206 F.3d 335 (3rd Cir. 2000), 99-1062, Funentes v. Wagner

Docket Nº:99-1062
Citation:206 F.3d 335
Case Date:March 10, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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206 F.3d 335 (3rd Cir. 2000)




No. 99-1062

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

March 10, 2000

Argued: December 15, 1999

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Civil Action No. 96-CV-03251) United States Magistrate Judge: Hon. M. Faith Angell

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STEPHEN D. BROWN, ESQ. CAROLYN H. FEENEY, ESQ. EVERETT M. CLAYTON, ESQ.1 (Argued) Dechert, Price & Rhoads 4000 Bell Atlantic Tower 1717 Arch Street Philadelphia, PA 19103 Attorneys for Appellant

DANIEL J. DIVIS, ESQ. MARGARET A. McALLISTER, ESQ. (Argued) German, Gallagher & Murtagh The Bellevue 200 South Broad Street Suite 500 Philadelphia, PA 19102 Attorneys for Appellees

Before: MANSMANN, GREENBERG and McKEE, Circuit Judges


McKEE, Circuit Judge.

Luis Fuentes appeals a judgment that was entered for the defendant corrections officers and prison officials in this suit under 42 U. S. C. S 1983. The suit arose from an incident that occurred in the Berks County Prison where Fuentes was detained while awaiting sentencing on outstanding federal charges. Fuentes alleged a cause of action for excessive force under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, a substantive due process claim for cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, a procedural due process claim under the Fourteenth Amendment, and state law claims for assault and battery, and false imprisonment.2

Cross-motions for summary judgment were eventually filed, and the Magistrate Judge to whom the matter had been assigned granted summary judgment in favor of the prison officials on Fuentes' substantive due process claim, but denied summary judgment on the remaining claims. Those remaining claims then proceeded to trial, and a jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendants. Fuentes' post trial motions were denied, and this appeal followed. 3 We will affirm.

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In December of 1995, Fuentes was being housed in the behavioral adjustment unit ("BAU") of the Berks County Prison awaiting sentencing on federal drug charges to which he had previously pled guilty. His cell was typical of the cells in the BAU. It measured approximately 6 by 10 feet and contained only a sink, a toilet, and a cement slab.

On December 28, 1995, the inmates in the BAU were not allowed their one-hour exercise period outdoors because of inclement weather. Instead, they were individually released from their cells to exercise in the hallway immediately outside their respective cells. After another inmate finished exercising, Fuentes began kicking his own cell door and yelling for a Correctional Officer ("CO"). 4 CO Konemann and CO Kleeman came to Fuentes' cell, and Fuentes complained that another inmate had urinated into Fuentes' cell. Neither Konemann nor Kleeman saw any urine on Fuentes' cell floor. However, Kleeman did notice some wetness on the door and the floor outside of Fuentes' cell.

Policy requires that a CO handcuff an inmate who is housed in the disciplinary unit before entering his cell. Accordingly, Konemann and Kleeman told Fuentes to extend his hands through the food slot of his cell door so that they could handcuff him and enter his cell. Fuentes complied, and was handcuffed. The COs entered and told Fuentes they were going to strip his cell because he had kicked his cell door.5 However, as Konemann began removing sheets from Fuentes' bed in an effort to strip the cell, Fuentes grabbed the sheets and a struggle ensued. The parties offer different versions of exactly what happened next.

According to the defendants, Fuentes swung at Konemann's head with his handcuffed fists after unsuccessfully trying to grab the sheets. Konemann stated he saw Fuentes' swing, and that he pushed Fuentes backwards. When Fuentes moved back toward Konemann, Kleeman stepped forward and wrestled Fuentes to the floor. Fuentes was then face down on the cell floor with his handcuffed arms beneath him. Kleeman was partially on top of Fuentes as Konemann assisted in holding Fuentes down. According to the defendants, Fuentes was combative and was trying to free himself as Konemann and Kleeman tried to control him.

