United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
CHRISTOPHER L. SCRUGGS, Plaintiff,
NURSE WEST, et al., Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
L. MILLER, JR. JUDGE
L. Scruggs, who is representing himself, was granted leave to
proceed on an Eighth Amendment claim against Nurse Janice
West and Officer Eric Miller. Mr. Scruggs alleges that Nurse
West used excessive force against him when she closed his
hand in a cuff port on October 24, 2015, and Officer Miller
failed to intervene in Nurse West's use of excessive
force. The defendants have each moved for summary judgment,
asserting that Nurse West didn't use excessive force.
Because there are genuine disputes about whether Nurse West
used excessive force, the court denies the motions.
Scruggs and the defendants disagree about many particulars,
but the basic facts aren't in dispute. Mr. Scruggs was an
inmate at the Westville Control Unit, the segregation unit of
a maximum security correctional facility on October 24, 2015.
He was suffering from tooth pain and had been prescribed
Tylenol, to be taken every six hours on an as needed basis.
Nurse West and Officer Miller arrived at Mr. Scruggs'
cell late in the evening to hand out medications. Nurse West
gave Mr. Scruggs some of his medications but didn't give
him the Tylenol because it had not yet been six hours since
his last dose. Officer Miller and Nurse West returned to Mr.
Scruggs cell about 90 minutes to see whether he wanted the
next dose of Tylenol. What happened during this second visit
is largely disputed.
defendants claim that Nurse West didn't have a medication
cup when she got to Mr. Scruggs's cell, she so she
planned to pour the Tylenol into his hand. Officer Miller
unlocked and opened the cuff port. Nurse West asked Mr. Scruggs
if he wanted the Tylenol, since it was only to be given if
requested. Mr. Scruggs became belligerent, began using
profanity and demanded his medication. Nurse West became
concerned with Mr. Scruggs's conduct and told him to put
his hand back inside the cuff port, but he refused to do so.
Believing that Mr. Scruggs was attempting to hold the cuff
port hostage, she began to guide the cuff port closed,
but never completely closed it on his hand. Nurse West says
she never applied pressure on the tray flap. Instead, she
claims to have used reasonable force in starting to guide the
cuff port closed to gain compliance because Mr. Scruggs
refused to remove his arm from the cuff port. Officer
Miller's report backs up that account by stating,
“The cuff port did not completely close on offender
Scruggs hand and his hand was not caught however offender
Scruggs made a sound as if it did and stated that his hand
was injured in the cuff port which it was not.” Nurse
West ultimately relented and gave Mr. Scruggs his Tylenol by
pouring it into his hand. Nurse West didn't see Mr.
Scruggs receive any injury while she was at his cell. She has
seen a photograph taken shortly after their encounter,
showing Mr. Scruggs' right index finder with a small
amount of bleeding on the cuticle. She thinks the cuff port
might have scratched his finger.
Scruggs gives a far different account. He claims that Nurse
West was upset about having to make a second trip to his
cell. Mr. Scruggs agrees that the two got into a verbal
altercation about the Tylenol, but disputes that Nurse West
ever told him to put his hand inside the cuff port. He
asserts that during the argument he demanded his Tylenol by
saying, “Come on with my meds, lady.” As soon as
he said that, Nurse West slammed the cuff port closed onto
his hand, breaking his right pinky finger and injuring his
right index finger. Mr. Scruggs claims she closed the cuff
port onto his hand just to cause him harm.
defendants submitted a surveillance video of the incident,
which might help resolve the disputed facts. Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (noting that facts must
be viewed in light of videotape that recorded the incident).
Unfortunately, it's hard to tell from the video exactly
what took place between Nurse West and Mr. Scruggs because
there is no audio recorded and Officer Miller is standing in
front of the cuff port, obstructing the camera's view
most of the time. The video shows Officer Miller and Nurse
West walk up to Mr. Scruggs's cell. Officer Miller
unlocks and opens the cuff port. As Officer Miller stands to
the side, Nurse West engages in a conversation with Mr.
