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Bouknight v. Roesler

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division

March 23, 2017

MIKE ROESLER, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff David Eron Bouknight is a parolee who has filed a civil rights lawsuit alleging that he was injured when a heavy chow hall table fell on him while he was incarcerated at the Terrell Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice ("TDCJ"). Bouknight claims that the table had not been adequately inspected or maintained despite posing an obvious danger to inmates. He further alleges that the medical personnel who treated him for his injuries were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. In his live complaint, Bouknight names nine defendants (Dkt. 33 at pp. 3-4).

         The Court requested a Martinez report[1] from the Texas Attorney General's office, which the Attorney General's office provided (Dkt. 52). The Court construed the Martinez report as a motion for summary judgment filed on behalf of the defendants and notified Bouknight of that construction (Dkt. 53). Bouknight filed a response (Dkt. 54). After reviewing all of the evidence submitted, the parties' briefing, and the applicable law, the Court concludes that the defendants' motion for summary judgment must be granted for the reasons that follow.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In his live complaint, Bouknight alleges that he suffered injuries to his back, hip, and left knee on November 7, 2011 "when a 300-400 lb. steel dining table broke at the base and fell over with [him]" (Dkt. 33 at pp. 5-6). Bouknight further alleges that the table's base rusted out and collapsed because it "is subjected to constant moisture from the washing and cleaning of the floor after meals" (Dkt. 33 at p. 5). According to Bouknight, few inspections and little maintenance have been performed on the chow hall tables, and the table that injured him in fact broke a second time soon after it was repaired (Dkt. 33 at pp. 5-6). Bouknight generally alleges that there were "problems with . . . breaking tables[, ]" by which he apparently means that other similar incidents should have alerted Terrell Unit officials that the chow hall tables posed a danger to inmates (Dkt. 33 at p. 3). He does not, however, cite any specific instances of falling tables injuring other inmates.

         The nine defendants can essentially be divided into three categories: (1) Terrell Unit officials who "[were] aware of the problems with the breaking tables but failed to act on [them;]"[2] (2) medical providers who showed deliberate indifference to Bouknight's medical needs;[3] and (3) one grievance investigator who "[f]ailed to answer" Bouknight's grievances and other requests for relief and information regarding the accident[4] (Dkt. 33 at pp. 3-4).


         A. The PLRA

         The complaint in this case is governed by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (the "PLRA"). Upon initial screening of a prisoner civil rights complaint, the PLRA requires a district court to scrutinize the claims and dismiss the complaint, in whole or in part, if it determines that the complaint "is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted;" or "seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). The PLRA also provides that the court "shall on its own motion or on the motion of a party dismiss an action" if it is satisfied that the complaint is "frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c).

         Bouknight proceeds pro se in this case. Courts construe pleadings filed by pro se litigants under a less stringent standard of review. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972) (per curiam). Under this standard, "[a] document filed pro se is 'to be liberally construed, ' Estelle [v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)], and 'apro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Nevertheless, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroftv. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (observing that courts "are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation"). The Supreme Court has clarified that "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         B. Rule 56

         The Texas Attorney General's office has filed a Martinez report, which the Court construes as a motion for summary judgment filed on behalf of the defendants. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a sufficient showing of the existence of an element essential to the party's case and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must determine whether the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. at 322-23.

         For summary judgment, the initial burden falls on the movant to identify areas essential to the non-movant's claim in which there is an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Lincoln Gen. Ins. Co. v. Reyna, 401 F.3d 347, 349 (5th Cir. 2005). The movant, however, need not negate the elements of the non-movant's case. See Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005). The movant may meet its burden by pointing out the absence of evidence supporting the non-movant's case. Duffy v. Leading Edge Products, Inc., 44 F.3d 308, 312 (5th Cir. 1995).

         If the movant meets its initial burden, the non-movant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Littlefield v. Forney Indep. Sch. Dist., 268 F.3d 275, 282 (5th Cir. 2001). "An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action. A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." DIRECT TV Inc. v. Robson, 420 F.3d 532, 536 (5th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted).

         In deciding whether a genuine and material fact issue has been created, the facts and inferences to be drawn from those facts must be reviewed in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Reaves Brokerage Co. v. Sunbelt Fruit & Vegetable Co., 336 F.3d 410, 412 (5th Cir. 2003). However, factual controversies are resolved in favor of the non-movant "only when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Alexander v. Eeds, 392 F.3d 138, 142 (5th Cir. 2004) (citation and quotation marks omitted). The non-movant's burden is not met by mere reliance on the allegations or denials in the non-movant's pleadings. See Diamond Offshore Co. v. A & B Builders, Inc., 302 F.3d 531, 545 n.13 (5th Cir. 2002). Likewise, "conclusory allegations" or "unsubstantiated assertions" do not meet the non-movant's burden. Delta & Pine Land Co. v. Nationwide Agribusiness Ins. Co., 530 F.3d 395, 399 (5th Cir. 2008). Instead, the non-movant must present specific facts which show the existence of a genuine issue concerning every essential component of its case. Am. Eagle Airlines, Inc. v. Air Line Pilots Ass % Int'l, 343 F.3d 401, 405 (5th Cir. 2003). In the absence of any proof, the Court will not assume that the non-movant could or would prove the necessary facts. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc).

         Affidavits cannot preclude summary judgment unless they contain competent and otherwise admissible evidence. See Love v. Nat'l Medical Enterprises,230 F.3d 765, 776 (5th Cir. 2000); Hunter-Reed v. City of Houston, 244 F.Supp.2d 733, 745 (S.D. Tex. 2003). A party's self-serving and unsupported statement in an affidavit will not defeat summary judgment where the evidence in the record is to the contrary. Smith v. Southwestern Bell Tel. Co., 456 Fed.App'x 489, 492 (5th Cir. 2012) ("[W]e have repeatedly held that self-serving statements, without more, will not defeat a motion for summary judgment, particularly one supported by plentiful contrary evidence."); United States v. Lawrence,276 F.3d 193, 197 (5th Cir. 2001); In re Hinsley,201 F.3d 638, 643 (5th Cir. 2000); see also Scott v. Harris,550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) ("When opposing parties tell two different ...

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