25 F.3d 980 (11th Cir. 1994), 92-6944, Sims v. Mashburn

Docket Nº:92-6944.
Citation:25 F.3d 980
Party Name:Hardie Vertrain SIMS, Jr., Plaintiff-Appellee, v. MASHBURN, Officer, COI, Defendant, John B. Sanderson, Sgt., Defendant-Appellant, Gene Kelly, Officer, COI; Malone, Officer, COI; L. Burton, Warden, Defendants.
Case Date:July 12, 1994
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Page 980

25 F.3d 980 (11th Cir. 1994)

Hardie Vertrain SIMS, Jr., Plaintiff-Appellee,


MASHBURN, Officer, COI, Defendant,

John B. Sanderson, Sgt., Defendant-Appellant,

Gene Kelly, Officer, COI; Malone, Officer, COI; L. Burton,

Warden, Defendants.

No. 92-6944.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

July 12, 1994

Page 981

Harry A. Lyles and Ellen R. Leonard, Montgomery, AL, for appellant.

Tony G. Miller, Birmingham, AL, for appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

Before KRAVITCH and COX, Circuit Judges, and HENDERSON, Senior Circuit Judge.

COX, Circuit Judge:

Sgt. John Sanderson, a prison official at the St. Clair Correctional Facility, appeals the judgment of the district court. The district court held that Sanderson had violated inmate Hardie Sims's Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and awarded $500 in damages. We reverse.

I. Background 1

On August 27, 1990, Sims, an Alabama prison inmate, was serving a twenty-one year sentence for robbery. He was housed in the administrative segregation unit at the St. Clair Correctional Facility. Sanderson was serving as shift commander in the unit for the first shift, from 6:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M.

Sometime before 9:30 A.M., Correctional Officer Gene Kelly noticed that Sims had placed a towel over the exterior window of his cell. Kelly instructed Sims to remove the towel because it obstructed Kelly's view of Sims's cell by darkening it, presenting a security threat. Sims initially complied, but immediately replaced the towel after Kelly left. When Kelly again noticed the towel, he contacted his immediate supervisor, Sanderson.

When Sanderson arrived, he ordered Sims to place his hands through the tray slot of the cell to be handcuffed, which Sims did. Sanderson and Kelly then entered Sims's cell and noticed that Sims had placed a towel in the toilet. The toilet had not been flushed and there was no flooding in the cell, but the officers viewed this as an implicit threat to flood. Flooding can require vacating all cells in the segregation unit. 2 Sanderson and Kelly removed the towel and left the cell.

Later, Kelly again noticed that Sims had obstructed the view to his cell by placing either a pair of pants or a sheet over the window. 3 Kelly again contacted Sanderson, who then contacted Officers Jackie Mashburn and Gary Malone. Mashburn and Malone were not assigned to the cellblock where Sims was confined but were called over to assist. When the four officers met outside Sims's cell, Sims began yelling that he would not take any more "harassment" and that if they entered his cell, "I'll buck; you'll have to kill me." Sims then called Kelly a "red-neck, cracker-ass bitch."

Despite Sims's belligerence, he complied with orders to put his hands through the tray slot to be handcuffed. Sanderson and the other three officers then entered Sims's cell while Sims stood outside. Sims continued to shout at the officers. Sanderson then decided to "strip" Sims's cell. The four officers removed Sims's mattresses, personal property,

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blankets, and all of his clothes except his undershorts. Additionally, the water to Sims's toilet was disconnected, but the water to his sink remained on.

Sims's cell remained in this condition the rest of the day, that night, and until approximately 2:30 P.M. the next day. During that time, Sims's only clothing was his undershorts and he slept on the concrete floor of the cell.

There is a conflict in the testimony relative to whether water to the commode was turned back on. Sanderson testified that he ordered the water turned back on at the end of his shift at 2:00 P.M. on the day the cell was stripped while Sims testified he could not flush his toilet throughout the strip cell status. The magistrate judge, while faulting Sanderson for not checking to make sure it was done, made no finding as to whether the water was in fact turned back on. 4

Kelly completed an institutional incident report concerning the occurrence. 5 Sanderson also filed a "Stripped Cell Form." 6 The prison psychologist, Dr. Brister, visited Sims during this time. Brister's notes detailed that Sims was well-oriented to time, place, and persons. Brister's notes concluded with the notation, "Just wanted to complain."

