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Edwards v. Epps

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

August 4, 2017




         Before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment [42] filed by Defendants Christopher Epps, James M. Holman, and Eydie Winkel in this case brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Each of these Defendants has moved for summary judgment on the basis of Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. In addition, these defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims against them in their individual capacities fail. Plaintiff did not respond to the summary judgment motion within the fourteen-day period allowed by the Local Uniform Civil Rules. See L. U. Civ. R. 7(b)(4). After expiration of the time for response, Plaintiff filed a motion for extension of time [45] to respond to the summary judgment motion. In an abundance of caution, the Court granted the extension, and Plaintiff filed his response [46]. After considering his response, the Court deferred ruling on the summary judgment motion and established a period of discovery, which was extended once at the request of Plaintiff. See [47], [50]. Plaintiff has now filed another response [53] to the summary judgment motion.

         At the omnibus hearing, the parties consented to have a United States Magistrate Judge conduct any and all further proceedings in the case and order the entry of final judgment, and the District Judge subsequently entered an order of reference. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. Plaintiff, who was incarcerated at the time he filed this action, is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis (“IFP"). 28 U.S.C. § 1915. According to the Court's records, although Plaintiff was unincarcerated or “free world” at one point, he is now re-incarcerated. For the reasons explained below, the Court grants these defendants' motion [42] for summary judgment and dismisses Edwards's claims against them.

         I. Plaintiff's Claims

         At the time of the November 2012 events forming the basis of this lawsuit, Plaintiff was confined at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (“CMCF”), located in Pearl, Mississippi. Defendants are officials with the Mississippi Department of Corrections (“MDOC”) at the time of the events, as follows: the former Commissioner of MDOC, Christopher Epps; the former MDOC Superintendent of CMCF, James M. Holman; and a Warden of CMCF, Eydie Winkel.

         In sum, Edwards alleges that these defendants failed to protect him from harm from a correctional officer, Alexander Sims. Edwards alleges that Sims sexually assaulted him in November 2012, when Sims and another officer had transported him to a court hearing, and when Sims accompanied Edwards to use the restroom at the courthouse.[1] [1] at 5-6; [41] at 6; [42-1] at 6. More specifically, Edwards alleges that Sims forcibly performed oral sex upon him. Id.

         At the omnibus hearing, Edwards was given an opportunity to elaborate upon his claims. As to his claims against Epps, he testified that he had sued Epps because Epps was in charge of the MDOC. [42-1] at 9. Edwards testified that he had sued Holman because Holman was the superintendent of CMCF, Holman had denied his request for an administrative remedy about the assault and his request to be released pending the investigation, and Holman “probably” knew that Sims would sexually assault him based on other inmates' statements. Id. at 10-13. Finally, Edwards testified that he had sued Winkel because she was the warden, and that she had knowledge of other sexual assaults by Sims against other inmates. Id. at 13-14.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states, in relevant part, that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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). An issue of fact is genuine if the "'evidence is sufficient to permit a reasonable factfinder to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Lemoine v. New Horizons Ranch and Center, 174 F.3d 629, 633 (5th Cir. 1999)(quoting Colston v. Barnhart, 146 F.3d 282, 284 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 119 S.Ct. 618 (1998)). Issues of fact are material if Aresolution of the issues might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Lemoine, 174 F.3d at 633. "Federal summary judgment procedure requires the court to 'pierce through the pleadings and their adroit craftsmanship to reach the substance of the claim.'" Hicks v. Brysch, 989 F.Supp. 797, 806 (W.D. Tex. 1997)(citing Tacon Mech. Contractors v. Aetna Cas. and Sur. Co., 65 F.3d 486, 488 (5th Cir. 1995)). The Court does not, "however, in the absence of any proof, assume the nonmoving [or opposing] party could or would prove the necessary facts." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994)(en banc)(emphasis omitted). Moreover, the non-moving party's burden to come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, " Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986), is not satisfied by "conclusory allegations" or by "unsubstantiated assertions, " or by only a "scintilla" of evidence. Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.

         III. Discussion

         In this case alleging a failure to protect, the standard for evaluating such claims is found in Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994). In Farmer, the Supreme Court held that

a prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.

Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837.

         Having considered Defendants' filings, Plaintiff's responses, Plaintiff's omnibus hearing testimony, and the Complaint, the Court finds that summary ...

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