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Sutton v. Glennie

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

June 7, 2019

JT SUTTON, Plaintiff,
GLENNIE, et al., Defendants.

          Linda V. Parker United States District Judge




         Plaintiff J.T. Sutton, who is currently confined at the Ionia Correctional Facility, filed a prisoner civil rights complaint on May 15, 2016, against MDOC defendants Blaise Glennie, Lance Schuhmacher, Geraldine Wilson, and Arlinda Hopkins, for actions that occurred while he was confined at the Thumb Correctional Facility (TCF). (Dkt. 1). Plaintiff brings claims under the First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, together with a state law negligence claim. (Id. at Pg ID 3-4). On May 4, 2016, District Judge Linda V. Parker entered an Order referring all pretrial matters to the undersigned. (Dkt. 8). In a report and recommendation on all four defendants' motion for summary judgment, the undersigned recommended that Sutton's First Amendment retaliation claims and his retaliation/negligent tort claim be dismissed, and further recommended that defendants Schumacher and Glennie be dismissed. (Dkt. 31, pp. 24-25). The Court adopted the report and recommendation. (Dkt. 34). In its Case Management Orders following the Court's ruling, the Court allowed for the filing of additional dispositive motions after the close of discovery. (Dkts. 43, 52). Remaining defendants Wilson and Hopkins (hereinafter “defendants”) have since filed another motion for summary judgment on the remaining issue: Sutton's Eighth Amendment failure to protect claim. (Dkt. 64). The motion is fully briefed and ready for report and recommendation.

         For the following reasons, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 64) be GRANTED IN PART, DENIED IN PART, and that defendant Hopkins be dismissed from this case.


         During the time relevant to the allegations in the complaint, Sutton was incarcerated with MDOC at the Thumb Correctional Facility (TCF). (Dkt. 64-2, Preliminary Examination Testimony, Pg ID 493). Defendant Wilson was a Resident Unit Manager (RUM) at TCF (Dkt. 25-11, Pg ID 201-02 - Wilson Affidavit)[1] and defendant Hopkins was an Assistant Resident Unit Supervisor (ARUS) at TCF (Dkt. 25-13, Pg ID 225-26 - Hopkins Affidavit). In the Spring of 2013 another prisoner, Chanton Miles, transferred into Sutton's cell as his cellmate. (Dkt. 1, Complaint, ¶ 19, 23; Dkt. 25-11, ¶ 6-7). Before and after June 1, 2013, Sutton personally spoke with Hopkins about obtaining a cell change. (Dkt. 1, ¶ 25, 26; Dkt. 25-13, ¶ 4-5). Hopkins informed him that he would need to get Wilson's approval first according to MDOC rules. On December 21, 2013, Sutton sent a letter, or kite, to Wilson requesting a cell change. (Dkt. 1, ¶ 28; Dkt. 25-11, ¶ 9-12). A little over two weeks later, on January 5, 2014, Miles assaulted Sutton in his cell. (Dkt. 1, ¶ 29). Miles used an object that cut Sutton's head, permanently restricting the vision in his left eye, and he used a chair against his left his left arm leaving the arm permanently disfigured. (Dkt. 1, ¶ 29; Dkt. 64-2, Pg ID 497). According to Sutton, when he regained consciousness while Miles was beating him with the chair, Miles said “she (G. Wilson) told me to do this.”[2] (Dkt. 1, ¶ 29).

         In his grievance relating to the assault, Sutton states that Wilson knew that Miles was violent and has a history of past assaultive behavior, that prison records show Miles' history of past assaultive behavior, and that Wilson and Hopkins should have taken steps to keep him from harm. (Dkt. 25-3, Pg ID 121). Plaintiff does not direct the Court to any evidence substantiating the assertions in his grievance that Wilson and/or Hopkins knew of Miles' alleged history of assaultive behavior. The Step I response to this grievance contains information from the investigation into the allegations. According to the prison official responding to Sutton's grievance, Sutton sent a letter to Wilson on December 21, 2013 requesting a cell change. Wilson stated that due to an ice storm she was in the building for only an hour on December 23, 2013 and out of the building the rest of the time between December 23, 2013 and January 2, 2014. (Dkt. 25-3, Pg ID 125, Dkt. 25-11, ¶ 10). The grievance response and her earlier affidavit indicate that when Wilson returned to the building, she read the kite and passed it on to Hopkins on Friday, January 3, 2014. According to the grievance response Hopkins said she called Wilson and discussed Sutton's letter that same day. Hopkins had Sutton paged to her office around 4:30pm that day, but Sutton was at work. Hopkins stated that she intended to call Sutton again on Monday, January 6, 2014. On Monday, January 6th, Hopkins learned that Sutton and Miles were in segregation. (Id.).

