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Blair v. Bowersox

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 12, 2019

Diamond D. Blair Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
Michael Bowersox, Warden Defendant Roger Terry, Deputy Assistant Warden Defendant-Appellee John Doe 1, SCCC Correctional Officer I; John Doe 2, SCCC Correctional Officer I; Jane Doe 1, SCCC Correctional Officer I; Jane Doe 2, SCCC Correctional Officer I Defendants

          Submitted: February 12, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri - Springfield

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, BENTON and STRAS, Circuit Judges

          SMITH, Chief Judge

         Inmate Diamond Blair was attacked by a fellow inmate on the first day he arrived at South Central Correctional Center (SCCC) in Licking, Missouri. Following the attack, prison officials placed Blair in a single-man cell in the facility's administrative segregation unit ("Ad-Seg") while they conducted an investigation. Officials returned Blair to the prison's general population after two months in Ad-Seg. Two days later, he was attacked again, this time by a different inmate. Blair brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Deputy Warden Roger Terry, alleging a failure to protect him from harm by fellow inmates. The case was tried to a jury. After the parties rested, Terry moved for judgment as a matter of law. The district court[1] granted Terry's motion. Blair challenges the court's ruling on appeal. We affirm.

         I. Background

         Diamond Blair brought a failure-to-protect claim against Deputy Warden Roger Terry. Blair alleged Terry acted with deliberate indifference to the substantial risk that Blair would be attacked by a fellow inmate, in violation of the Eighth Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment. A jury trial was held, and at the close of all the evidence, the district court granted judgment for Terry as a matter of law. The district court determined that no reasonable jury could find in Blair's favor.

         We review the district court's decision de novo. Spruce v. Sargent, 149 F.3d 783, 785 (8th Cir. 1998). Our analysis requires "that (1) all direct factual conflicts must be resolved in favor of [Blair]; (2) all facts in support of [Blair] that the evidence tended to prove must be assumed; and (3) [Blair] must be given the benefit of all reasonable inferences." Id. We will affirm the decision if the evidence, viewed under these standards, would not permit a reasonable jury to come to a different conclusion. Id.

         Blair is an inmate serving a life sentence within the Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC). He arrived at the SCCC facility on April 7, 2015, where he was assigned to a general population housing unit. That evening, as Blair sat down in the dining hall for dinner, a fellow inmate whom he knew approached him and put his arm around his shoulder. Blair shrugged him off. Moments later, another inmate, Qusai Mahasin, attacked Blair from behind, stabbing him multiple times with a prison-made knife. Blair had never met or had any contact with Mahasin before the attack, and he did not know why Mahasin attacked him.

         The attack occurred in the prison's general population unit. In addition to general population, SCCC also contains protective custody and Ad-Seg housing units. The prison places inmates in protective custody when there is reason to believe that their safety would be jeopardized in general population. Inmates in protective custody still receive the same general privileges afforded to the general population inmates. Inmates housed in Ad-Seg, however, receive severely limited recreational privileges, fewer opportunities to leave their single-man cells, and shorter meal times. Inmates commonly refer to Ad-Seg as "the hole." Following the attack, Blair was treated in the infirmary, issued a conduct violation for fighting, and temporarily placed in an Ad-Seg housing unit while prison officials conducted an investigation into the incident. Officials also placed a transfer hold on Blair so that he would not be transferred to another facility before they could conclude the investigation.

         As a deputy warden at SCCC, Terry handled "offender management." This responsibility included supervising the prison's custody and classification staff and approving inmate housing recommendations. On April 13, several days after the attack, Terry went to the Ad-Seg housing unit to speak with another inmate. While he was there, he approached Blair at his cell. Blair asked Terry why he was being kept in Ad-Seg despite being the victim of an attack. Terry replied that, as far as he was aware, the investigation was still ongoing, so he could not "do anything with [Blair]" at that time, but he "would check on it" for him. Trial Tr., Day 3, at 433, Blair v. Bowersox et al., No. 6:15-cv-03532 (W.D. Mo. April 16, 2018), ECF No. 247.

         Blair testified that he asked Terry to send him to a protective custody unit because he believed that someone had a "hit" out on him. Trial Tr., Day 1, at 54, Blair v. Bowersox et al., No. 6:15-cv-03532 (W.D. Mo. April 16, 2018), ECF No. 245. When Terry asked him why he thought so, Blair replied:

I told him I felt at the time or believed at that time it had something to do with my murder case, the case-the case that I'm doing time for. I believe that some of my-I believe that my victim had some relatives at that institution. And that was maybe the reason why I was stabbed because I didn't know why I was stabbed. I just got there.

Id. According to Blair, Terry said he was going to leave him in Ad-Seg until he could "figure out what to do with" him because he "was too aggressive" to be placed in the protective custody unit. Id. When Blair protested, Terry advised him, "you're not going to PC. Get that out of your head." Id. Terry also told him that a facility transfer was not an option, so Blair believed that "the only recourse was to keep [him] in Ad-Seg or go back to general population." Id. at 57. Another offender in the housing unit, Carl Johnson, testified that he heard Terry say to Blair, "I'm not letting you out of here," and "PC's not an option." Trial Tr., Day 2, at 257, Blair v. Bowersox et al., No. 6:15-cv-03532 (W.D. Mo. April 16, 2018), ECF No. 246. Johnson did not hear Blair ...


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