Christian v. Owens, Civ. A. No. 78-0039-B.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
Writing for the CourtJames P. Jones, Penn, Stuart, Eskridge & Jones, Bristol, Va., for defendants
Citation461 F. Supp. 72
PartiesDebra Lynn CHRISTIAN, etc., Plaintiff, v. Vadie OWENS et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 78-0039-B.
Decision Date07 September 1978

461 F. Supp. 72

Debra Lynn CHRISTIAN, etc., Plaintiff,
Vadie OWENS et al., Defendants.

Civ. A. No. 78-0039-B.

United States District Court, W. D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division.

September 7, 1978.

S. Strother Smith, III, Smith, Robinson & Vinyard, Abingdon, Va., for plaintiff.

James P. Jones, Penn, Stuart, Eskridge & Jones, Bristol, Va., for defendants.


GLEN M. WILLIAMS, District Judge.

This action was instituted pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 to redress alleged deprivations of plaintiff's decedent's civil rights which occurred while he was incarcerated in the Buchanan County Jail, Grundy, Virginia, on a charge of operating a

461 F. Supp. 73
motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. Jurisdiction is founded on 28 U.S.C. § 1343

While incarcerated, the decedent suffered a self-inflicted, mortal gunshot wound to his head. The weapon, a .25 caliber Titan automatic pistol, was secreted on his person when he was admitted to jail, and he shot himself only minutes after being locked in a cell. After being transported to the Grundy Hospital from the jail, he died.

Thereafter, this action was commenced seeking monetary and other relief for the alleged deprivation, under color of state law, of the decedent's constitutional rights. This case is presently before the court on defendant's motion for summary judgment, supported by affidavits.


Plaintiff Debra Lynn Christian is the administratrix of the estate of Henry Ellis Christian, deceased. Defendant Vadie Owens is the Sheriff of Buchanan County, Virginia, and defendants Julius Lester, Jr. and Emmett Goff are jailors in the Buchanan County Jail. Defendant Steven Gibson is the Commonwealth's Attorney for Buchanan County.

On November 4, 1977, at approximately 9:20 p. m., decedent Henry Ellis Christian was arrested and taken into custody by a Trooper of the Virginia State Police for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. The arrest took place in Buchanan County, Virginia. At the time of the arrest the Trooper performed a "pat-down" search of the decedent and retrieved a small knife from his pocket. The Trooper found no other weapons or contraband. The decedent was then transported to Deel, Virginia, for a blood alcohol test and was subsequently taken to the Buchanan County Jail at Grundy. Defendants Lester and Owens were present and on duty upon the decedent's arrival; defendants Goff and Gibson were not present.

At approximately 10:20 p. m., after obtaining a warrant for the decedent, the arresting Trooper released the decedent into the custody of the night jailor, defendant Lester. Lester had relieved defendant Goff, the day jailor, at approximately 10:00 p. m., prior to the decedent's arrival at the jail. Lester took the decedent downstairs to the cell block and locked him in an individual cell.

At approximately 10:50 p. m., a loud noise resembling a gunshot, and apparently emanating from the cell block, resounded through the jail. Deputy Lester investigated the incident, reporting back that the decedent was in possession of a pistol. Defendants Owens and Lester, along with others present, went downstairs to the cell block and discussed how the pistol might be removed from the decedent. The decedent was only partially visible; the defendants could see only his feet and legs. They initially tried to communicate with the decedent through the cell block door, but they received no response. Having failed to communicate, the defendants decided that the pistol would have to be physically removed from the decedent. They removed the only other occupant of the cell block and, while being "covered" in case the decedent began firing his weapon, State Trooper H. L. Honaker entered the decedent's cell to remove the pistol. Trooper Honaker found the decedent lying on his bunk, hands folded over his stomach with the pistol in his right hand, aimed toward the door. Trooper Honaker removed the pistol from the decedent's grasp, and while doing so observed an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound in the decedent's head and a large pool of blood under his bunk.

An ambulance was immediately called and the Commonwealth's Attorney, defendant Gibson, was notified. Gibson arrived at the jail after the decedent had been transported to the hospital. As a result of the wound, the decedent died in the hospital early the following morning. His death was subsequently ruled suicide.


