Judd v. Langford, CIVIL CASE NO. 1:19-cv-00158-MR

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Western District of North Carolina
Writing for the CourtMartin Reidinger United States District Judge
Docket NumberCIVIL CASE NO. 1:19-cv-00158-MR
PartiesCHRISTOPHER ANTHONY JUDD, Plaintiff, v. WILLIS COLBY LANGFORD, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date27 May 2020

WILLIS COLBY LANGFORD, et al., Defendants.

CIVIL CASE NO. 1:19-cv-00158-MR


May 27, 2020


THIS MATTER is before the Court on pro se Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend [Doc. 16] and on initial review of the proposed "Superseding Amended Complaint" [Doc. 16-1]. Also pending are Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment [Doc. 17] and Motion to Consolidate [Doc. 18]. Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis. [Doc. 6].


Pro se Plaintiff has filed a civil rights suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for an incident that allegedly occurred at the Buncombe County Detention Facility ("BCDF"). The Complaint passed initial review on claims of excessive force against two Defendants. [Doc. 10].

In the proposed Superseding Amended Complaint, Plaintiff names as Defendants: BCDF employees Willis Colby Langford and Chauncey Tavares

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Thicklin, and John Doe Officers 1 through 3, Deputy Sheriff Ken Varner, Nurse Jane Doe, and Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller.

Construing the Superseding Amended Complaint liberally and accepting the allegations as true, Plaintiff was a pretrial detainee at BCDF at the relevant times. Nurse Jane Doe was working as the intake nurse on the night of December 23, 2018, when she attempted to coerce Plaintiff to sign a form releasing BCDF from liability for any expenses caused by Plaintiff's self-harm. Jane Doe threatened to withhold medication for Plaintiff's Xanax and heroin withdrawal if he would not sign the release form. Plaintiff initially refused to sign the form and threatened to sue but he ultimately gave in and signed the form. Jane Doe nevertheless withheld medication and did not put Plaintiff on the "detox watchlist" to have his vital signs monitored even though Xanax withdrawal is potentially fatal. [Doc. 16-1 at 7].

Defendants Thicklin and Langford forcibly removed Plaintiff from his seat without first giving him a verbal command. They began escorting Plaintiff to a cell and Plaintiff attempted to pull away to protest the fact that he had not been given medication. Plaintiff was slammed on his back with enough force to knock him unconscious. When Plaintiff came to, Defendant Langford was striking Plaintiff's face which injured Plaintiff's lips and left eye. Defendant Thicklin was applying pressure to one of Plaintiff's ankles and

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made no attempt to stop Langford from striking him. Several other officers1 were present, witnessed the incident, and made no attempt to intervene. The use of force was unnecessary, unreasonable, and excessive as Plaintiff was seated when the use of force began and the force was not preceded by a verbal command. No photographs were taken to document Plaintiff's injuries.

Plaintiff was not given immediate medical attention despite having been knocked unconscious. He was deprived of medical care by multiple officers who saw Plaintiff's head strike the floor. Those officers lied in a police report by stating that Plaintiff was offered, and refused, medical attention.

Plaintiff was placed in administrative segregation and was charged with rule violations. He was also charged with felony assault on a government employee. Although Plaintiff was appointed a lawyer to defend him on the criminal charge, he was not advised of the right to have counsel present during the disciplinary hearing which deprived him of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Because Plaintiff was under threat of lengthy disciplinary sanctions for denying the allegations, he "accepted responsibility for the officers [sic] injury and therefore was coerced and did not get the opportunity to view the motion picture evidence and was deprived of [his] right to Due Process of Law." [Doc. 16-1 at 8].

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Plaintiff filed a grievance and put Defendants on notice that he would be filing suit. Counsel also requested discovery less than 30 days after the incident occurred. BCSO nevertheless destroyed the video footage of the use of force. This destruction was intentional and interfered with Plaintiff's First Amendment right of access to the courts and facilitated the malicious prosecution for a crime he did not commit.

