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Harris v. Unknown Feldpausch

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Northern Division

July 25, 2019

TONY DARNELL HARRIS #366934, Plaintiff,
v.
UNKNOWN FELDPAUSCH, Defendant.

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          MAARTEN VERMAAT, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Introduction

         This is a civil rights action brought by former state prisoner Tony Darnell Harris pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Harris alleges that Defendant, Aaron Feldpausch, violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment while Harris was incarcerated at the Chippewa Correctional Facility (URF) and Feldpausch was employed as a correctional officer there. Harris claims that Feldpausch used excessive force against him when Feldpausch intentionally closed Harris in his cell door while he was holding a hot tea, resulting in a second-degree burn to Harris's right hand.

         This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The parties consented to jurisdiction by a U.S. Magistrate Judge (ECF No. 56) and agreed to a bench trial. A bench trial was held on July 19, 2019. The Court heard testimony from both parties.

         Upon consideration of all of the evidence and arguments presented, the Court finds that Harris has failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Feldpausch violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment.

         Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law

         During evening recreation on July 2, 2016, Harris was let out of his cell in order to use the microwave. On his way to the microwave, Harris observed Feldpausch operating the control panel for Harris's housing unit. This panel was comprised of switches that opened and closed each cell door in the housing unit. The panel was located twenty to thirty feet from Harris's cell. For the cell doors to be opened or closed, a prison official had to hold the switch for a certain period of time. According to Feldpausch, the cells were not directly visible from the control panel. Thus, Feldpausch's practice was to look to see if a prisoner was standing in front of his cell, then step to the control panel and open and close the door. He also said that he relied on a clanging noise to tell when a cell door was closed.

         After heating his ramen and tea, Harris returned to his cell, at which time he again observed Feldpausch operating the control panel. Upon his return, Harris noticed that his cell door was only partially open. While walking towards his cell, another inmate in the unit asked Harris whether he ate the carrots in the ramen, to which Harris responded, “like a rabbit.”

         As Harris walked through the entrance to his cell, the door began to close. The movement of the door caused Harris to spill his tea, which resulted in a second degree burn to his right hand. Harris experienced significant pain as a result of the burn. Immediately after being burned, Harris reported the incident to an unknown correctional officer who sent him to healthcare for treatment.

         According to both parties, Harris and Feldpausch had not interacted or experienced any sort of altercation prior to July 2, 2016. In addition, there were no altercations between the parties after July 2, 2016. Feldpausch never approached Harris or made any statement indicating that he harbored any animosity towards Harris.

         Harris alleges that Feldpausch violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by using Harris's cell door as a form of discipline, causing Harris to sustain a second degree burn to his right hand.

         The Eighth Amendment embodies a constitutional limitation on the power of the states to punish those convicted of a crime. Punishment may not be “barbarous”, nor may it contravene society's “evolving standards of decency.” Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 345-46 (1981); Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101 (1958). The Eighth Amendment also prohibits conditions of confinement which, although not physically barbarous, “involve the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 346. Among unnecessary and wanton inflictions of pain are those that are “totally without penological justification.” Id.

         To establish an Eighth Amendment claim, a plaintiff must satisfy both an objective and a subjective component. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994); Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 297-300 (1991). “The objective component requires the pain inflicted to be ‘sufficiently serious.'” Williams, 631 F.3d at 383 (quoting Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298). “The subjective component ...


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