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Pinkston v. Mississippi Department of Corrections

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

July 25, 2018




         This prisoner civil rights action is before the Court on the motion for summary judgment filed by “Dr. H. Kuiper, ” “Nurse L. Barron, ” and Centurion of Mississippi, LLC, Doc. #65; which the Mississippi Department of Corrections, Pelicia Hall, Steven Anderson, Robert Benford, and Keba Taylor joined, Doc. #67.


         Procedural History

         On or about March 24, 2017, Chaz Pinkston, acting pro se, filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, naming as defendants (1) the Mississippi Department of Corrections (“MDOC”); (2) “Nichols, ” a captain at the Mississippi State Penitentiary (“MSP”); (3) Keba Taylor, a lieutenant at MSP; (4) “S. Anderson, ” later identified as Steven Anderson, [1] a sergeant at MSP; (5) “Centurion, ” later identified as Centurion of Mississippi, LLC, [2] a contractor at MSP; (6) “Dr. Kuiper, ” later identified as Dr. H. Kuiper, [3] a doctor at MSP; and (7) “Ms. Barron, ” later identified as L. Barron, [4] a registered nurse at MSP. Doc. #1. With leave of this Court, Pinkston subsequently filed three amended complaints-one to add Pelicia Hall as a defendant, Doc. #13; one “to say Captain Benford, instead of Captain Nichols, ”[5] Doc. #19; and one to clarify that he is asserting a due process claim, see Docs. #40, #43.

         On August 14, 2017, following a Spears hearing, United States Magistrate Judge David A. Sanders issued an order directing the defendants to answer the complaint, as amended, by September 5, 2017. Doc. #16 at 1.

         Taylor did not file an answer by September 5, 2017. On or about September 6, 2017, Pinkston filed against Taylor a motion seeking entry of default and a motion for default judgment. Doc. #35; Doc. #36. On September 13, 2017, Taylor, without seeking leave of the Court, filed an untimely answer. Doc. #37. The same day, Judge Sanders denied Pinkston's motion for entry of default on the ground that this Court likely would not grant a default judgment because Taylor filed an answer and because the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) does not allow for entry of a default judgment. Doc. #38.

         On December 5, 2017, Barron, Centurion, and Kuiper (“Centurion Defendants”) filed a joint motion for summary judgment. Doc. #65. The same day, MDOC, Hall, Anderson, Benford, and Taylor (“MDOC Defendants”) filed a “Joinder” regarding the motion for summary judgment.[6]Doc. #67. The motion for summary judgment has been fully briefed. Doc. #94; Doc. #99.

         On January 3, 2018, this Court vacated Judge Sanders' order denying default and directed the Clerk of the Court to enter default against Taylor. Doc. #79. The Clerk entered default the same day. Doc. #80. Six days later, Taylor filed a motion to set aside default, Doc. #81, which this Court granted on March 5, 2018, on the ground that Taylor was never served with process, Doc. #103.

         On or about February 16, 2018, Pinkston filed a “Motion for Leave to File Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and a Preliminary Injunction, ” Doc. #100, which is in substance a motion for injunctive relief “to ensure that he receives proper medical treatment and care to counteract prison staff['s] wanton infliction of pain by cruel and unusual punishment, ” Doc. #101 at 1 (quotation marks omitted). Approximately three weeks later, on or about March 5, 2018, Pinkston filed an “Emergency Motion” which, though less than clear, appears to be both a supplement to Pinkston's motion for injunctive relief, and a supplement to Pinkston's response to the motion for summary judgment.[7] Doc. #104.

         On or about March 13, 2018, Pinkston filed two documents which are, in substance, motions for sanctions against the defendants. Doc. #107; Doc. #108. About a week later, Pinkston filed a motion for reconsideration of this Court's order setting aside default. Doc. #110.

         II Motion for Reconsideration

         In his motion for reconsideration, Pinkston asks this Court to reinstate default, and enter default judgment against Taylor.

         A. Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) “allows parties to seek reconsideration of interlocutory orders ….”[8] Austin v. Kroger Tex., L.P., 864 F.3d 326, 336 (5th Cir. 2017). Under Rule 54(b):

[A]ny order or other decision, however designated, that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties does not end the action as to any of the claims or parties and may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b).

Although the source of the court's authority to revise or amend an order or judgment is different for interlocutory orders than for final orders or judgments, many of the same policy considerations apply both to motions for reconsideration under Rule 54(b) and to motions for reconsideration under Rule 59(e). Accordingly, district courts … frequently apply the same standards to the two.

eTool Dev., Inc. v. Nat'l Semiconductor Corp., 881 F.Supp.2d 745, 748 (E.D. Tex. 2012) (collecting cases).

Under Fifth Circuit jurisprudence:
A Rule 59(e) motion “calls into question the correctness of a judgment.” This Court has held that such a motion is not the proper vehicle for rehashing evidence, legal theories, or arguments that could have been offered or raised before the entry of judgment. Rather, Rule 59(e) “serves the narrow purpose of allowing a party to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence.”