Plaintiff spent seven or eight days locked in his cell in administrative segregation "begging for medical attention for [his] severe withdrawal symptoms." [Doc. 16-1 at 8]. Plaintiff also reported to a John Doe Officer2 that Plaintiff had a possible seizure and woke up on the floor with blood in his mouth from biting his tongue. That officer deprived Plaintiff of medical attention.

Sheriff Miller maintains the policy of requiring medical personnel to make people entering BCDF sign a form releasing BCDF from liability for medical costs resulting from self-injurious behavior. This is ongoing despite the harm caused to individuals' constitutional rights who enter BCDF, making it a continuing violation.

Plaintiff suffered injuries including a possible concussion, bruising to his left cheekbone, lacerations to his lips and tongue, extreme anxiety,

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mental anguish, insomnia, suicidal thoughts, feelings of hopelessness, false accusations, and malicious prosecution.

Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages totaling $20,000,000 and injunctive relief.


Because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court must review the Superseding Amended Complaint to determine whether it is subject to dismissal on the grounds that it is "(i) frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). In its frivolity review, a court must determine whether a complaint raises an indisputably meritless legal theory or is founded upon clearly baseless factual contentions, such as fantastic or delusional scenarios. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989).

A pro se complaint must be construed liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972); see also Smith v. Smith, 589 F.3d 736, 738 (4th Cir. 2009) ("Liberal construction of the pleadings is particularly appropriate where ... there is a pro se complaint raising civil rights issues."). However, a pro se complaint must contain sufficient facts "to

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raise a right to relief above the speculative level" and "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007); see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (the Twombly plausibility standard applies to all federal civil complaints including those filed under § 1983).


A. Motion to Amend

A plaintiff may amend the complaint once as a matter of course within 21 days after serving the complaint, service of a responsive pleading, or after service of a motion under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f), which is earlier. Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1). A plaintiff may subsequently amend with permission from the court which "shall be freely granted when justice so requires." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). The Fourth Circuit "ha[s] interpreted Rule 15(a) to provide that 'leave to amend a pleading should be denied only when the amendment would be prejudicial to the opposing party, there has been bad faith on the part of the moving party, or the amendment would have been futile.'" Laber v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 426 (4th Cir. 2006) (en banc) (quoting Johnson v. Oroweat Foods Co., 785 F.2d 503, 509 (4th Cir. 1986)).

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This is Plaintiff's second amendment to the Complaint. [Doc.13]. However, Defendants have not yet been served and allowing Plaintiff to amend would not result in any apparent prejudice. Nor is any bad faith evident and the amendment is not futile. Therefore, Plaintiff's Motion to Amend will be granted. The proposed Superseding Amended Complaint will be docketed as the Second Amended Complaint and it will be reviewed for frivolity.

B. Unsupported Claims

For personal liability, a plaintiff must show that "the official, acting under color of state law, caused the deprivation of a federal right." Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985). A short and plain statement of a claim is required. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Conclusory allegations, unsupported by specific allegations of material fact are not sufficient. Simpson v. Welch, 900 F.2d 33, 35 (4th Cir. 1990). A pleader must allege facts, directly or indirectly, that support each element of the claim. Dickson v. Microsoft Corp., 309 F.3d 193, 201-02 (4th Cir. 2002).

Plaintiff names as Deputy Ken Varner as a Defendant and he asserts claims against the Buncombe County Sheriff in his individual capacity.3

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However, Plaintiff makes no factual allegations to support claims against Varner or against the Sheriff in his individual capacity. Therefore, these claims will be dismissed.

C. Excessive Force

The Fourteenth Amendment "protects a pretrial detainee from the use of excessive force that amounts to punishment." Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 n.10, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989). To state an excessive force claim, a pretrial detainee must show only that the force "purposely or knowingly used against him was objectively unreasonable." Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 576 U.S. 389, 135 S.Ct. 2466, 2473, 192 L.Ed.2d 416 (2015). The standard for assessing a pretrial detainee's excessive force claim is "solely an objective one." Id. In determining whether the force was objectively unreasonable, a court considers the evidence "from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, including what the officer knew at the time, not with the 20/20 vision of hindsight." Id. (citing Graham, 490 U.S. at 396). Considerations that bear on the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the force include: the relationship between the need for the use of...

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