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Thornton v. Phillips

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Texarkana Division

October 21, 2019




         The Plaintiff John Otis Thornton Jr., proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This Court referred the case to the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and (3) and the Amended Order for the Adoption of Local Rules for the Assignment of Duties to United States Magistrate Judges. The named Defendants are Officer Corvette Phillips and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.


         Plaintiff complained about two separate incidents. First, Plaintiff asserted Officer Phillips, who was a sergeant at the time, subjected him to excessive force on October 13, 2014. Second, Plaintiff contended Officer Phillips placed him in a shower in 11 Building for over two hours, exposing him to excessive heat, on July 8, 2018. Plaintiff claimed there was an empty dayroom which could have been used as a holding area instead of the shower. He maintained Officer Phillips knew about the heat risk but ignored it, instead closing the shower door slot.

         Plaintiff stated when Lt. Adcock took him to the medical department after he was in the shower for two hours, he was “crying like a baby” and he is now “the laughing stock of the Telford Unit.” He claimed he could have died in the shower and seeks $200, 000, 000.00 in damages for the two incidents. Plaintiff also asserts Officer Phillips's actions violated TDCJ rules and regulations and amounted to “attempted murder.”

         In a Step One grievance, Plaintiff contended Officer Phillips created a serious safety issue by closing the shower door slot. Plaintiff also alleges he asked for medical care, but Officer Phillips refused, telling him he was “going to die.” Plaintiff's further alleged Lt. Adcock removed Plaintiff from the shower after over two hours, caused Plaintiff to fall and took Plaintiff to the medical department. Plaintiff claimed Officer Phillips retaliated against him, taking plaintiff's property and breaking Plaintiff's radio tuner. In response, Officer Phillips and Lt. Adcock denied Plaintiff's allegations.

         In a Step Two appeal of this grievance, Plaintiff complained the administration failed to investigate his Step One grievance. Plaintiff also alleged Officer James, Officer Cole and Nurse Steele did not remove him from the shower when he requested. Plaintiff claims Nurse Steele said she did not help Plaintiff at Officer Phillips's direction. Plaintiff also claims Nurse Steele told him he would be removed from the shower shortly, but Plaintiff was left in the shower for another hour. In its Step Two response, the prison found the staff handled Plaintiff's Step One grievance appropriately and that there was no evidence of misconduct.

         The Motion for Summary Judgment

         Officer Phillips moved for summary judgment, contending Plaintiff did not establish deliberate indifference. Specifically, Plaintiff did not allege sufficient harm-only mild overheating. Additionally, Officer Philips argues violations of TDCJ policies do not amount to a constitutional claim. Officer Phillips also argued Plaintiff lacks standing to bring a criminal action for “attempted murder” and invoked his entitlement to the defense of qualified immunity.

         In support, Officer Phillips furnished Plaintiff's medical records. Those records indicate Plaintiff was seen in the infirmary on July 8, 2016 based on complaints that he had been left in the shower. He was “ranting and raving, ” but he laid down on the floor and calmed down after 30 minutes. After calming down, Plaintiff had a blood pressure of 126/101 and a temperature of 98.1. His speech was clear; his pupils were equal, round and reactive to light; his hand grasps were strong and equal; and his gait was steady with no weakness in his lower extremities. Physician Assistant Barker diagnosed Plaintiff with mild overheating and noted Plaintiff's anger issues and preexisting hypertension. She directed Plaintiff to continue taking his hypertension medication and released him.

         Plaintiff's Response to the Motion for Summary Judgment

         In response, Plaintiff identified a previous lawsuit based on these incidents, which was filed October 18, 2016. No. 5:16-cv-160. That lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice in June 2017, and Plaintiff filed this case-complaining about the same conduct-on November 8, 2017. In addition, Plaintiff complained that he did not receive responses to his Step One and Step Two grievances until October 13, 2016, which was not his fault. He explained he “went backward to add this violation 10/13/14 to show the Court Corvette Phillips have [sic] a pattern in his behavior toward inmates.”

         Arguing Officer Phillips's use of a shower as a holding cell violated TDCJ, Plaintiff asserted the shower has no air circulation when a plastic slot in the door is closed. He contended Officer Phillips knew the heat risk but ignored it and claimed the violation of policy rose to a constitutional level because the dayroom could have been used as a holding cell. Plaintiff stated he would like a grand jury to make a judgment as to the two incidents and claimed Officer Phillips is not entitled to qualified immunity because the officer violated his constitutional rights and caused him harm.

         The Report of the ...

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