CO Donato arrived shortly after Konemann and Kleeman began stripping the cell, but Donato left to get leg shackles and to call for assistance. After Donato retrieved the leg shackles she returned with several other COs, and the shackles were fastened around Fuentes' legs. Sergeant Brown, a supervising CO, did not enter Fuentes' cell, but he did hear Fuentes yelling at Kleeman and Konemann. Donato told Brown that Konemann and Kleeman had been stripping Fuentes' cell when Fuentes swung at Konemann. Brown then left to obtain permission to place Fuentes in a restraint chair. Permission was granted by Assistant Warden, who authorized use of the restraint chair for eight hours. Fuentes' civil rights claim is based upon the use of that restraint chair and his allegation that Konemann and Kleeman used excessive force during the initial confrontation in his cell.6

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Fuentes was no longer physically resisting when Brown returned with permission to use the restraint chair. However, Kleeman and Konemann were still holding Fuentes down, and Fuentes was threatening to "get" Konemann. Fuentes was then carried from his cell to a nearby cell where he was placed in the restraint chair. He did not resist physically being placed in the chair, though he did not cooperate.

With regard to the initial confrontation in Fuentes' cell, Fuentes alleged that Konemann and Kleeman threw him to the floor and beat him, and that Kleeman smeared his hand all over Fuentes' face. Fuentes denied trying to strike Konemann or threatening him. Fuentes insisted that he only asked Kleeman and Konemann why they were hitting him, and he claimed to have remained still from the time he was beaten until the time he was placed in the restraint chair. Kleeman admitted that Fuentes was no longer a threat to himself or anyone else once his hands were cuffed and his legs shackled. From the time Fuentes was removed from his cell to the time he was placed in the restraint chair, he was neither resisting nor physically combative. Fuentes was not given an opportunity to explain or defend any of his actions prior to being placed in the chair.

Fuentes' confinement in the restraint chair was consistent with the institution's policy. COs checked him at fifteen minute intervals and he was released every two hours for a ten minute period of stretching, exercise, and use of the toilet. In addition, he was given a meal and seen by the medical staff at the end of the first two hour interval. The parties disputed whether Fuentes made any verbal threats during his first release period. Fuentes denied doing so, however, Konemann said that Fuentes was still threatening him and saying that he would "get" Konemann when he got out on the street.

During the second release period, which came at the end of four hours, Fuentes told Konemann "he wasn't going to get away with it, that [Fuentes] was going to see him sooner or later . . . ." Konemann interpreted this as a threat. However, Fuentes claimed that he only meant that he was going to sue Konemann.

When the third release period arrived, Fuentes had stopped making threats. He was finally released at the end of eight hours and examined by a staff nurse, as dictated by policy. She noted that Fuentes complained of pain in his right lower rib cage, but she observed no injuries with the exception of small bruises or swelling on both wrists.

On December 29, 1995, Fuentes was brought before the prison disciplinary board for a hearing on charges of assault/fighting/horseplay, threats, refusal of orders, and disturbance. He was given an opportunity to make a statement. The assault charge was dismissed but the board found him guilty of threats, refusal of orders and disturbance. Sanctions in the form of loss of all earned time credit and thirty days segregation were imposed.

Fuentes claimed that being in the restraint chair for eight hours resulted in loss of feeling in his hands and feet, cuts on his wrists and ankles where he had been handcuffed and shackled, leg cramps, discomfort in his arms, restricted breathing, and back pain.


Fuentes argues that the Magistrate Judge erred by: (1) denying his motion for

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judgment as a matter of law on his procedural due process claim; (2) granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants on his substantive due process claim; and (3) instructing the jury improperly on his excessive force claim.

A. The Procedural Due Process Claim.

Fuentes alleged that his eight hour confinement in the restraint chair violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Magistrate Judge denied cross-motions for summary judgment on the procedural due process claim after finding that "the evidence demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Mr. Fuentes was placed in the restraint chair for punitive reasons or security reasons. . . ." Op. at 15. After the jury found against him on his procedural due process claim, Fuentes moved for judgment as a matter of law. However, the Magistrate Judge denied that motion. Fuentes claims that was error.

We exercise plenary review over the denial of a motion for judgment as a matter of law, and we apply the same standard that the District Court should have used. Lightning Lube, Inc. v. Witco Corp., 4 F.3d 1153, 1166 (3d Cir. 1993). A motion for judgment as a matter of law "should be granted only if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant . . . there...

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