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Schwartz v. Pritchett

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, LaFayette Division

March 31, 2017

BENJAMIN SCHWARTZ, Plaintiff,
v.
BOSTON PRITCHETT, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Robert L. Miller, Jr. Judge United States District Court

         Benjamin Schwartz sued the defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state laws after he was attacked by a fellow inmate at the Benton County Jail. The defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the court grants the motion.

         I. Background

         The events in this case revolve around an altercation in the Benton County Jail, a small facility with a capacity of 47 inmates and a typical inmate population of about 25. In the early evening, Mr. Schwartz was playing cards in his pod, or housing unit, with three other inmates, one of whom was Matthew Shepard. Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Shepard disagreed about whether another inmate ought to move into their pod. Mr. Schwartz walked toward the door and hit the button on the speaker to alert an officer that they were having a problem. Mr. Shepard then attacked Mr. Schwartz from behind. Mr. Schwartz covered the back of his head with his hands.

         William Rittenberry, the correction officer on duty, was in another pod at the time. He heard yelling from Mr. Schwartz's pod. Surveillance footage shows that Mr. Shepard's attack lasted about 18 seconds, and that Deputy Rittenberry returned to the control room and tried to speak with Mr. Schwartz through the intercom system just over a minute after the attack began. Deputy Rittenberry couldn't understand what Mr. Schwartz was saying over the intercom, so he came to the pod door and spoke with Mr. Schwartz through the door slot. Deputy Rittenberry told Mr. Schwartz he couldn't enter the pod because there wasn't a second officer on duty.

         Jail policy required two corrections officers to staff the jail at all times and, to protect officers, prohibited officers from entering a pod alone. It was customary for a single corrections officer to staff the jail when a second was unable to work. During this incident, Deputy Rittenberry's partner was ill, so he was working alone.

         Deputy Rittenberry returned to the control room, called dispatch for assistance, and waited there. Surveillance footage shows that Mr. Shepard continued to make threatening gestures at, but did not attack, Mr. Schwartz while Deputy Rittenberry awaited assistance.

         Less than a minute after calling dispatch, Sheriff's Deputy Donald Munson arrived. Deputy Rittenberry and Deputy Munson entered the pod and secured it. The footage indicates that 4 minutes and 40 seconds elapsed between the start of the attack and Deputy Rittenberry and Deputy Munson securing the pod.

         Mr. Schwartz sued Deputy Rittenberry, in his individual and official capacities; Ernest Winchester, Deputy Rittenberry's supervisor, in his individual and official capacities; Benton County, Indiana; and Boston Pritchett, in his official capacity as Benton County Sheriff. Mr. Schwartz claims, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that: (1) Deputy Rittenberry's acted with deliberate indifference, in violation of Mr. Schwartz's Fourteenth Amendment rights; (2) Mr. Winchester is liable for Deputy Rittenberry's actions as his supervisor; and (3) Benton County and the Benton County Sheriff's Department had a policy or custom that caused the constitutional violation. Mr. Schwartz also asserts state law claims of: (1) negligence against all defendants; (2) negligent infliction of emotional distress against Deputy Rittenberry; and (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress against Deputy Rittenberry. The defendants have moved for summary judgment on all claims.

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to the interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists whenever "there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). In deciding whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, "the evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255; Weigle v. SPX Corp., 729 F.3d 724, 730 (7th Cir. 2013). The existence of an alleged factual dispute, by itself, won't defeat a summary judgment motion; "instead, the nonmovant must present definite, competent evidence in rebuttal, " Parent v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., 694 F.3d 919, 922 (7th Cir. 2012), and "must affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual allegations, that there is a genuine issue of material fact that requires trial." Hemsworth v. Quotesmith.com, Inc., 476 F.3d 487, 490 (7th Cir. 2007); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). "[S]ummary judgment is not a dress rehearsal or practice run; it is the put up or shut up moment in a lawsuit, when a party must show what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of events." Steen v. Myers, 486 F.3d 1017, 1022 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Hammel v. Eau Galle Cheese Factory, 407 F.3d 852, 859 (7th Cir. 2005)).

         III. Discussion

         A. Claims Against Benton County

         Mr. Schwartz's entire suit is based on the actions of Deputy Rittenberry; the vicarious liability of his supervisor, Commander Winchester; and the policies of Sheriff Pritchett. The county "has no authority over the Sheriff and his deputies, and therefore cannot be blamed for any deficiency in the training or supervision of the defendant deputy sheriffs that may have been responsible." Estate of Drayton v. Nelson, 53 F.3d 165, 167-168 (7th Cir. 1994). Nor can the county can be vicariously liable for the actions of any of these parties. Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). Mr. ...


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