United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division
Keith Ball United States Magistrate Judge
Terrell Butler is a pretrial detainee at the Holmes-Humphreys
County Regional Correctional Facility. His claims, brought
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arise out of his pretrial
detention at the Hinds County Detention Center (HCDC) in late
2016 and early 2017. Presently before the Court is the motion
 of Defendants for summary judgment. Plaintiff has not
responded to the motion.
has asserted an excessive force claim against Defendant Tony
Alexander, an officer at the jail, arising out of a February
26, 2017, incident. In his testimony at the Spears
hearing, Butler stated that during a search of his cell,
Alexander grabbed his fingers with grip pliers, rammed his
head into the wall, and hit him several times. [54-1] at
5-10. Butler suffered a bruise under his eye and pain in his
side as a result of Alexander's actions. [54-1] at 7. He
sought no medical attention. Id.
has also asserted a claim against Sheriff Victor Mason for
unconstitutional conditions. While at HCDC, Butler spent
approximately two months in a lockdown cell. Plaintiff
alleges that his lockdown cell had no light and had exposed
electrical wires and mold on the ceiling and walls. [54-1] at
11-12. He also claims that there was standing water in the
cell up to his ankles for a period of five to ten days.
Id. at 12. Butler indicates that at least some of
these conditions were common to all of the lockdown cells.
Id. at 11-12.
motion, Defendant Alexander argues that Plaintiff's
allegations concerning him, even if true, fail to establish a
constitutional violation for excessive force and that, in any
event, Alexander is entitled to qualified immunity. As to the
conditions in lockdown, Sheriff Mason argues that the
conditions were not sufficiently serious to amount to a
constitutional violation and that Plaintiff has not shown any
direct involvement by him. Finally, both Defendants argue
that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies
as to any of his claims.
Court begins with Defendants' exhaustion argument. The
applicable section of the Prison Litigation Reform Act
(PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997(e), requires that an inmate
bringing a civil rights action in federal court first exhaust
his administrative remedies. Whitley v. Hunt, 158
F.3d 882 (5th Cir. 1998). This exhaustion
requirement Aapplies to all inmate suits about prison
life.” Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 122
S.Ct. 983, 992 (2002). The requirement that claims be
exhausted prior to the filing of a lawsuit is mandatory and
non-discretionary. Gonzalez v. Seal, 702 F.3d 785
(5th Cir. 2012).
argument in support of their motion appears to be that
although Plaintiff filed grievances concerning his
allegations of excessive force and the conditions in
lockdown, he failed to complete the jail's grievance
process as to his complaints. In support of their motion,
Defendants have submitted the affidavit of Keneshia Jones,
the grievance officer of the jail, along with copies of all
the grievances and inmate request forms submitted by Butler
during his stay at the jail. [54-3]. Also included with
Defendants' submissions is a copy of the policy statement
describing the jail's three-step grievance process.
[54-2]. Jones states in her affidavit that the attached
grievances are the only ones submitted by Butler during his
time at HCDC. [54-3] at 2. One of the grievances, dated May
2, 2017, raises the issues of ankle-deep water and an assault
by Defendant Alexander. [54-3] at 7. In a grievance dated May
21, 2017, Butler complains of mold and the lack of lights in
his cell. [54-3] at 12. There are no second or third step
requests included with these or any other of the grievances.
to exhaust is an affirmative defense, and thus Defendants
have the burden of establishing beyond peradventure the
essential elements of that defense. Wilson v. Epps,
776 F.3d 296, 299 (5th Cir. 2015). Nowhere in her
affidavit does Ms. Jones state that Butler failed to complete
the grievance process. Furthermore, although she states that
the documents attached to her affidavit constitute all of the
grievances filed by Butler, she does not state that the
documents constitute Butler's entire administrative
remedy file. Thus, Defendants' evidence fails to rule out
the possibility that Plaintiff completed steps two and three
for the grievances he submitted. Defendants are not entitled
to summary judgment on the issue of exhaustion.
analysis of the defense of qualified immunity in an excessive
force case involves two inquiries: Whether the plaintiff has
established a constitutional violation, i.e.,
whether the officer's use of force was objectively
reasonable, and whether the right was clearly established
such that a reasonable officer would have known that the
particular amount of force used was excessive. Hogan v.
Cunningham, 722 F.3d 725, 734 (5th Cir. 2013)
(citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S.194, 200-02
(2001)). Where the force is applied in the context of a
prison or jail situation, Athe core judicial inquiry is . . .
whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain
or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to
cause harm." Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7
Alexander argues that Plaintiff's claim against him fails
because Plaintiff's injuries were de minimis.
The premise of this argument, i.e., that a
plaintiff's injuries must be more than de
minimis in order to establish an excessive force claim,
is incorrect and was rejected by the Supreme Court in
Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34 (2010). In
Wilkins, the district court had dismissed a
prisoner's excessive force claim on the basis that he had
alleged only de minimis injuries, and the Fourth
Circuit had affirmed. In reversing, the Supreme Court held
that the core inquiry in an excessive force case is not the
extent of the injury but, rather, the nature of the force.
Wilkins, 559 U.S. at 34. Rejecting any requirement
of a showing of more than a de minimis injury, the
Court explained that extent of the injury is only one of
several factors that a court is to consider in making the
broader determination of whether the force was excessive.
Id. at 37. Other factors that may be relevant are
the need for the use of force, the relationship between the
need and the amount of force used, the threat reasonably
perceived by the prison officials, and any efforts made to
temper the severity of the force. Hudson, 503 U.S.
present case, the relevant factors are the extent of injury
and the necessity of the force. While the extent of
Butler's injury was apparently minor, there is no
evidence of any need for the use of force. Thus, Butler's
allegations are sufficient to create a factual issue as to
whether the force used by Alexander was excessive.
Furthermore, Alexander is not entitled to qualified immunity,
because a reasonable officer would have known that it was
unlawful to maliciously hit a prisoner, slam his head against