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Janny v. Harford

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 30, 2019

MARK JANNY, Plaintiff,


          Philip A. Brimmer Chief United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The Court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of an assault by Victor Rocha-Estupian (“Rocha-Estupian”) on plaintiff Mark Janny (“Janny”) in the Washington County Jail (the “Jail”) on February II, 2015. Docket No. 112 at 2-3, ¶ 1, 5.[1]

         That night was not Rocha-Estupian’s first in the Jail. On July 7, 2012, an unknown Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy wrote in a report that Rocha-Estupian “could be a threat to the safety and security of the facility as he might hurt someone if placed in an enclosed area with other inmates.” Docket No. 116 at 5, ¶ 5.[2] Defendant Sheila Harford (“Harford”), a Jail deputy, may have seen the report at some point in 2012. Id. ¶ 6; Docket No. 118 at 5, ¶ 6. On July 22, 2012, while housed at the Jail, Rocha-Estupian threatened to commit suicide, an event that defendant Sheila Harford (“Harford”), a Jail deputy, observed and responded to. Docket No. 116 at 4, ¶¶ 2-3.

         On February 11, 2015, Janny and Rocha-Estupian were transported to the Jail. Docket No. 112 at 2, ¶¶ 1-3. Prior to being booked into the Jail, Janny and Rocha-Estupian were placed in a holding cell (“Holding Cell 1”) along with five or six other inmates. Id. ¶¶ 3-4. Janny and Rocha-Estupian were in Holding Cell 1 when Harford and defendant Cristian Ortega (“Ortega”), another Jail deputy, began their shift. Id. ¶ 4. Upon seeing Rocha-Estupian’s name on the list of inmates in Holding Cell 1, Harford remembered Rocha-Estupian’s July 22, 2012 suicide attempt. Docket No. 116 at 7, ¶17. Rocha-Estupian began banging and kicking on the door of the cell and demanding to be moved from Holding Cell 1. Id. at 4, ¶ 1. Rocha-Estupian told Harford that he was experiencing “severe mental health anxiety issues” and did not feel safe. Id. at 5, ¶ 7. Harford and Ortega did not move Rocha-Estupian from Holding Cell 1. Id. at 8, ¶ 25-16; Docket No. 118 at 7, ¶¶ 25-26.[3] Janny never informed either Harford or Ortega that (1) he did not want to be in the same cell as Rocha-Estupian; (2) he feared for his safety because he was in the same cell as Rocha-Estupian; or (3) Rocha-Estupian threatened him or others. Docket No. 112 at 3, ¶¶ 8-10. At approximately 11:00 p.m. that evening, Rocha-Estupian assaulted Janny. Id., ¶ 5. Harford and Ortega responded to Holding Cell 1 as soon as they heard the disturbance. Id. ¶ 6. Rocha-Estupian was charged with third-degree assault for assaulting Janny. Id. ¶ 7.

         On January 4, 2017, Janny filed this lawsuit. Docket No. 1. In the operative complaint, Janny asserts an Eighth Amendment or Fourteenth Amendment claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against both Harford and Ortega, alleging that defendants acted with deliberate indifference to the substantial risk of serious harm posed by Rocha-Estupian by not separating Rocha-Estupian from other inmates when there was room available to do so. Docket No. 111 at 3-5, ¶¶ 1-17. On December 26, 2018, Harford and Ortega moved for summary judgment on the grounds that they are both entitled to qualified immunity. Docket No. 112.


         Summary judgment is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 when the “movant shows that 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); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50 (1986). A disputed fact is “material” if under the relevant substantive law it is essential to proper disposition of the claim. Wright v. Abbott Labs., Inc., 259 F.3d 1226, 1231-32 (10th Cir. 2001). Only disputes over material facts can create a genuine issue for trial and preclude summary judgment. Faustin v. City & Cty. of Denver, 423 F.3d 1192, 1198 (10th Cir. 2005). An issue is “genuine” if the evidence is such that it might lead a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Allen v. Muskogee, 119 F.3d 837, 839 (10th Cir. 1997).

         Where “the moving party does not bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial, it may satisfy its burden at the summary judgment stage by identifying a lack of evidence for the nonmovant on an essential element of the nonmovant’s claim.” Bausman v. Interstate Brands Corp., 252 F.3d 1111, 1115 (10th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 671 (10th Cir. 1998)). “Once the moving party meets this burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate a genuine issue for trial on a material matter.” Concrete Works of Colo., Inc. v. City & Cty. of Denver, 36 F.3d 1513, 1518 (10th Cir. 1994). The nonmoving party may not rest solely on the allegations in the pleadings, but instead must designate “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). “To avoid summary judgment, the nonmovant must establish, at a minimum, an inference of the presence of each element essential to the case.” Bausman, 252 F.3d at 1115. When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Qualified Immunity

         Under the doctrine of qualified immunity, “government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). When a defendant asserts a qualified immunity defense, the plaintiff has a “heavy two-part burden” of establishing “(1) that the defendant’s action violated a federal constitutional or statutory right; and (2) that the right violated was clearly established at the time of the defendant’s actions.” Grissom v. Roberts, 902 F.3d 1162, 1167 (10th Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks omitted). Failure to satisfy either prong of this test will result in a grant of qualified immunity to the defendant. Id. Courts are “permitted to exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the particular case.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009).

         When evaluating a claim of qualified immunity, “‘clearly established law’ should not be defined ‘at a high level of generality.’” White v. Pauly, 137 S.Ct. 548, 552 (2017) (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 742 (2011))). “The relevant, dispositive inquiry . . . is whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted.” Al-Turki v. Robinson, 762 F.3d 1188, 1194 (10th Cir. 2014). Ordinarily, a right is clearly established if there is “a Supreme Court or Tenth Circuit decision on point, or the clearly established weight of authority from other courts . . . have found the law to be as the plaintiff maintains.” Toevs v. Reid, 685 F.3d 903, 916 (10th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted). This does not require a case “directly on point.” Kisela v. Hughes, 138 S.Ct. 1148, 1152 (2018) (internal quotation marks omitted) (emphasis added). On the other hand, precedent that merely states “a general proposition of applicable law” will not make a right ...

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