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Taylor v. Gilbert

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

March 28, 2019


          ROBERT TAYLOR D.C. Department of Corrections

          Rachana Nagin Fischer UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE

          Lara K. Langeneckert UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE (Indianapolis)

          John R. Maley BARNES & THORNBURG, LLP (Indianapolis)

          Shelese M. Woods UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE (Indianapolis)



         The Court conducted a bench trial in this action on February 11, 2019. The plaintiff, Robert Taylor, was present in person and by stand-by counsel.[1] All four defendants, Officer Charles Gilbert, Officer Steven Griffin, Officer James Lotz, and Officer Christopher Tarrh, were present in person and represented by counsel, Shelese M. Woods and Lara K. Langeneckert. The court reporter was Cathy Jones.

         This action was brought under the theory set forth in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). The issue for trial was whether the defendants subjected Mr. Taylor to excessive force on November 12, 2014, in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

         I. Motion for Preliminary Injunction

         At the beginning of trial, Mr. Taylor moved for a preliminary injunction against the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) and all prison officials at the Federal Correctional Complex at Terre Haute (“FCC-TH”). He alleged that he had been housed in administrative segregation and received false conduct reports in retaliation for filing grievances. He also alleged that he was denied access to the law library in violation of the First Amendment, that he did not have all the documents he needed for trial, and that video evidence was not provided to him.

         The defendants responded by pointing out that Mr. Taylor had been most recently confined in a Washington D.C. jail, not by the BOP and that any claim of retaliation or other conditions Mr. Taylor alleged in his oral motion fell outside the scope of this lawsuit. The defendants also stated that earlier in the case, Mr. Taylor had been ably represented by counsel who actively conducted discovery and had sent him copies of all documents in the case. More recently, defendants and the Court provided Mr. Taylor with another set of the documents. To the extent Mr. Taylor asserted that he could not identify witnesses, he was given an opportunity but refused to do so during a pretrial conference with the Magistrate Judge and during the final pretrial conference with the undersigned.

         The Court denied the motion for preliminary injunction because the trial could only remedy claims that were brought in the complaint relating to the alleged assault in November 2014. See Mitchell v. Kallas, 895 F.3d 492, 502-03 (7th Cir. 2018) (“A prisoner may join defendants in the same action only if the claims against each one ‘aris[e] out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences ....'”) (quoting Rule 20(a)(2)(A)); see also George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007). The additional conditions Mr. Taylor complained about are not at issue in this case.

         Moreover, the Court explained that Mr. Taylor's decision to terminate his relationship with the attorneys who had worked more than 500 hours on his case led to him having to represent himself at trial. The Court simply does not have enough volunteer attorneys to assist every prisoner litigant. See Wilborn v. Early, 881 F.3d 998, 1008 (7th Cir. 2018) (district court did not err in failing to find a replacement attorney after first volunteer attorney withdrew). “The help of recruited lawyers is a valuable resource but a limited one.” Id. “There are limits to what a court must do after deciding to recruit counsel.” Id. Nonetheless, the Court did attempt to find another attorney to serve as stand-by counsel at trial and Mr. Maley, an experienced litigator and partner with the largest law firm in the state, volunteered. It is the Court's view that it did all it could do to assist Mr. Taylor with presenting his case.

         After consideration of the evidence presented during the bench trial, the Court now issues its findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a)(1).[2]

         II. Findings of Fact

          At all relevant times, Mr. Taylor was confined in federal custody in the Special Housing Unit (“SHU”) in the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana (“USP-TH”). Mr. Taylor alleged in his complaint, filed on November 4, 2015, that he was assaulted by the four defendants in his cell #110 on A-range on November 12, 2014. Dkt. 1.

         While housed at USP-TH, Mr. Taylor was neither a trouble maker nor a serial litigant. He had a general reputation for honesty among the prison staff.

         On November 12, 2014, Officers Griffin and Tarrh came to Mr. Taylor's cell with a mentally ill inmate. The officers wanted Mr. Taylor to be the other inmate's cell-mate. Mr. Taylor refused to cuff up because he knew the other inmate was “crazy.” Mr. Taylor told the officers that they were not supposed to give that order because it could cause a hazard to his health and safety. Mr. Taylor believed the other inmate to be Ricky Ward. After Mr. Taylor objected to the potential cell-mate, the two officers left.

         Mr. Taylor was then sitting on his bunk when Officers Gilbert and Lotz came to his cell and grabbed him. Mr. Taylor tried to get away from them, resisting as he did so. Officer Gilbert was the first one to put hands on him. He tried to twist Mr. Taylor while he was on the bed to get Mr. Taylor to cuff up. Officer Lotz was working along with Officer Gilbert. The other two officers, Griffin and Tarrh, came into the cell and held Mr. Taylor's legs. Mr. Taylor believes Officer Gilbert ...

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