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Dunn v. Davidson

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

May 4, 2018




         Michael Shane Dunn filed this prisoner civil rights case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that former correctional officer Dakota Davidson used excessive force against him while Dunn was incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice - Correctional Institutions Division (“TDCJ'). On February 8, 2017, the Court granted Davidson's motion for summary judgment on the claims against him in his official capacity as a state employee, but denied summary judgment on Davidson's contention that he was entitled to qualified immunity from the claims against him in his individual capacity [Doc. # 81]. With the assistance of appointed counsel, Dunn has filed an amended complaint [Doc. # 95]. Now pending before the Court is Davidson's renewed motion for summary judgment on the remaining claims against him in his individual capacity [Doc. # 108]. Dunn has filed a response [Doc. # 111]. After considering all of the pleadings, the evidence, and the applicable law, Davidson's summary judgment motion will be denied for reasons set forth below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On August 10, 2014, Dunn was incarcerated by TDCJ at the Wynne Unit in Huntsville, where Davidson was working as a correctional officer.[1] While Davidson was escorting prisoners from their assigned cell block that morning, Dunn contends that Davidson became impatient and irate with Dunn's slow pace in exiting his cell.[2]As Dunn proceeded down the row of the cell block, he paused to ask one of his fellow inmates a question.[3] When he did so, Dunn claims that Davidson charged at him “in a threatening manner” and proceeded to “viciously beat [him]” without provocation.[4]

         Dunn contends that the assault by Davidson left him with a bloody nose and two blackened eyes that remained black for three months.[5] Dunn sustained a cut underneath his left eye and broken wisdom teeth as the result of blows to the head by Davidson during the assault, which also resulted in “chronic sensations of dizziness, headaches, and a swollen face and eyes[.]”[6] Alleging that Davidson used excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment, Dunn seeks compensatory and punitive damages against Davidson in his individual capacity under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[7]

         Davidson does not deny that force was used against Dunn during their encounter at the Wynne Unit on August 10, 2014.[8] Davidson maintains, however, that he did not violate Dunn's constitutional rights because the application of force was necessary in response to Dunn's aggressive conduct and resulted in minimal injury.[9]Arguing further that his actions were reasonable under the circumstances, Davidson moves for summary judgment on the grounds that he is entitled to qualified immunity from Dunn's claims against him.[10]


         The defendant's motion for summary judgment is governed by Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Under this rule, a reviewing court “shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A fact is “material” if its resolution in favor of one party might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue is “genuine” if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

         If the movant demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the non-movant to provide “specific facts” showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). In making this determination, a reviewing court “may not undertake to evaluate the credibility of witnesses, weigh the evidence, or resolve factual disputes.” Int'l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1263 (5th Cir. 1991). At the summary judgment stage, a reviewing court must “construe all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Dillon v. Rogers, 596 F.3d 260, 266 (5th Cir. 2010) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). This means that “[t]he evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1863 (2014) (per curiam) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). If the evidence in the record is such that a reasonable jury could arrive at a verdict in that party's favor, the motion for summary judgment must be denied. Int'l Shortstop, Inc., 939 F.2d at 1263.


         A. Qualified Immunity

         Davidson argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity from liability in his individual capacity because he did not violate Dunn's constitutional rights and his actions were objectively reasonable. Public officials acting within the scope of their authority generally are shielded from civil liability by the doctrine of qualified immunity. See Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). A plaintiff seeking to overcome qualified immunity must show: “(1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was ‘clearly established' at the time of the challenged conduct.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 735 (2011) (citation omitted). If the defendant's actions violated a clearly established constitutional right, the final step of the analysis asks whether qualified immunity is appropriate, nevertheless, because the defendant's “actions were objectively reasonable” in light of “law which was clearly established at the time of the disputed action.” Collins v. Ainsworth, 382 F.3d 529, 537 (5th Cir. 2004).

         The plaintiff bears the burden of negating a defendant's claim of qualified immunity. See Bazan v. Hidalgo Cty., 246 F.3d 481, 489-90 (5th Cir. 2001). To avoid summary judgment on the defendant's qualified immunity defense, a plaintiff must present evidence to raise a fact issue “material to the resolution of the questions whether the defendants acted in an objectively reasonable manner in view of the existing law and facts available to them.” Lampkin v. City of Nacogdoches, 7 F.3d 430, 435 (5th Cir. 1993). “Even if a defendant's conduct actually violates a plaintiff's constitutional rights, the defendant is entitled to qualified immunity if the conduct was objectively reasonable.” Zarnow v. City of Wichita Falls, Tex., 500 F.3d 401, 408 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Pfannstiel v. City of Marion, 918 F.2d 1178, 1183 (5th Cir. 1990)).

         B. Excessive Force in Violation of the Eighth Amendment

         As noted above, Davidson does not deny that he used force against Dunn during the altercation that occurred on August 10, 2014. During the administrative investigation of the use of force, Davidson admitted striking Dunn multiple times in the face with a closed fist and also striking him with his elbow during the ensuing struggle.[11] Dunn ...

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