against a support pillar in the office in order to restrain him. Another officer, Robert Leitner, then handcuffed Staples.

         Staples claims that Parent "took [his] arm and threw it behind [him] and pushed" him and "slammed him face first into [the] cement pillar." Parent claims that he was not holding Staples's arm but only the "center of his back" and that "the front of [Staples's] body was pressed up against the pillar," but that "Staples'[s] head did not make any contact with the pole."

         A different officer escorted Staples to an isolation cell. Video footage of the search conducted of Staples upon entering the cell shows Staples without any obvious marks on his forehead and without any obvious signs of discomfort.

         Pursuant to NHDOC policy, Staples was offered medical attention, which Staples accepted. Officers escorted Staples to the NHSP Health Services Center. Staples reported bilateral wrist tingling and intermittent lower back and shoulder pain. A nurse examined Staples and concluded that Staples's wrist functioning "was within normal limits" and reported that she "did not observe any visible sign of injury, such as redness or bruising, to Inmate Staples'[s] wrists, back, head, or shoulder." The nurse "did not recommend that Inmate Staples receive any follow up medical care as [she] saw no indication that continued care was necessary."

         On December 13, 2014, Staples filed a lawsuit detailing his disputes with NHSP officers relating to the NHDOC facial hair policy and seeking damages. On December 24, 2014, Staples received a "Hurt Feelings Report" that was slipped under his cell door. The "Hurt Feelings Report" is a mock form that allegedly purports to "assist whiners in documenting hurt feelings," and suggests that a person who complains is a "sissy," "candy-ass," and a "wimp." Staples was allegedly told by other officers that Marshall had arranged for Staples to receive the document, and Marshall allegedly later asked Staples, "[O]h, did you get that?" in reference to the document. Marshall does not admit to sending Staples the Hurt Feelings Report or to making the comment in reference to it.

         In July 2015, NHDOC staff decided to move Staples from the "D-tier" in the SHU to the "I-tier" in the same unit. Staples viewed the transfer to "I-tier" as punitive.

         Officers David Dionne and Kory McCauley unsuccessfully attempted to get Staples to leave his cell to complete the move. The two officers then met with Marshall, the SHU sergeant, to determine how to effectuate the move. Marshall ordered them to try to get Staples's voluntary compliance with the move by talking to Staples again during their next rounds. Dionne did so, and Staples again refused. Dionne again conferred with Marshall. ...


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