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Patterson v. Kintu

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 28, 2019

Honora Tremaine Patterson, Plaintiff,
Emmanual Kintu; Nick DeChene; Dan Meyer; Tim Demulling;[1] Aoun Noor; John Spielman; John Ricci; Chris Roth; and John Does, each sued in their personal capacities, Defendants.

          Honora Tremaine Patterson, OID # 237000, pro se Plaintiff.

          Bradley Simon, Esq., Assistant Attorney General, counsel for Defendants.



         Plaintiff Honora Tremaine Patterson, a Minnesota state prisoner, alleges that prison officials used excessive force against him in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights and subsequently lied on their reports of the event. Defendants Emmanual Kintu, Nick DeChene, Dan Meyer, Tim Demulling, Aoun Noor, John Spielman, John Ricci, and Chris Roth seek summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims. (Doc. No. 63.) For the reasons stated below, this Court recommends that Defendants' motion for summary judgment be granted and that this matter be dismissed.

         I. Background[2]

         Plaintiff has been in the custody of the State of Minnesota at all times relevant to this lawsuit.[3] (Doc. No. 80, Affidavit of Sherlinda Wheeler (“Wheeler Aff.”) ¶ 3, Ex. 1.) Although Plaintiff denies being “a troublemaker” during his incarceration, (see Doc. No. 96, Pl.'s Mem. 1), he has compiled a lengthy record of misconduct while serving his sentence, including a conviction for fourth-degree assault after throwing bodily waste at a correctional officer. (Wheeler Aff. ¶ 5, Ex. 3.) In another incident prior to the events at issue in this litigation-an incident which Plaintiff admitted had occurred during prison disciplinary proceedings-Plaintiff asked to be examined by a nurse, but then refused to comply with directives; he was later heard commenting “Those b*****s are lucky they didn't come in here! I would of broke their motherf*****g necks!” (Wheeler Aff. ¶ 6, Ex. 4 at 2.) On fourteen separate occasions between 2014 and the events at issue in this litigation, Plaintiff was charged and found guilty of disciplinary infractions while incarcerated. (Wheeler Aff. ¶ 7, Ex. 6 at 2-3.) As mentioned above, one of those infractions-an assault of a prison guard-resulted in a criminal conviction. (Wheeler Aff. ¶ 5, Ex. 3.)

         This history of misconduct landed Plaintiff at the Minnesota Correctional Facility at Oak Park Heights (“MCF-OPH”), the highest security facility in the State of Minnesota. (Wheeler Aff. ¶ 6.) On April 30, 2017-the day on which the events at issue in this litigation took place-Plaintiff resided in Complex 5 of MCF-OPH, which is one of two disciplinary segregation units within that facility. (Id. ¶¶ 9-10.) Put another way, on the date of the events described below, Plaintiff's past behavior had resulted in him being housed in one of the most secure units in Minnesota's most secure prison.

         On April 30, 2017, prison staff activated an Incident Command System (“ICS”) call when Plaintiff was found unresponsive in his cell.[4] (Doc. No. 69, Affidavit of Daniel Meyer (“Meyer Aff.”) ¶ 7.) Prison staff directed Plaintiff to come to the cell door and place his hands out of the book pass-a rectangular opening used to safely pass materials into and out of the cell-in preparation for prison officials to safely enter the cell. (Id. ¶ 9.) After some initial resistance, Plaintiff complied with the directive and was handcuffed. (Id. ¶ 10; Wheeler Aff. ¶ 11, Ex. 7.)[5] Plaintiff stated that he “felt dizzy & passed out because his blood pressure [was] high.” (Wheeler Aff. ¶ 17, Ex. 13 at 8.) A nurse examined Plaintiff, took his vital measurements, noted nothing unusual, and left the cell. (Id.)

         About an hour later, prison officials activated another ICS when Plaintiff was again found unresponsive in his cell. (Meyer Aff. ¶ 11.) As before, Plaintiff was directed to go to the book pass so that he could be restrained before prison staff entered the cell. Plaintiff, however, did not comply with the request; in fact, Plaintiff did not respond at all. (Id. ¶ 16.) Defendant Dan Meyer, the watch commander at the time of the incident, concluded that Plaintiff was feigning unconsciousness and, rather than ordering what he regarded as a potentially risky cell entry by prison officials to check on Plaintiff, authorized the use of a chemical irritant in an attempt to get Plaintiff to comply. (Id. ¶¶ 16-17.) After being given a warning that the chemical was about to be sprayed into his cell, [6] Plaintiff remained unresponsive. (Id. ¶ 17.)

