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Best v. Indiana Department of Correction

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

May 29, 2019

LARRY BEST, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION, DUSHAN ZATECKY, JOHN SAFFORD, JEFFERY KING, BLAINE HURT, WALTER PETERSON, and HERBERT DUNCAN, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' HURT AND PETERSON'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 by Defendants Blaine Hurt (“Hurt”) and Walter Peterson (“Peterson”) (collectively, “Defendants”) (Filing No. 146). Plaintiff Larry Best, Jr. (“Best”)

         initiated this lawsuit against Hurt and Peterson as well as other prison officials and medical staff for violating his Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights by failing to protect him and having a deliberate indifference toward his health and safety. Hurt and Peterson assert that the evidence shows they lacked sufficient knowledge of threats to Best's safety to support a constitutional claim for deliberate indifference. For the following reasons, the Court grants their Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are not necessarily objectively true, but as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the facts are presented in the light most favorable to Best as the non-moving party. See Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The factual background is set forth in detail in a previous Order on a motion for summary judgment in this matter (seeFiling No. 107 at 2-3). The facts below are relevant to the Motion for Summary Judgment currently before the Court.

         During the time period relevant to the claims at issue in this action (Filing No. 97-2 at 1) Best was an inmate and both Hurt and Peterson were correctional officers at the Pendleton Correctional Facility (“Pendleton”) located in Pendleton, Indiana. In either 2010 or 2012, Best was attacked in “O Dorm” when he was chased by an inmate with a knife, but he evaded the assault. Sometime in 2011, Best was “jumped” in “D Building” by another inmate and sustained minor injuries. He informed Peterson in 2012 or 2013 about being jumped in D Building (Filing No. 147-1 at 19-22).

         Best was moved from the general prison population into restrictive housing and held in administrative segregation from December 2011 until July 24, 2015, because of acts of violence and threats of violence against him by fellow prison inmates (Filing No. 95-13 at 8; Filing No. 97-2 at 1). He faced violence and threats of violence because members of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang tried to recruit him beginning in 2008 or 2009, but he refused to join their gang (Filing No. 147-1 at 11-13). Best told prison officials-Counselor Ballinger (“Ballinger”), correction officers John Safford (“Safford”), and Peterson-that many members of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang had tried to recruit him into their gang, he refused, and threats were made. Id. at 12- 13. Prison officials Herbert Duncan, Safford, and Ballinger knew that Best was subjected to a large number of threats of violence and acts of violence (Filing No. 95-13 at 12-14; Filing No. 95-11 at 6-12). However, no investigation was conducted concerning the continued threats against Best while he was in administrative segregation (Filing No. 149-22 at 3-4; Filing No. 95-13 at 6).

         While in administrative segregation, Best's life was threatened many times by a fellow inmate in the presence of Safford and Ballinger (Filing No. 147-1 at 9-11, 14, 64-65). On January 5, 2015, Best was assaulted by an inmate who threw hot liquid with glass shards on him while he was in his cell (Filing No. 97-2 at 1; Filing No. 149-9). During one of his periodic 90-day review meetings, Best told Ballinger that he did not want to be released into the general population because “[he] didn't feel [he] was ready because no investigation had been done as to the threats or who all was doing it or what should be done.” (Filing No. 147-1 at 15.) Best was more comfortable being transferred to a different facility than being placed back in the general population. Best shared these same thoughts with Safford. Id. at 15-16.

         On July 6, 2015, Best had a 90-day review meeting with his case manager Jeffery King (“King”). During this meeting, King informed Best that he was being transferred out of restrictive housing and into the general population. Best did not request to return to general population and instead told King that he wanted to stay in restrictive housing (Filing No. 147-1 at 30-32; Filing No. 149-11). King explained that he would have to talk with Safford about the planned reassignment. Safford approved the reassignment to general population (Filing No. 147-1 at 33; Filing No. 149-3 at 1). Despite the violence and threats of violence against Best, over his objection, Best was moved from restrictive housing into the general prison population on July 24, 2015 (Filing No. 147-1 at 15-16; Filing No. 97-2 at 1).

