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Byam v. Cain

United States District Court, D. Oregon

August 12, 2019

ANTHONY JONATHAN BYAM, Plaintiff,
v.
SRCI SUPERINTENDANT B. CAIN; C/O BARBA; C/O MARTINEZ; LT. WILLIAM KING; HEARINGS OFFICER CAPPS; C/O M. MARINES; and OTHER UNKNOWN EMPLOYEES, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Michael H. Simon United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Anthony J. Byam (“Byam”), representing himself, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants-all employees of the Oregon Department of Corrections (“ODOC”)-violated Byam's constitutional rights. Defendants have moved for summary judgment against all claims. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         BACKGROUND

         As his first claim, Byam alleges that on November 10, 2017, an ODOC extraction team used excessive force in removing him from his cell. Byam had covered his cell window with paper, seeking to speak with a high-ranking officer after Defendant Barba allegedly refused to give Byam dinner. Byam states in a sworn declaration that when the ODOC officers came to extract him from his cell, he did not resist and instead placed his hands on his head, faced the back wall of his cell, and began to kneel, but that officers “tased [him], tackled [him] to the ground and repetitively smashed [his] head in the cement causing multiple contusions and lacerations.” ECF 42. Byam also submitted photographs of his purported injuries, and the Court has reviewed video footage of Byam being extracted from his cell. Byam adds that just before he was extracted, officers played musical recordings over the intercom, including “Eye of the Tiger, ” which is the theme-song from the movie Rocky. Byam asserts that the ODOC officers did this to “goad” Byam into acting impulsively.

         As his second claim, Byam alleges that Defendant Capps denied Byam his due process rights by denying Byam's requests for an investigation and to call witnesses at Byam's disciplinary hearing related to the cell extraction. As his third claim, Byam alleges that Defendant Barba escorted Byam to his cell while Byam was only wearing his underwear. As a remedy for these three claims, Byam seeks “release, monetary judgment, and actions taken to prevent similar future events.”[1]

         STANDARDS

         A party is entitled to 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). The moving party has the burden of establishing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Clicks Billiards Inc. v. Sixshooters Inc., 251 F.3d 1252, 1257 (9th Cir. 2001). Although “[credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge . . . ruling on a motion for summary judgment, ” the “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiffs position [is] insufficient . . . .” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 255 (1986). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         A court must liberally construe the filings of a pro se plaintiff and afford the plaintiff the benefit of any reasonable doubt. Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010). “Unless it is absolutely clear that no amendment can cure the defect, . . . a pro se litigant is entitled to notice of the complaint's deficiencies and an opportunity to amend prior to dismissal of the action.” Garity v. APWU Nat'l Labor Org., 828 F.3d 848, 854 (9th Cir. 2016) (alteration in original) (quoting Lucas v. Dep't of Corrections, 66 F.3d 245, 248 (9th Cir. 1995) (per curiam)). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), however, every complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” This standard “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, '” but does demand “more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         DISCUSSION

         A. Claim One: Excessive Use of Force

         Defendants argue that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to whether any member of the cell extraction team used excessive force against Byam and that Defendant Martinez lacks sufficient personal involvement in the alleged incident. Inmates maintain an Eighth Amendment right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment while in prison, but “force does not amount to a constitutional violation in this respect if it is applied in a good faith effort to restore discipline and order not ‘maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.'” Clement v. Gomez, 298 F.3d 898, 903 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 320-21 (1986)). The standard has both objective and subjective elements. Objectively, the alleged wrongdoing must be “harmful enough to establish a constitutional violation.” Hudson v. McMilian, 503 U.S. 1, 8 (1992). Subjectively, prison officials must act “with a sufficiently culpable state of mind” id, but an “express intent to inflict unnecessary pain is not required.” Whitley, 475 U.S. at 319 (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976)). In order to determine whether a particular use of force evinces the wanton infliction of pain, “we consider the objective need for force, the relationship between any such need and the amount of force actually used, the threat reasonably perceived by the correctional officer, whether the officer took efforts to temper the severity of his response, and the extent of the inmate's injury.” Marquez v. Gutierrez, 322 F.3d 689, 692 (9th Cir. 2003).

         The Court finds that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the force used by members of the ODOC extraction team against Byam was applied maliciously and sadistically to cause harm rather than in a good-faith effort to maintain and restore discipline. The Court has carefully reviewed the video evidence of the extraction submitted by Defendants, and finds there are also genuine issues of material fact as to whether there was an objective need for force, the relationship between any such need and the amount of force actually used, the threat reasonably perceived by the correctional officers, whether the officers took efforts to temper the severity of the response, and the extent of the Byam's injury. Marquez, 322 F.3d at 692. At approximately minute 2:16 of the video submitted by Defendants, the extraction team begins to open Byam's cell door. Byam can be seen immediately lying down on the ground, face down, with his feet towards the door. After Byam lies down, a member of the extraction team shoots Byam with a taser.[2] Byam can be heard screaming, and Sergeant King asserts in his declaration that Officer Lindberg then deployed his electronic shield against Byam “momentarily to gain compliance.” Sergeant King asserts in his declaration that Officer Houston then deployed a secondary taser against Byam. At minute 3:35, the extraction team can be seen escorting Byam out of his cell after they had fully restrained him. At minute 4:20-40, Byam can be heard saying “I just wanted to talk to somebody. . . . I think you broke my nose.” At minute 7:10, visible bruises can be seen on Byam's face.

         The Court finds that this evidence is sufficient to show a genuine dispute of material fact as to the objective need for force, the relationship between any such need and the amount of force actually used, the threat reasonably perceived by any correctional officer, whether any officer took efforts to temper the severity of his response, and the extent of Byam's injury. The video evidence indicates that Byam was lying face down before any force was used. Byam's injuries are visible on video. The Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Viewed in that light, there is a genuine dispute as to whether the force used amounts to a constitutional violation.

         Nor are Defendants entitled to qualified immunity. Ninth Circuit precedent clearly establishes that using a taser in dart mode against an individual who does not pose an “immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others” is a constitutional violation. Bryan v. MacPherson, 630 F.3d 805, 827 (9th Cir. 2010). The Court in Bryan also noted that the Defendant in that case, like Byam here, “was not even facing [the officer who deployed the taser] when he was shot.” Id. The Ninth Circuit has also established that there is a constitutional violation when a taser is used in drive-stun mode rather than dart mode. See Mattos v. Agarano, 661 F.3d 433, 443 (9th Cir. 2011). In Mattos, the Court noted that “[a]t most, the officers may have found [the tased individual] uncooperative and her agitated behavior to be potentially threatening” and that such circumstances were not appropriate for the use of the taser. Id. at 444. The Court noted the “overwhelmingly salient factor” that the individual was tased ...


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