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Springer v. Rekoff

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

May 12, 2017

UNKNOWN REKOFF, et al., Defendants.



         The plaintiff, Kyle Springer (TDCJ #01955605), is an inmate in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice - Correctional Institutions Division ("TDCJ"). He has filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that he was subjected to excessive force while held in the Galveston County Jail ("the Jail"). Springer alleges that two jail guards, Defendants Cory Rekoff and Dante Austin, threw him to the ground and repeatedly kicked and punched him after Springer had a minor verbal disagreement with Austin; Springer was shackled and handcuffed at the time (Dkt. 17 at pp. 3-4). Rekoff and Austin have filed a joint motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 28). The Court previously tabled that motion and informed the defendants that it would be considered reurged if the Court found against the defendants on their affirmative defense that Springer failed to exhaust his administrative remedies (Dkt. 65). The Court has, by separate order, ruled against the defendants on their failure-to-exhaust defense. The motion for summary judgment filed by Rekoff and Austin is now considered reurged and is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to his affidavit, on February 12, 2014, Springer was eating lunch in a dayroom in a lockdown unit in the Jail; he was seated at a table with handcuffs on his wrists and shackles on his legs (Dkt. 33-1 at pp. 1-2). Austin, who was working in the dayroom, approached Springer and began talking to him about how Springer had hidden a tray of food in his cell a few days before (Dkt. 33-1 at p. 2). Austin accused Springer of stealing that tray, to which Springer retorted that he "had not technically stolen a tray from [Austin]" because "taxpayers pay for jail property" (Dkt. 33-1 at p. 2). In response to Springer's snide remark, Austin "ripped the tray" on which Springer was eating out of his hands, and Springer's "food went everywhere" (Dkt. 33-1 at p. 2). Springer stood up and asked to talk to Austin's supervisor (Dkt. 33-1 at p. 2).

         Austin walked away without responding; and Springer, who "knew [he] was not going to get any food, . . . grabbed a sandwich and tried to eat as quickly as possible" (Dkt. 33-1 at p. 2). Austin walked back over and grabbed that sandwich out of Springer's hands, as well; and, "[a]t the same time, [Springer] got slammed to the floor by Rekoff' (Dkt. 33-1 at p. 2). Austin and Rekoff then grabbed Springer, "slung him around[, ]" dragged him across the floor over to his cell, and "slung [him] into [his] cell where [his] head hit the wall and the toilet" (Dkt. 33-1 at p. 2). Austin and Rekoff "flipped [Springer] over, and Austin was crouched over [him], punching [him, ] while Rekoff kicked [Springer] and stomped [his] shackled feet" (Dkt. 33-1 at p. 2). Springer's affidavit states that, "[f]rom the moment [he] hit the ground in the dayroom until the deputies stopped beating [him] in [his] cell, [he] was handcuffed and shackled on the ground" and "[t]he only movements [he] made after being slammed to the ground Were involuntary movements and attempts to cover and protect [his] head" (Dkt. 33-1 at p. 3).

         A fellow inmate, Charles Nallie, has submitted an affidavit in which he testifies that Springer made a sarcastic remark to Austin, after which Austin grabbed the tray, Springer stood up, and Rekoff "grabbed [Springer] by the neck from behind and slung him over his hip and threw him to the ground" (Dkt. 33-2).[1] Nallie's affidavit further states that, although Springer was "subdued" after Rekoff took hiiiri down, "Austin straddled [Springer's] body and started punching him" while "Rekoff had him pinned" (Dkt. 33-2).[2] The deputies dragged Springer into his cell, from which Nallie heard Springer being kicked and punched and Springer's head hitting the wall (Dkt. 33-2).[3]

         Just after the incident, a nurse in the infirmary noted that Springer presented with knots on the right side of his forehead and the left side of his face; lacerations on both wrists; and abrasions on his left ankle, left back, left side, and abdomen (Dkt. 29 at p. 40). Jail personnel took pictures documenting these injuries (Dkt. 31 at pp. 257-68; Dkt. 32 at pp. 1-8).

         Jail officials investigated the use of force by Austin and Rekoff because Austin and Rekoff did not properly report the use of force to their supervisor and the maneuvers described by Austin and Rekoff in their reports were inconsistent with the injuries sustained by Springer (Dkt. 58-2 at p. 8). In their reports, Austin and Rekoff claim that Rekoff used "knee strikes" to Springer's abdomen and Austin used "strikes to the Brachial Plexus nerves in Springer's neck" because Springer, though on the ground, "attempted to get up[;]" "attempt[ed] to lunge at" the deputies' legs; and "clutch[ed]" Austin's leg (Dkt. 58-2 at pp. 1-7). The investigating officer initially classified the use of force as "unjustified, " noting that "[t]he tactics and the type of force that has [sic] been reported could have been avoided by trying to use pressure points or pain compliance before knee or open handed strikes" Dkt. 58-2 at p. 8). He changed that classification to "justified" after speaking with two inmates who said they saw Springer hitting his head on his cell wall in an apparent effort to fake injuries (Dkt. 58-2 at pp. 8-9). Springer, as one would guess, denies that his head injuries were self-inflicted (Dkt. 33-1 at pp. 1, 3). The investigating officer further concluded that Austin and Rekoff didj not intentionally flout use-of-force reporting regulations (Dkt. 58-2 at p. 9).


         A. Rule 56

         Austin and Rekoff have filed a motion for summary judgment* 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, 2%% (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 ...

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