Templet v. HydroChem Inc., 367 F.3d 473, 478-79 (5th Cir. 2004) (citations and alterations omitted). “A motion to alter or amend the judgment under Rule 59(e) must clearly establish either a manifest error of law or fact or must present newly discovered evidence and cannot be used to raise arguments which could, and should, have been made before the judgment issued.” Schiller v. Physicians Res. Grp. Inc., 342 F.3d 563, 567 (5th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). Additionally, “a trial court is free to reconsider and reverse interlocutory orders for any reason it deems sufficient, even in the absence of new evidence or an intervening change or in clarification of the new law.” Stoffels ex rel. SBC Tel. Concession Plan v. SBC Commc'ns, Inc., 677 F.3d 720, 727-28 (5th Cir. 2012) (internal alterations omitted).

         B. Analysis

         Pinkston argues that reconsideration is necessary because Taylor waived the defense of improper service by filing his answer and because Taylor had independent knowledge of the lawsuit without service.

         First, a “defendant's actual notice of … litigation … is insufficient to satisfy Rule 4's [service] requirements.” Way v. Mueller Brass Co., 840 F.2d 303, 306 (5th Cir. 1988). Furthermore, while it is true that failure to include improper service in an answer results in waiver of the defense, [9] pleadings filed without leave of court are “[w]ithout legal effect.” U.S. ex rel. Mathews v. HealthSouth Corp., 332 F.3d 293, 296 (5th Cir. 2003). Thus, an untimely answer is a nullity. In re Legal Xtranet, Inc., No. 11-51042, 2011 WL 3652756, at *4 (Bankr.W.D.Tex. Aug. 19, 2011) (“[B]ecause AT&T failed to obtain leave of court before filing its untimely Amended Answer, the Amended Answer is a nullity and the original Answer remains the live pleading.”). It follows, therefore, that a defense may not be waived by an untimely answer. Accordingly, Taylor's untimely answer did not waive the right to object to service in opposing default judgment, and Pinkston's argument to the contrary is rejected. The motion for reconsideration will be denied.


         Motions for Sanctions

         Pinkston seeks sanctions in the form of dismissal of the pending motion for summary judgment and the related joinder. As grounds for this relief, Pinkston contends the MDOC Defendants filed their joinder after the deadline for joinder of parties set in the scheduling order governing this case. Pinkston further alleges that the Centurion Defendants: (1) by filing exhibits in support of their motion for summary judgment, “filed their discovery on December 5th, 2017, ” after the discovery deadline; (2) responded to motions related only to the MDOC defendants; (3) supplemented their discovery disclosures after the discovery deadline; and (4) replied in support of the motion for summary judgment without seeking leave of the Court. The Court has reviewed Pinkston's contentions and finds that none of the conduct identified by Pinkston violates an applicable rule or order, much less justifies the sanction of dismissing a dispositive motion. Accordingly, the motions for sanctions will be denied.


         Summary Judgment Standard

         Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[s]ummary judgment is proper only when the record demonstrates that no genuine issue of material fact exists and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”[10] Luv N' Care, Ltd. v. Groupo Rimar, 844 F.3d 442, 447 (5th Cir. 2016). “A factual issue is genuine if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party, and material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action.” Burton v. Freescale Semiconductor, Inc., 798 F.3d 222, 226 (5th Cir. 2015) (quotation marks omitted). On a motion for summary judgment, a court must “consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor.” Edwards v. Cont'l Cas. Co., 841 F.3d 360, 363 (5th Cir. 2016).

         In seeking summary judgment, “[t]he moving party bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the record which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Nola Spice Designs, L.L.C. v. Haydel Enters., Inc., 783 F.3d 527, 536 (5th Cir. 2015) (quotation marks and alterations omitted). If the moving party satisfies this burden, “the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. (quotation marks omitted). “Where the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof at trial, the moving party satisfies this initial burden by demonstrating an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celtic Marine Corp. v. James C. Justice Cos., Inc., 760 F.3d 477, 481 (5th Cir. 2014).


         Factual Background

         On or about July 18, 2016, Pinkston was admitted to the hospital unit of MSP after going on a hunger strike at the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility and experiencing a documented eleven-pound weight loss. Doc. #65-2 at 8-10, 14. Pinkston was diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder following an initial psychiatric review by an MSP psychiatrist but was not placed on any psychiatric medication. Id. at 7, 22.

         Within days of his transfer to MSP, Pinkston stated that he was on a hunger strike in order to get medical treatment for his dry skin. Id. at 26. The specific medical treatment he requested was Eucerin lotion and A&D ointment. Id. Pinkston was advised that Eucerin cream was non-formulary[11] and could not be provided. Id. At that time, however, Pinkston was given a new order to apply A&D ointment to his dry skin twice daily. Id. at 26-27. He was also later provided with medicated shampoo after he complained of an itchy scalp. Id. at 209.

         Because of the hunger strike, Pinkston was placed under continuous observation until at least September 20, 2016. See generally id. at 5-266. Pinkston often complained to medical providers during their daily rounds, asserting that dissatisfaction with his diet and skin treatment options were the reasons for his hunger ...

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