         The defendants offer an MDOC Presentence Investigation “Agent's Description of the Offense” which recounts information from a Michigan State Police report by Trooper Lentine dated January 5, 2014 about the altercation. (Dkt. 65). The agent also summarized Sutton's victim impact statement as follows: “The victim states he was assaulted for no reason and states he feels that defendant [Miles] picked him because was older and vulnerable. The victim also indicates there was no verbal altercation before the offense.” (Id.).

         In addition to his verified complaint and subsequent declaration, Sutton provides an affidavit from another prisoner, Mario Gillespie-Borck to support his version of events. (Dkt. 29, Pg. ID 272, Exhibit A - Affidavit). Gillespie-Borck states that he was housed at TCF during the events recounted in Sutton's complaint. (Id. at Pg ID 272, ¶ 3). He states that on December 19, 2013, he was in Hopkins' office with Sutton, and he heard Sutton ask to change his cell because Sutton and Miles were possibly going to get into a serious fight. According to Gillespie-Borck, Hopkins explained that Sutton needed to get permission from Wilson. Gillespie-Borck further states that on January 2, 2014, he was walking with Miles when Miles approached Wilson asking for a cell change because he and Sutton were not getting along. (Id. at Pg ID 273, ¶ 4). Wilson told Miles to send a kite. Miles responded, “If I beat his old ass, I bet you'll move him then.” Wilson allegedly replied, “you do what you have to do.” According to Gillespie-Borck, he and Miles were left with the impression that Wilson wanted Miles to attack Sutton. Gillespie-Borck also states that Miles told him that he had “history” with Wilson. (Id. at ¶ 5). Neither defendant directly addresses or specifically challenges the facts set forth in this affidavit. However, as stated above, Hopkins acknowledged receiving requests for a cell change from Sutton but insists that she did not perceive a threat of harm to Sutton from Miles. Similarly, Wilson denies that she perceived any risk of harm to Sutton based on Sutton's kite. (Dkt. 25-11, ¶12).

         The parties advance vastly different versions of events. As an initial matter, they disagree on when Miles moved into Sutton's cell. Sutton says he moved in on or about April 15, 2013 (Dkt. 1, ¶ 23), while Wilson says he was transferred to TCF on May 23, 2013 (Dkt. 15-11, ¶ 7).[3] Further, Sutton insists Miles was moved into his cell for the purpose of assaulting him for writing grievances. (Dkt. 1, ¶ 19). He says that shortly after moving in, Miles informed Sutton that he had a personal relationship with defendant Wilson and he began harassing Sutton soon after his arrival. (Id.). After November 15, 2013, Sutton claims he began receiving intensified threats and harassment from Miles relating to grievances that he had written against Wilson. (Dkt. 1- Complaint, at ¶ 22). In his declaration in response to defendants' motion for summary judgment, Sutton states that Wilson and Hopkins “both received active and constructive notice of the harassment and failed to take any meaningful measures to alleviate the threat of substantial possibility that a violent fight would occur[].” (Dkt. 71, Pg ID 535). He also states that his declaration shows that he was subjected to a hostile living environment that forced him to live with a hostile, intimidating, and offensive cell mate and that the defendants knew of the “harassments and violent interactions” between the two men, yet failed to take meaningful action. (Dkt. 71, Pg ID 540). In his complaint, he states that he told the defendants about “unreconcilable hostilities” between the two, that they needed to be separated immediately to avoid significant harm to himself, and that Miles told Sutton that Wilson instructed Miles to attack him. (Dkt. 1, ¶¶ 27-28).

