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Durkee v. Minor

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 8, 2015

JAMES DURKEE, Plaintiff,
v.
SHERIFF JOHN MINOR, in his official and individual capacities; SERGEANT RON HOCHMUTH, in his individual capacity, Defendants.

ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Wiley Y. Daniel Senior United States District Judge

I. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 47), filed on March 19, 2015. The Defendants’ motion seeks summary judgment on Plaintiff’s claims alleging that the Defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

This action arises from an assault by a fellow inmate upon the Plaintiff while both were detained at the Summit County Jail in Colorado. The following facts are undisputed. Inmate Ricky Michael Ray Ramos (“Ramos”) had a history of aggressive behavior at the jail, and had been charged with several violations of jail rules on several occasions for threatening behavior towards jail staff, including a threat to stab a deputy in the neck, and toward other inmates, including the Plaintiff. Ramos had threatened Plaintiff shortly after Plaintiff’s arrival at the jail, and Plaintiff requested that he be reassigned to another housing pod away from Ramos. After an argument between Ramos and Plaintiff, Plaintiff again expressed concern about Ramos’ aggression toward him. A deputy issued an incident report stating that “[f]or future reference [Plaintiff] and Ramos cannot attend any programs together or ever be in the hallways or [booking] passing.” Jail staff, including Defendant Hochmuth, acknowledged and initialed receipt of the notice.

On December 28, 2012, Ramos was being escorted back from a court proceeding by Defendant Hochmuth, and was unshackled in the booking area of the jail, which is adjacent to the professional visitation room. At that time, Plaintiff was in the visitation room, meeting with a mental health counselor. There are windows in the visitation room and those meeting inside are visible to those in the booking area. Plaintiff states that he saw both Ramos and Defendant Hochmuth in the booking area through the visitation room window. Defendant Hochmuth contends that he did not see the Plaintiff in the visitation room. Defendant Hochmuth proceeded to unshackle Ramos in the booking area, and instructed him to return to his housing pod. After taking one or two steps toward the housing pod door, Ramos suddenly turned around and ran into the visitation room through its unlocked door and assaulted Plaintiff. Although the altercation was brief, Plaintiff suffered a facial fracture from the assault.

Plaintiff contends that Defendant Hochmuth disregarded the risk to Plaintiff’s safety by allowing Ramos to be unrestrained in the booking area with access to the unlocked visitation room, knowing of Ramos’ history of aggressive behavior and of the report instructing that the two never be in contact. Plaintiff further contends that Defendant Hochmuth’s actions were sanctioned by Defendant Minor, and were in accordance with the customs, policies, and practices of the Summit County Jail.

Defendants assert that summary judgment should be granted on all of Plaintiff’s claims. Specifically, Defendants argue that Defendant Minor is entitled to summary judgment on the claim against him in his individual capacity because he did not participate in any of the events that Plaintiff alleges violated his rights. Defendants argue that Defendant Hochmuth did not act with the requisite deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to Plaintiff. Defendants also argue that both Defendants are entitled to the defense of qualified immunity. Finally, Defendants argue that there is no evidence of an unconstitutional policy, practice, or custom that would support Plaintiff’s claims of municipal liability against Defendant Minor.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court may grant summary judgment where "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 the . . . moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); Equal Employment Opportunity Comm. v. Horizon/CMS Healthcare Corp., 220 F.3d 1184, 1190 (10th Cir. 2000). Summary judgment is appropriate “if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A material fact is one that might affect the outcome of the dispute under the applicable law. Ulissey v. Shvartsman, 61 F.3d 805, 808 (10th Cir. 1995). I must construe all inferences in favor of the party against whom the motion under consideration is made. Pirkheim v. First Unum Life Ins. Co., 229 F.3d 1008, 1010 (10th Cir. 2000). All doubts must be resolved in favor of the existence of triable issues of fact. Boren v. Southwestern Bell Tel. Co., 933 F.2d 891, 892 (10th Cir. 1991).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Defendant Hochmuth - individual capacity

There is a constitutional obligation imposed on jail officials to protect against inmate-on-inmate violence, and an official may be held liable under the Eighth Amendment[1] if he knows that an inmate faces a substantial risk of serious harm, and with deliberate indifference to an inmate’s health or safety, disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measure to abate it. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994); Craig v. Eberly, 164 F.3d 490 (10th Cir. 1998). “Being violently assaulted in prison is simply not ‘part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society.’” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834, citing Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 337 (1981). A constitutional violation occurs only where the deprivation alleged is objectively “sufficiently serious, ” and the official acted with “deliberate indifference” to the inmate’s safety. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834.

It is undisputed that Plaintiff, from the time of his arrival at the Summit County Jail, faced threats from Ramos, and that after being moved to a new housing pod, the threats continued from Ramos, and Plaintiff notified the jail staff of his concern that Ramos would fight him. It is also undisputed that Defendant Hochmuth knew not only about Ramos’ history of aggressive behavior at the jail, both toward jail staff and other inmates, but also about the instruction on file that Plaintiff and Ramos be kept separated at all times.

On the day of the assault, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Hochmuth demonstrated deliberate indifference to his safety by allowing Ramos to be unrestrained in a room adjacent to the room he occupied, which had a window that allowed those outside to see who was inside, and which had an unlocked and unsecured door. Pl.s’ Response, ECF No. 54, p. 13, 15. Plaintiff contends that Hochmuth knew or should have known that Plaintiff was in the adjacent room. Id. at 15-16. He claims that Ramos was aware of the ...


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