         On August 7, 2015, only two weeks after being moved back to the general prison population, Best was attacked by other inmates. His attackers placed rocks inside socks and then beat Best with them. Best had been at the medical infirmary sometime around 5:30 p.m. for approximately twenty to thirty minutes to pick up a prescription. A prison officer was present in the infirmary, and once the inmates were finished picking up their medications, the officer called for the inmates to be released from the infirmary. The inmates were released to begin their walk back to the cellhouse. Best's attack occurred while he was leaving the infirmary, which was located in an area that was a “blind spot” for prison officials and was known to be a dangerous area. The area was known for inmate-on-inmate assaults because several attacks had occurred there, including on July 28, 2015. On August 7, 2015, only two weeks after being moved back to the general prison population, Best was attacked by other inmates. His attackers used large rocks (which prison officials had set in front of prison cell houses), placing the rocks inside socks and then beating Best with them. Best sustained severe lacerations and bruises to his head, face, back, shoulders, arms, and right hand and wrist during the attack. He was bleeding profusely and sought medical treatment for his injuries. Immediately after the attack, Best was transferred back to restricted housing. During the weeks and months following the attack, Best suffered constant, severe headaches, dizziness, and blurred vision (Filing No. 97-2 at 2, 6; Filing No. 95-4; Filing No. 95-2; Filing No. 95-1; Filing No. 149-23 at 3; Filing No. 147-1 at 50-52).

         On the day Best was attacked, Hurt, a correctional sergeant, was responsible for monitoring the movement of inmates from the infirmary to the cellhouse. Unfortunately, Hurt was out of position to have a line-of-sight of the inmates as they exited the infirmary. Hurt did not see Best get attacked, and he did not know there was an attack until he was radioed by the officer in the infirmary (Filing No. 147-2 at 6, 13-14, 16-22). Best did not see Hurt before the attack. Hurt was not visible to Best when the inmates were released from the infirmary to begin their movement across the yard to the cellhouse (Filing No. 147-1 at 57, 60-61). Best never told Hurt that he was being threatened by members of the Aryan Brotherhood, and Hurt did not know that Best was being threatened. Best never told Hurt he was concerned about his safety as to any other inmates, and Hurt never observed anything that caused concern about Best's safety while housed in the same cellhouse with any other inmate (Filing No. 147-2 at 9-10, 31). Weeks after the attack, Hurt escorted Best to the infirmary, and they talked about the attack. When Best complained about the lack of help from Hurt, Hurt responded that “he had a lot going on and was busy.” (Filing No. 147-6 at 3.)

         On September 26, 2016, Best filed this lawsuit, asserting claims against the State of Indiana, the Indiana Department of Correction, prison officials, and medical staff for failing to protect him and having a deliberate indifference toward his health and safety (Filing No. 1). On March 4, 2019, Best filed his Amended Complaint, asserting claims against the Indiana Department of Correction and the prison officials for failure to protect and deliberate indifference (Filing No. 158). Defendants Hurt and Peterson filed their Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that the evidence shows they lacked sufficient knowledge of threats to Best's safety to support a constitutional claim for deliberate indifference and failure to protect.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         The purpose of summary judgment is to “pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment is appropriate if “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Hemsworth v. Quotesmith.com, Inc., 476 F.3d 487, 489-90 (7th Cir. 2007). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court reviews “the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Zerante, 555 F.3d at 584 (citation omitted). “However, inferences that are supported by only speculation or conjecture will not defeat a summary judgment motion.” Dorsey v. Morgan Stanley, 507 F.3d 624, 627 (7th Cir. 2007) (citation and quotation marks omitted). Additionally, “[a] party who bears the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest on its pleadings, but must affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual allegations, that there is a genuine issue ...


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