Plaintiff contends that defendants systematically and routinely violated State

461 F. Supp. 74
rules and regulations promulgated by the Virginia State Board of Corrections setting forth administrative procedures to be followed in dealing with prisoners in local jails and lockups within the State of Virginia. These routine violations, it is asserted, establish a pattern of conduct that arbitrarily denies to the prisoners of the Buchanan County Jail, and did deny to the decedent while he was there, the equal protection of the law guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution

Plaintiff also alleges that the defendants failed to secure, as required by regulation, adequate and timely medical attention for the decedent after he suffered the gunshot wound. The failure to provide needed medical care, plaintiff contends, caused the decedent's death and amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Thus, plaintiff theorizes, defendants, in violating State promulgated rules and regulations, acted under color of state law to deprive plaintiff's decedent of his rights secured by the Constitution under the Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

In addition, plaintiff urges this court to invoke its pendent jurisdiction, and in the alternative seeks relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1985, to redress plaintiff's allegation that the defendants violated the Virginia Conspiracy Statutes, Va.Code Ann. §§ 18.2-499, 500 (Repl.Vol. 1975), in that they combined to "cover up" the circumstances surrounding the death of plaintiff's decedent and slandered plaintiff and her family by conspiring to, and representing, the death as suicide, both in an attempt to disparage the reputation of the decedent and to prevent plaintiff from pursuing this claim.

In her prayer for relief, plaintiff seeks a temporary injunction prohibiting defendants from refusing to turn over to the court documents, reports and statements made concerning the incidents leading up to and including the death of her decedent; a permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants from intimidating witnesses to the same incidents; $160,000.00 in lost wages; and $480,000.00 in damages under "the Virginia Conspiracy Statutes and/or 42 U.S.C. § 1985."

Defendants answered and moved for summary judgment on the basis of affidavits filed in this court. The court heard oral argument on the motion on June 14, 1978. At the hearing, plaintiff's attorney indicated to the court that he desired to file affidavits in opposition to defendants' motion, and accordingly the court granted thirty days in which to do so. On July 5, plaintiff's attorney reappeared before the court, without affidavits, and requested an extension of time in which to submit his affidavits. The court indulged plaintiff, and granted him an additional extension of time in which to file. Despite having had more than ample time to respond, to this date plaintiff has not submitted any pleadings, affidavits or evidence in opposition to defendants' motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff must therefore rely solely on the bare allegations contained in her pleadings in opposing defendants' motion.

Rule 56(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides in pertinent part:

When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported as provided in this rule, an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but his response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. If he does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered against him.

Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e), 28 U.S.C. See generally, 6 Pt. 2 J. Moore, Federal Practice ¶ 56.222 (2d ed. 1976).

Rule 56(e) does not alter the initial burden on the movant to show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. However, when the movant has met this burden, Rule 56(e) provides that in order for the opposing party to avoid having summary judgment entered against him, he may not rely merely upon his pleadings to oppose the motion, but must submit facts sufficient to show that a genuine issue of fact exists. It is hazardous for a party opposing summary judgment to fail to submit counter-affidavits;

461 F. Supp. 75
if he chooses to stand on his pleadings in the face of a motion for summary judgment supported by affidavits indicating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, summary judgment shall be entered against him. Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970)

Conversely, "where the evidentiary matter in support of the motion does not establish the absence of a genuine issue, summary judgment must be denied even if no opposing evidentiary matter is presented." Adickes, supra, 398 U.S. at 160, 90 S.Ct. at 1609-10, (emphasis in original); Cales v. Chesapeake & Ohio Ry., 46 F.R.D. 36 (W.D. Va.1969).

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3 cases
  • Soto v. City of Sacramento, Civ. S-79-680 LKK.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • 24 Agosto 1983
    ...City of Kingsville, Texas, 676 F.2d 1075 (5th Cir.1982); Moomey v. City of Holland, 490 F.Supp. 188 (W.D.Mich. 1980) and Christian v. Owens, 461 F.Supp. 72 (W.D.Va.1978). Unfortunately, none of these cases shed light on the issue discussed in the body of the 40 It is now clear that in ascer......
  • State Bank of St. Charles v. Camic, 82-2781
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • 13 Julio 1983
    ...of the defendants do not constitute deliberate disregard for the possibility that Ward would take his own life. See Christian v. Owens, 461 F.Supp. 72, 77 (W.D.Va.1978) (finding no Eighth Amendment deprivation even though jailor allegedly failed to search prisoner and prisoner subsequently ......
  • Belcher v. Oliver, 89-2918
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • 12 Marzo 1990
    ...possibility" that Belcher "would take his own life." Camic, 712 F.2d at 1146. See Williams, 891 F.2d at 466. See also Christian v. Owens, 461 F.Supp. 72, 77 (W.D.Va.1978) (no Eighth Amendment violation where officer allegedly failed to search a prisoner who committed suicide with a weapon h......

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