         Consistent with the warnings, Defendant Tim Demulling sprayed Plaintiff with the chemical irritant in two short bursts. (Meyer Aff. ¶ 18; Demulling Aff. ¶ 9.) The formerly unresponsive Plaintiff began coughing and moved back in his cell towards the bed. (Id.) Prison officials again directed Plaintiff to place his hands through the book pass in order to be restrained. (Id.) This time Plaintiff complied. (Id.)

         Because of Plaintiff's behavior and disturbances in nearby cells by other persons, Defendant Meyer decided to move Plaintiff to an observation unit. (Meyer Aff. ¶ 20.) Plaintiff was placed in handcuffs and a waist chain and was accompanied to the observation cell by (among others) Defendants Emmanual Kintu and Tim Demulling. (Wheeler Aff. ¶ 12, Ex. 8.) A nurse then entered the observation cell to assess Plaintiff's medical condition. (See id.; Meyer Aff. ¶ 22.) By his own admission, Plaintiff then lunged at Kintu. (Pl.'s Mem. 3.) Video taken from the observation cell confirms that Plaintiff made a sudden and forceful move towards Kintu shortly after entering the cell, hitting Kintu and knocking him into the wall. (Wheeler Aff. ¶ 13, Ex. 9.) Kintu attests that Plaintiff also spit into his face and mouth. (Doc. No. 68, Affidavit of Emmanual Kintu (“Kintu Aff.”) ¶ 11.) Plaintiff denies in his briefing that he spit on Kintu, though he did admit during prison disciplinary proceedings that “I spit after they beat me.” (Wheeler Aff. ¶ 14, Ex. 10 at 5.)

         Prison staff activated another ICS, this time for an ongoing staff assault. (Doc. No. 74, Affidavit of Aoun Noor (“Noor Aff.”) ¶ 13.) Officers inside the cell immediately attempted to restrain Plaintiff, and several officers outside the cell rushed in to assist. The exact events that followed are both unclear and disputed. Kintu attests that Plaintiff grabbed his arm while he was attempting to restrain Plaintiff, but Plaintiff suggests that he never grabbed Kintu's arm. (See Kintu Aff. ¶ 12; Pl.'s Mem. 3-4.)[7] Several of the Defendants then used substantial force against Plaintiff in attempting to restrain him - force that Plaintiff claims was excessive under the circumstances. Defendant Demulling threw several closed fist punches that hit Plaintiff's solar plexus and face. Demulling also kneed Plaintiff several times “in the ribs and upper hip area.” (Demulling Aff. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff alleges that Demulling acted with intent to injure him, though Demulling denies this, asserting that he was aiming for “Patterson's brachial plexus tie in, which is a pressure point located near where the shoulder meets the armpit.” (Demulling Aff. ¶ 14.) Defendant John Ricci, who entered the cell after Plaintiff lunged at Kintu, also threw punches at Plaintiff, which were aimed at and landed on Plaintiff's leg and knee. (See Doc. No. 75, Affidavit of John Ricci (“Ricci Aff.”) ¶ 16.) Ricci attests that these punches were delivered “to stop Patterson from resisting and kicking his legs, ” though Plaintiff denies that he was resisting at the time that the punches were thrown. (Id.) Defendant Kintu also threw punches at Plaintiff, which landed on Plaintiff's face; again, Kintu attests that this was done because Plaintiff had grabbed his arm and refused to release it. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant DeChene-who had previously been recording the incident on camera-punched, used a “knee drop, ” and applied a choke hold to him. (Pl.'s Mem. 5.)

         Prison staff eventually placed Plaintiff under full restraints and walked him to the MCF-OPH Administrative Control Unit. (Demulling Aff. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff was examined by a nurse, who noted both that Plaintiff's left eye sclera and lower lip were bloody and that Plaintiff's lower lip and cheek bones were beginning to swell. (Wheeler Aff. ¶ 17, Ex. 13 at 7.) The nurse described this swelling as mild. (Id.) Doctor records from two days after the incident noted “1. Left periorbital contusion. 2. Scleral hemorrhage, left eye. 3. Abrasions, oropharyngeal area, potentially related to patient's documented coughing when exposed to chemical irritant. 4. Diminished sensation, lateral aspects of wrists, per patient, potential to superficial nerve contusion.” (Id. at 4.) The doctor gave Plaintiff Tylenol, throat lozenges, and B complex vitamins. (Id. at 5.)[8]

         About a month later Plaintiff returned to the doctor and reported back and ankle pain, but he also noted that he “recall[ed] no activity or trauma which preceded the onset of this pain” and that the pain “began two days before an altercation with staff on April 28, 2017.”[9] (Wheeler Aff. ¶ 17, Ex. 13 at 5) (emphasis added). About a month after that, Plaintiff reported headaches on June 28, 2017. (Id. at 2.) Medical notes indicate that Plaintiff's headaches were potentially post-traumatic and potentially post-concussive. (Id.) Subsequent records from a medical appointment in September 2017 reflect no other concerns regarding injuries arising out of the April 30, 2017 altercation. (Id. at 1-3.)

