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Ratcliff v. Byrd

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Western Division

September 24, 2014

RAYMOND BYRD, Defendant,


MICHAEL T. PARKER, Magistrate Judge.

THIS MATTER comes before the court on a Motion for Summary Judgment [43] filed by Defendant Raymond Byrd. Having considered the submissions of the parties and the applicable law, the court finds that Defendant's motion [43] should be granted and that this matter should be dismissed with prejudice.


Domiano Racliff is currently incarcerated at the South Mississippi Correctional Institute ("SMCI") in Leakesville, Mississippi. This lawsuit arises from events that took place in 2012, while Ratcliff was a post-conviction inmate at Wilkinson County Correctional Facility ("WCCF") in Woodville, Mississippi. WCCF operates under the authority of the Mississippi Department of Corrections ("MDOC"). On August 27, 2012, Ratcliff filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983.[1] His claims and requested relief were clarified and amended through his sworn testimony at a Spears hearing on December 5, 2013.[2]

Ratcliff alleges that on April 11, 2012, he was being transported to the yard at WCCF. He alleges that another inmate broke out of a holding cell and stole the keys from a prison guard, and then let out two other inmates, all of whom were part of a security threat group due to their violent behavior. At this time, Ratcliff alleges he was being held in a one-man "cage" in the yard. He claims that six to eight guards were present at the time, but that the guards ran away once they realized inmates were no longer restrained. Ratcliff alleges that before the guards ran away, the three inmates were yelling his name and looking for him. Once the inmates found Ratcliff, he claims they attempted to break into the cage, stabbing his arm in the process. Ratcliff claims the inmates punched him during the struggle to open the cage door, but that he was not stabbed again. He alleges that he was then taken to a prison medical unit where his wound was bandaged and he given pain medication.[3]

This verison of events, given at Ratcliff's Spears hearing, differs significantly from those described in the complaint. The complaint indicates that Ratcliff was stabbed in the chest nineteen times, fell unconscious and awoke in a hospital.[4] When asked about these discrepancies at his Spears hearing, Ratcliff claimed that he did not write the facts contained in the complaint, and the signature on the complaint did not belong to him.[5] Furthermore, Ratcliff alleged that the handwriting in the complaint was not his.[6] Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on March 17, 2014, claiming that Racliff's claim should be dismissed due to violations of Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 11, failure to exhaust administrative remedies, [7] and the Defendant's qualified immunity.[8]


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. If a party fails to properly support an assertion of facts or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required, the court may grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting materials-including the facts considered undisputed-show that the moving party is entitled to it. FED. R. CIV. PRO. 56(e). The court may grant summary judgment only if, viewing the facts in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, the defendant demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Woods v. Smith, 60 F.3d 1161, 1164 (5th Cir. 1995). The existence of an issue of material fact is a question of law that the court must decide, and in making that decision, it must "draw inferences most favorable to the party opposing the motion, and take care that no party will be improperly deprived of a trial of disputed factual issues." Id. at 712 (quoting U.S. Steel Corp. v. Darby, 516 F.2d 961, 963 (5th Cir. 1975)).


Rule 11 and Summary Judgment

Defendant argues that Ratcliff's claim should be dismissed because (1) he admits to not signing the complaint and (2) he admits that the allegations in the complaint are false in regard to the severity of the attack and his subsequent medical treatment.[9] Defendant argues that based on these "blatant misrepresentations, " dismissal is warranted under Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 11.

Rule 11 provides that every pleading, written motion, and other paper must be signed by an attorney of record or by the party personally if he is unrepresented. FED. R. CIV. PRO. 11(a). It further provides that by presenting the court with a pleading or written motion, the attorney or unrepresented party certifies that to the best of his knowledge and belief, the facts stated therein have evidentiary support or will have evidentiary support. Id. at 11(b)(3). If the court finds that Rule 11(b) has been violated, it may impose an appropriate sanction. Id. at 11(c)(1); see also, e.g., United States v. Int'l Bd. of Teamsters, 948 F.2d 1338, 1344 (2d Cir.1991). The court has broad discretion in the choice of sanctions. See Cooter & Gell, 496 U.S. 384, 400 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 11 advisory committee's note).

The court finds that Rule 11 sanctions are not proper in this case. First, Rule 11 condemns, among other things, the failure of a party to sign any paper submitted to the court and the failure to make factual contentions supported by an evidentiary basis. In this case, Ratcliff denies that the complaint filed is his actual complaint - he claims that the allegations made therein are not his allegations, and moreover, that the handwriting and signature in the complaint do not belong to him.[10] Thus, the situation at hand differs significantly from those that traditionally fall under Rule 11. Second, whatever flaws might lie in Ratcliff's original complaint, if it was indeed authored and signed by him, allegations made at Spears hearings supersede the allegations of the complaint. Flores v. Livingston, 405 Fed.App'x 931, 931-32 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing Riley v. Collins, 828 F.2d 306, 207 (5th Cir. 1987).[11]

The court must view the facts in the "light most favorable to the plaintiff." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242 (1986). The handwriting in the complaint on record versus handwriting in other documents filed by Ratcliff appear inconsistent upon comparison, and Ratcliff has sworn under oath that the complaint was not his.[12] In the view most generous to the Plaintiff, the court will not foreclose the possibility that the complaint on record was not filed by Ratcliff. ...

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