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Huff v. Tabler

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

July 31, 2019

MICHAEL ALLEN HUFF, Plaintiff,
v.
STEPHEN TABLER, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JON E. DEGUILIO JUDGE

         Michael Allen Huff, a prisoner without a lawyer, proceeds on claims against Stephen Tabler, Steven Sewell, and Seth Barton, alleging that they punished him in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment on June 14, 2017, by using excessive force and by transferring him from Pulaski County Jail to Starke County Jail, which resulted in the loss of contact and support from family and friends. ECF 6. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the use of force and transfer was an objectively reasonable response to Huff's refusal to comply with orders. Huff responds that he was entitled to disregard unlawful orders and that he never posed a physical threat to the defendants.

         FACTS

         At all relevant times, Huff was a pretrial detainee at the Pulaski County Jail, and the defendants served as correctional officers. In support of the instant motion, the defendants have submitted video recordings of the use of force incident, [1] the incident reports, and Huff's deposition. According to these exhibits, the following occurred.

         On June 14, 2017, around noon, Huff threw a trash can at the wall in a common room several times. ECF 41 at 12:12. Jail staff ordered him to return to his cell, but he refused and continued throwing the trash can. Id. at 12:12-16. Officer Tabler and Officer Sewell arrived and ordered Huff to allow them to handcuff him, but he refused and resisted their efforts to place him in handcuffs. Id. at 12:16. The officers forced Huff to the ground, tased him, and placed handcuffs on his wrists as he continued to resist. Id. at 12:17-18. After handcuffing his wrists. Officer Tabler and Officer Sewell began escorting him from the common room to a padded cell. Id. at 12:19. On the way, Huff continued to resist, kicked a mop bucket filled with water, and attempted to redirect the escorting officers. Id. After a brief struggle, the officers held Huff face down on the floor and waited for Officer Barton to arrive with additional handcuffs for Huff's ankles. Id. at 12:19-21. After shackling Huff's ankles, the officers escorted and placed him in a padded cell. Id. at 12:21.

         Upon arrival, Huff allowed the officers to remove the handcuffs on his wrists, but, when the officers ordered him to kneel so that they could remove the handcuffs from his ankles, he ignored them.[2] Id. at 12:23-24. Officer Barton forced Huff to the ground and held him there while the handcuffs were removed. Id. On the video recording, as Officer Barton held Huff to the ground, the sound of Huff's head hitting the floor is audible, but another officer momentarily obstructs the view of Officer Barton and Huff's upper body. Id. at 12:24. In the incident report, Officer Barton explained that, at that moment, he felt Huff tense up as if he intended to start actively resisting again. ECF 34 at 166-68. Officer Barton further explained that he struck Huff's head to distract Huff as he struggled to maintain control of Huff's arms and needed to reposition. Id. At his deposition, Huff testified that he tensed up due to pain and that he did not sense that Officer Barton was losing control. ECF 34 at 110-11.

         After he was left alone in the padded cell, Huff began kicking the cell door. ECF 41 at 12:26. In response, Officer Barton returned and forced Huff to the floor. Id. Huff was then handcuffed and strapped to a chair. Id. at 12:26-29. Huff made a reference to Officer Tabler's son's life, which Officer Tabler understood as a threat to his family. ECF 34 at 173-74. About an hour later, Huff was placed in a van and transferred to the Starke County Jail. ECF 41 at 13:40. As a result of the use of force, Huff suffered lacerations, bruises, and soreness on the head, neck, ribs, back, and extremities but never requested medical attention for them. ECF 34 at 95-96.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary 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 dispute 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). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, the deciding 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).

         DISCUSSION

         Huff alleges that Stephen Tabler, Steven Sewell, and Seth Barton punished him in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment on June 14, 2017, by using excessive force and by transferring him from Pulaski County Jail to Starke County Jail. “[T]he Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause prohibits holding pretrial detainees in conditions that amount to punishment.” Mulvania v. Sheriff of Rock Island Cty., 850 F.3d 849, 856 (7th Cir. 2017). “[P]unishment can consist of actions taken with an expressed intent to punish, ” or, “in the absence of an expressed intent to punish, a pretrial detainee can nevertheless prevail by showing that the actions are not rationally related to a legitimate nonpunitive governmental purpose or that the actions appear excessive in relation to that purpose.” Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466, 2473 (2015). A pretrial detainee can “prevail by providing only objective evidence that the challenged governmental action is not rationally related to a legitimate governmental objective or that it is excessive in relation to that purpose.” Id.

         “A court must make this determination from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, including what the officer knew at the time, not with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” Id. “A court must also account for the legitimate interests that stem from the government's need to manage the facility in which the individual is detained, appropriately deferring to policies and practices that in the judgment of jail officials are needed to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security.” Id. “Considerations such as the following may bear on the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the force used: the relationship between the need for the use of force and the amount of force used; the extent of the plaintiff's injury; any effort made by the officer to temper or to limit the amount of force; the severity of the security problem at issue; the threat reasonably perceived by the officer; and whether the plaintiff was actively resisting.” Id.

         Huff argues that he was entitled to disobey the order to return to his cell because it was an unlawful order. He states that he was constitutionally entitled to an hour out of his cell. He further argues that the defendants' use of force from the time they approached him in the dayroom was excessive because he made no attempt to fight them and did not pose a threat. Based on these arguments, it appears that Huff misunderstands the balance between his rights as a detainee and the governmental interest in maintaining order, discipline, and safety in a detention facility.

When an order is given to an inmate there are only so many choices available to the correctional officer. If it is an order that requires action by the institution, and the inmate cannot be persuaded to obey the order, some means must be used to compel compliance, such as a chemical agent or physical force. While experts who testified on behalf of the plaintiffs, suggested that rather than seek to enforce orders, it was possible to leave the inmate alone if he chooses not to obey a ...

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