II. Procedural History

In October 1990, Sims filed a complaint asserting a variety of claims, including a claim that the defendants stripped his cell without cause. Sims named Kelly, Mashburn, Malone, Sanderson, and Warden Larry Burton as defendants.

Magistrate Judge Putnam, to whom the case was assigned, characterized the complaint as alleging 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 claims. The magistrate judge ordered the defendants to file a special report addressing the events described in Sims's complaint. The defendants filed a report, and it was treated as a motion for summary judgment. The magistrate judge recommended the grant of summary judgment in favor of Warden Burton, but recommended the denial of summary judgment for the remaining defendants. The district judge adopted this recommendation, and thereafter the magistrate judge conducted an evidentiary hearing.

Following the hearing, the magistrate judge issued a report recommending that judgment be entered for Sims in the amount of $500 against Kelly, Mashburn, Malone, and Sanderson. The magistrate judge found that the initial decision to strip Sims's cell was justified. He also found, however, that there was no evidence that Sims continued to be a security threat through the night and the following day. The magistrate judge's report on this claim concluded:

Given the apparent lack of effort by them [the four officers] to determine whether the plaintiff continued to constitute a security threat or whether he had ameliorated his conduct, the court must infer that the continuation of the stripped-cell status was not the product of defendants' good faith effort to restore discipline, but rather, was the wanton imposition of unnecessary pain.

(R. 1-28-14). This Eighth Amendment violation, the magistrate judge concluded, made a $500 damage award appropriate.

The district judge issued a memorandum opinion rejecting the recommendation that judgment be entered against Kelly, Mashburn, and Malone, but adopting the recommendation that Sanderson be held liable. The district judge concluded that the prison official making the decision to strip a cell assumes a continuing responsibility to monitor

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the inmate to determine when the continued use of the strip cell is no longer penologically justified. (R. 1-32 at 4). Because Sanderson was found to have failed to assume this responsibility, the court concluded that Sanderson violated Sims's Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment when the cell remained stripped longer than was penologically justified.

III. Issues on Appeal and Contentions of the Parties

Sanderson argues that the evidence does not support the court's finding that he violated Sims's Eighth Amendment rights. A component of this argument is the contention that the district court utilized the wrong state of mind standard under the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. Another component of this argument is the contention that Sims's claim arises out of the initial stripping of his cell, and that Sims neither alleged nor proved that Sanderson defaulted in any obligation to monitor him after his cell was stripped.

Sanderson also argues that the district court erred in rejecting his qualified immunity defense, and that the $500 damage award is excessive.

Sims counters that the evidence supports the judgment and that the district court did not err on any of these issues.

IV. Standard of Review

We review the district court's factual findings under the clearly erroneous standard, see Anderson v. Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 573, 105 S.Ct. 1504, 1511, 84 L.Ed.2d 518 (1985), while a district court's legal conclusions are reviewed de novo. United States v. Dukovich, 11 F.3d 140, 141 (11th Cir.1994) (citing United States v. Wilson, 894 F.2d 1245, 1254 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 497 U.S. 1029, 110 S.Ct. 3284, 111 L.Ed.2d 792 (1990)).

V. Discussion

Sanderson complained at oral argument in this case that he was unprepared to defend a claim predicated upon a failure to monitor Sims after the cell was stripped since the claim in Sims's complaint was based upon the initial stripping of the cell. 7 We read briefs liberally to determine what issues are presented, see Kincade v. General Tire & Rubber Co., 635 F.2d 501, 504 (5th Cir.1981) 8, but Sanderson's brief, read liberally, does not present this issue. It is clear from the brief filed on behalf of Sims that counsel for Sims did not read Sanderson's brief as having presented this issue. The argument is not without appeal. The claim in the complaint does seem to be predicated upon the initial decision to strip the cell. This explains why the evidentiary hearing did not clearly focus on the question of when and by whom Sims should have been reevaluated. Nevertheless, we conclude that Sanderson has waived any argument that failure to monitor was not part of the claim and that he was therefore unprepared to defend such a claim. See United States v. Milam, 855 F.2d 739, 743 (11th Cir.1988) (citing Rogero v. Noone, 704 F.2d 518, 520 n. 1 (11th Cir.1983); Harris v. Plastics Manufacturing Co., 617 F.2d 438, 440 (5th Cir.1980)); see also Fed.R.App.P. 28(a)(4) ("The brief of the appellant shall contain ... the contentions of the appellant with respect to the issues presented").

We now turn to Sanderson's argument that the evidence does not support the court's finding...

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