         Plaintiff later described his own injuries from the incident as being “a bust scleral hemorrhage in my left eye, black left eye and swollen left eye and right eye, swollen and bust nose and swollen and bust lip, bruises under my neck.” (Doc. No. 84, Affidavit of Bradley Simon (“Simon Aff.”) ¶ 2, Ex. 1 at 3.) Plaintiff also stated that, as of about a year after the incident, his “physical injuries [had] somewhat improved but I still have discomfort, ” including headaches and back discomfort. (Id. at 4.)

         II. Analysis

         A. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence in the record, when viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Thomas v. Heartland Emp't Servs., LLC, 797 F.3d 527, 529 (8th Cir. 2015). The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying “those portions of the record which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Jackson v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 643 F.3d 1081, 1085 (8th Cir. 2011). If the moving party does so, the nonmoving party “may not . . . rest on mere allegations or denials, ” but must point to evidence “of specific facts which create a genuine issue of material fact.” Krenik v. Cty. of Le Sueur, 47 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1995). The mere existence of a factual dispute will not defeat a motion for summary judgment unless that dispute is “genuine, ” meaning that “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In deciding a summary-judgment motion, a court need not accept a nonmoving party's unsupported allegations, see Reed v. City of St.Charles, Mo., 561 F.3d 788, 790-91 (8th Cir. 2009), conclusory statements, see Heisler v. Metro. Council, 339 F.3d 622, 628 (8th Cir. 2003), or other statements that are “blatantly contradicted by the record, ” such that “no reasonable jury could believe” them. Edwards v. Byrd, 750 F.3d 728, 733 (8th Cir. 2014); see also Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) (“When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.”).

         B. Defendants Noor, Spielman, and Roth

         Plaintiff alleged in his Amended Complaint that Defendants Noor, Spielman, and Roth used excessive force against him by holding him down on his bed, “punching [him] all over [his] body and face, ” and pulling him off the bed onto the floor while shackled. (Doc. No. 40, Am. Compl. at 4.) Plaintiff acknowledges, however, that after reviewing the evidence, Noor, Spielman, and Roth “did not use any force against me” and “did their job in restraining me and not striking me for no reason.” (Doc. No. 98, Declaration of Honora Tremaine Patterson (“Patterson Decl.”) ¶ 14.) Obviously, then, excessive-force claims cannot be prosecuted against those individuals, as Plaintiff himself recognizes.[10]Id.

         Plaintiff suggests that despite the dismissal of the excessive force claims against Noor, Spielman, and Roth, he might nevertheless be able to prosecute claims that those officers included false information in their incident reports following the events at issue in this litigation. (Patterson Decl. ¶ 14.) But Plaintiff did not plead claims regarding false reports against Noor, Spielman, or Roth in his Amended Complaint, and thus any such claims cannot properly be regarded as part of the current litigation. (See generally Am. Compl.) Moreover, as will be explained with respect to the claim about false incident reports that Plaintiff did plead against Kintu, the submission of an incident report containing false information does not, by itself, amount to actionable misbehavior, even assuming Plaintiff's allegations to be correct. Accordingly, this Court recommends that Defendants Noor, Spielman, and Roth be dismissed from this lawsuit.

         C. Defendants Kintu, DeChene, Demulling, and Ricci

         Unlike Noor, Spielman, and Roth, Defendants Kintu, DeChene, Demulling, and Ricci each personally used force against Plaintiff that he claims was excessive under the circumstances. Demulling sprayed Plaintiff with chemical irritant when Plaintiff failed to respond to the directive that he place his hands in his cell's book pass. In addition, all four officers were involved in restraining Plaintiff after he lunged at Kintu in the observation cell.

         Along with the claims of excessive force, Plaintiff alleges in his Amended Complaint that Kintu falsified information on the report he filed following the events at issue. (Am. Compl. 4.) Although the Amended Complaint did not expressly raise a claim based on that specific allegation, the brief submitted by Plaintiff in opposition to Defendants' motion for summary judgment suggests that, independent of his excessive-force claims, he is seeking relief based on the allegation that Kintu filed a false report. (Pl.'s Mem. 3.) Plaintiff also alleges in his briefing that several of the other officers included false information on their reports. Despite the lack of clarity about whether Plaintiff ...

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