Scruggs. The video appears to show Nurse West step toward the
cell door and start to close the cuff port. Nurse West steps
away from the cuff port about ten seconds later. She
continues to speak with Mr. Scruggs. Mr. Scruggs then places
his hand out of the cuff port and Nurse West places the
medication into Mr. Scruggs's hand. Mr. Scruggs then
brings his hand back into the cell and Nurse West closes the
cuff port. Officer Miller locks the cuff port and they walk
away from the cell.
has no record that Mr. Scruggs submitted any Request for
Health Care forms for his hand until nearly two months after
this incident. When Mr. Scruggs finally submitted a health
care request form to complain about his hand, he merely
stated, “My hand has been hurting, well not really
hurting, but it has an irritation to it, like a bad itchiness
that won't go away no matter what I do.” But Mr.
Scruggs claims to have submitted two earlier health care
request forms about his hand shortly after the incident, and
those went ignored. In his deposition, Mr. Scruggs claimed
that as a result of the cuff port being closed onto his hand,
his finger was bleeding, his knuckle was fractured and his
hand was swollen and in pain. In his affidavit, he further
claims Nurse West broke his pinky by closing it in the cuff
port. In support of that assertion, he has provided an April
3, 2018, x-ray performed on his right hand which showed,
“residual deformity from remote fifth metacarpal
judgment must be granted when “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). A
genuine issue of material fact exists when “the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Not every
dispute between the parties makes summary judgment
inappropriate; “[o]nly disputes over facts that might
affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will
properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.”
Id. To determine whether a genuine issue of material
fact exists, the court must construe all facts in the light
most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all
reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Ogden v.
Atterholt, 606 F.3d 355, 358 (7th Cir. 2010).
of a Genuine Issue of Material Fact
the Eighth Amendment, the “core requirement” for
an excessive force claim is that the defendant “used
force not in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore
discipline, but maliciously and sadistically to cause
harm.” Hendrickson v. Cooper, 589 F.3d 887,
890 (7th Cir. 2009) (internal citation omitted). Several
factors guide the inquiry of whether an officer's use of
force was legitimate or malicious, including the need for an
application of force, the amount of force used, and the
extent of the injury suffered by the prisoner. Id.
Conduct involving minimal force doesn't violate the
Eighth Amendment. Hudson v. McMillan, 503 U.S. 1, 7
(1992). “Even if a use of force serves no good-faith
disciplinary purpose, the force may be so ‘de
minimis' that it does not violate the Eighth
Amendment.” Hendrickson v. Cooper, 589 F.3d at
defendants say Nurse West used a reasonable, de minimis
amount of force in guiding the cuff port closed to gain
compliance because Mr. Scruggs refused to remove his arm from
the cuff port. If the defendants' version of events is
accurate, there would be no viable excessive force claim.
See e.g. Outlaw v. Newkirk, 259 F.3d 833, 837 (7th
Cir. 2001) (noting that there is no excessive force when
official has legitimate security reason to close cuff port
and no more than de minimis force was used). But at this
stage, the court must construe all facts in the light most
favorable to Mr. Scruggs and draw all reasonable inferences
in his favor. Ogden v. Atterholt, 606 F.3d at 358.
Under these standards, Mr. Scruggs is entitled to a trial.
Nurse West used de minimis force in closing the cuff port is
genuinely disputed. A jury could find that the force Nurse
West used to close the cuff port onto Mr. Scruggs' hand
was more than de minimis. What Mr. Scruggs swears happened -
slamming the cuff port onto Mr. Scruggs's hand resulting
in injury - amounts to more than a de minimis use of force.
Cf. Lunsford v. Bennett, 17 F.3d 1574, 1582 (7th
Cir. 1994) (noting that a de minimis use of force is not
intended to cause pain or injury to the inmate). Likewise,
whether Nurse West closed the cuff port maliciously or in a
good faith effort to restore order is yet another genuine
dispute. A jury accepting the facts in a light most favorable
to Mr. Scruggs could ...