         Regarding his requests to Hopkins for a cell change, Sutton says that June 1st of every year was the official cell change day at TCF. (Dkt. 1, ¶ 24). He says that on several occasions before and after June 1, 2013, he spoke personally with Hopkins about the serious risk of harm between himself and Miles. (Id. at ¶¶ 25, 26). According to Sutton, Hopkins told him that she was not in charge of assignment changes and that he would have to send a kite to Wilson. Sutton says that Hopkins failed to take any steps to relieve the substantial risk of harm. (Id.). Hopkins explains that, at that time, TCF permitted voluntary cell changes every six months for inmates who are misconduct free. (Dkt. 25-13, ¶ 5). Because Sutton was not eligible for a move at the time of his request, Hopkins told him he would need to obtain Wilson's approval first. She says that “[a]t no time did Sutton inform me that he was threatened or needed protection from his cellmate, prisoner Miles.” (Id. at ¶ 6).

         Sutton sent a kite to Wilson on November 5, 2013, informing her of the “dire need to change cells because of unreconcilable hostilities between plaintiff and his cell mate.” (Dkt. 1, ¶ 27). He says that in his December 21, 2013 letter to Wilson he warned her that he and Miles needed to be separated immediately because of a risk of serious harm, but Wilson ignored all of his requests and never responded. (Dkt. 1, ¶ 28).

         For her part, Wilson says that she had no part in transferring Miles to TCF or to Sutton's cell. (Dkt. 25-11, ¶ 6-7). She also says that the allegation that Miles was moved into the cell for the purpose of assaulting Sutton for filing grievances is false. As to the November 5, 2013 kite, Wilson has no recollection of receiving the kite. (Id. at ¶ 8). And regarding the December 21, 2013 letter, Wilson explains that the 21st was a Saturday and she did not work Saturdays. (Id. at ¶ 10). She did not return to the prison and did not read Sutton's kite until her return from vacation on January 3, 2014. (Id. at ¶ 11). She says that nothing in his kite requesting a cell change led her to believe that Sutton was in immediate danger of being assaulted by Miles or any other prisoner. (Id. at ¶ 12). She gave the letter to Hopkins and asked her to address and resolve the matter. (Id. at ¶ 13).

         The defendants posit that Sutton's sworn testimony from Miles' preliminary examination hearing on the assault contradicts his complaint allegations and December 21, 2013 kite to Wilson. At the hearing, Sutton testified that on January 5, 2014, he was in his cell with Miles. (Dkt. 64-2, Pg ID 494). Miles started an altercation about the floor being wet. Sutton said that after Miles first hit him he must have been knocked unconscious, because when he came to, he was lying on his back and Miles hit his arm with a chair. (Id. at Pg ID 495). Sutton was asked, “You just calmly was [sic] in that cell and he just assaulted you with no reason at all, right?” Sutton replied, “No reason at all. We've never been in an argument, never. Never had any misunderstandings or nothing.” (Id. at Pg ID 499). According to Sutton, however, his answer was about that day, meaning he and Miles did not have an argument that day, January 5, 2014. (Dkt. 71, at p. 2-3).


         A. Standard of Review

         When a party files a motion for summary judgment, it must be granted “if 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). “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by: (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record...; or (B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). The standard for determining whether summary judgment is appropriate is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. McGowan, 421 F.3d 433, 436 (6th Cir. 2005) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986)). Furthermore, the evidence and all reasonable inferences must be construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         Where the movant establishes the lack of a genuine issue of material fact, the burden of demonstrating the existence of such an issue shifts to the non-moving party to come forward with “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). That is, the party opposing a motion for summary judgment must make an affirmative showing with proper evidence and must “designate specific facts in affidavits, depositions, or other factual material showing ‘evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.'” Brown v. Scott, 329 F.Supp.2d 905, 910 (6th Cir. 2004). In order to fulfill this burden, the non-moving party need only demonstrate the minimal standard that a jury could ostensibly find in his favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; McLean v. 988011 Ontario, Ltd., 224 ...

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