898 F.2d 1530 (11th Cir. 1990), 88-8939, Bennett v. Parker

Docket Nº:88-8939.
Citation:898 F.2d 1530
Party Name:William C. BENNETT, aka John A. Richardson, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Garrison A. PARKER, Warden, Robert M. Jackson, Officer, Daniel W. Cooper, Officer, Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:April 25, 1990
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 1530

898 F.2d 1530 (11th Cir. 1990)

William C. BENNETT, aka John A. Richardson, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Garrison A. PARKER, Warden, Robert M. Jackson, Officer,

Daniel W. Cooper, Officer, Defendants-Appellants.

No. 88-8939.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

April 25, 1990

John C. Jones, Office of State Atty. Gen., Atlanta, Ga., for defendants-appellants.

John P. Batson, Augusta, Ga., for plaintiff-appellee.

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

Before TJOFLAT, Chief Judge, HATCHETT, Circuit Judge, and MORGAN, Senior Circuit Judge.

HATCHETT, Circuit Judge.

Although intertwined with issues of jurisdiction and qualified immunity, this appeal concerns the severity of injury to an inmate required to establish a constitutional claim of excessive use of force. Because we find no constitutional violation in that the injury in this case was minimal or nonexistent, we reverse the district court's denial of summary judgment on motion of the public officials.

I. FACTS

William C. Bennett, a/k/a John A. Richardson, an inmate at Augusta Correctional and Medical Institution, in Georgia, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 against Prison Warden Garrison Parker and prison staff officers Robert M. Jackson and Daniel W. Cooper (appellants). Bennett alleges that on July 13, 1987, at approximately 1 p.m., Jackson and Cooper instructed him to clean up his cell. After Bennett cleaned the cell, Jackson and Cooper refused to allow Bennett to go to the gymnasium as they had earlier promised. When Bennett asked Jackson why he was

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not being allowed to go to the gymnasium, Jackson replied, "You shut your goddamn mouth," and "I don't have to let you go no goddamn where." Officer Jackson then called Bennett out of the cell, grabbed him by the throat, and said, "Let me tell you something you black ass mother-fucker, I am sick and tired of your goddamn mouth; furthermore nigger, I've had it with you." When Bennett began to struggle, and asked Jackson to remove his hands, Cooper pushed Bennett against the cell bars. According to Bennett, Jackson hit Bennett with a nightstick on the left side of his head, near the eye. Bennett claims that he sought medical treatment later that evening, but the medical staff denied him treatment. The injury to his left eye is still painful. Bennett also alleges that he was denied due process during grievance procedures.

The appellants state different facts. They allege that while Jackson and Cooper were conducting a count of the inmates, Bennett became belligerent and demanded to go to recreation. He began cursing at the officers and creating a disturbance. When Bennett refused to calm down, Jackson and Cooper ordered him outside of his cell into the hallway. Jackson and Cooper state that they never touched Bennett, and therefore they never filed a use of force report. Such a report is mandatory in incidents where force is used. Although sick call is held everyday, Bennett never went to the prison hospital or reported the injury he now alleges.

Because of this disorderly behavior, Bennett received a disciplinary report for insubordination, failure to follow instructions, and disruption of the count of inmates. Bennett pleaded guilty to these charges at a disciplinary hearing.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Bennett filed this section 1983 lawsuit in the Northern District of Georgia claiming that the appellants violated his constitutional rights through an excessive use of force and failure to provide due process. The appellants filed a motion to dismiss based on the defense of qualified immunity. The district court notified Bennett that it would treat the motion to dismiss as one for summary judgment and advised Bennett of the consequences of a summary judgment motion. In response, Bennett submitted two sworn statements and five unsworn statements from inmates. The district court dismissed the claims against Parker, the warden, finding that the claims against him were based on the doctrine of respondeat superior. The district court denied the motion for summary judgment for Jackson and Cooper because it found that material issues of fact regarding excessive use of force were in dispute. Consequently, the district court rejected the qualified immunity defense.

III. CONTENTIONS OF THE PARTIES

Jackson and Cooper contend that the district court erred by denying their motion for summary judgment. They argue that although they did not use any force, the undisputed facts show that they were entitled to use force against Bennett and, if force was used, Bennett was not injured. As a threshold issue, Bennett contends that the court has no jurisdiction over this appeal because material facts are in dispute. Bennett argues that no force was necessary under the circumstances.

IV. ISSUES

The issues before the court are: (1) whether the court has jurisdiction over this appeal resulting from the denial of summary judgment based on qualified immunity; and (2) whether the district court properly denied Jackson and Cooper's motions for summary judgment.

V. DISCUSSION

  1. Jurisdiction

    The United States Supreme Court has held that the appellate courts have jurisdiction over "a district court's denial of a claim of qualified immunity, to the extent that it turns on an issue of law, [and that it] is an appealable 'final decision' within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1291 notwithstanding the absence of a final judgment."

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    Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 530, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 2817, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985). Whether an official is entitled to qualified immunity is an issue of law. Waldrop v. Evans, 871 F.2d 1030, 1032 n. 1 (11th Cir.1989). Nevertheless, this court has consistently held that denial of a motion for summary judgment based on a claim of qualified immunity is not a final appealable order if the claim is denied because the case turns on factual questions in dispute. Goddard v. Urrea, 847 F.2d 765 (11th Cir.1988); Williams v. Cash, 836 F.2d 1318 (11th Cir.1988); Riley v. Wainwright, 810 F.2d 1006 (11th Cir.1986); Perry v. Thompson, 786 F.2d 1093 (11th Cir.1986).

    The existence of material disputed facts will not defeat summary judgment in favor of a public official, however, when the plaintiff "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to [plaintiff's] case, and on which [plaintiff] will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Facts in dispute cease to be "material" facts when the plaintiff fails to establish a prima facie case. "In such a situation, there can be 'no genuine issue as to any material fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23, 106 S.Ct. at 2552. Thus, under such circumstances, the public official is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, because the plaintiff has failed to carry the burden of proof. This rule facilitates the dismissal of factually unsupported claims prior to trial.

    The doctrine of qualified immunity accomplishes a similar purpose by shielding public officials from civil liability when their conduct "does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2738, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982). Thus, in this case, for Bennett to defeat Jackson and Cooper's motions for summary judgment, he must show that their conduct violated clearly established statutory or constitutional rights. See Waldrop v. Evans, 871 F.2d 1030, 1033 (11th Cir.1989) (burden of proving constitutional violation on plaintiff). 1 Because we hold that Bennett failed to establish a constitutional violation, rendering immaterial any facts still in dispute, we have jurisdiction.

  2. Denial of Summary Judgment

    On review of the denial of summary judgment based on qualified...

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