Pennington v. Taylor, 2:02-CV-604.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
Citation343 F.Supp.2d 508
Docket NumberNo. 2:02-CV-604.,2:02-CV-604.
PartiesCurtis PENNINGTON, # 286304 Plaintiff, v. C/O L. TAYLOR, Defendant.
Decision Date01 March 2004

Curtis Pennington, Dillwyn, VA, pro se.

Mark R. Davis, Office of the Attorney General, Richmond, VA, for Defendant.


FRIEDMAN, District Judge.

The plaintiff, a Virginia inmate, has submitted a pro se complaint, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, to redress alleged violations of his constitutional rights. The plaintiff alleges that the defendant showed deliberate indifference to the risk of harm posed by his assignment to a top bunk in light of certain medical conditions. The defendant, C/O L. Taylor, a Correctional Officer at the Mecklenburg Correctional Center, has filed a motion for summary judgment, which is ripe for review. Based on the briefs submitted by the parties and for the reasons set forth below, the motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

The facts presented are as alleged by the plaintiff and supplemented by evidence submitted by the defendant via affidavit. During the occurrence of the events that form the basis for his complaint, Virginia Department of Corrections inmate Curtis Pennington was incarcerated in the Mecklenburg Correctional Center. He is in his late 50s and claims he has a documented medical history of depression, diabetes, seizures, and a back injury, among other problems. The plaintiff was apparently incarcerated at Mecklenburg beginning in October, 2000. See "Table of Explanation," docket no. 3, at 2 (hereinafter "Table"). He claims he was initially assigned to a lower bunk in Building 1. Id. He was eventually transferred to two more buildings, and states that with each transfer, he was assigned to a lower bunk. Id. He maintains that his assignment to a lower bunk was based initially on the intake officer's determination that owing to the plaintiff's age and ailments he should get such a bunk. Id. He alleges that inmates of his age, with his "illness" are assigned to lower bunks, if available. Id. If none are available, they are assigned to top bunks until a lower bunk opens up. Id.

Initial bunk assignments are premised on availability and compatibility in the absence of recommendations from medical or security. See Def's Ex. II (J.J. Davis Aff.). This decision is apparently made by members of the records department. Id. Nothing in the plaintiff's record from his initial arrival to the day of his accident officially indicated he required a lower bunk. Id. The plaintiff has offered no evidence to contradict this assertion.

Ultimately, for reasons that are unclear, he requested a transfer to the medical unit of Building 4. The exact nature of the medical unit is not clear from the record. He claims that he was told a transfer would not occur until a lower bunk opened up. When that did occur, he was transferred, on October 10, 2001. Upon arrival, he claims he discovered that the inmate who had occupied the top bunk had moved into the lower bunk, which was supposedly his assigned bunk. Table at 3. When the defendant informed him that he was to take the top bunk, he told her that he was concerned for his health and safety due to his various medical issues. Pl's. Compl., part IV, at 2. He claims he asked her to contact the medical department or the officer in charge of that building.1 Id.

While the plaintiff claims his medical records indicate a lower bunk was necessary, he did not initially allege that he ever received any recommendation from medical personnel that a lower bunk assignment was required and no evidence supports this fact. Instead, he seems to have asserted that simply viewing his medical record with its documentation of his ailments would provide enough information to allow a corrections officer to ascertain that he required a lower bunk. He further argues that his appearance alone would have indicated that he needed a lower bunk. "Motion to Explain," docket no. 36, at 2. In his reply brief to the motion for summary judgment, however, he does seem to state that he had a "medical slip for a bottom bunk," although this is not clear either. Pl's. Br. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. at 5 ("Pl's.Br.").

Having told the defendant of his concerns, he alleges that she stated she did not have time for him and that he should speak to his counselor about getting a different bunk. See Compl., part IV, at 1. He also states that she told him he needed to get "something in writing" from "medical" in order to have his bunk assignment changed. Table at 3. Pennington claims he did inform his counselor of the problem and that he waited for a resolution of this matter. He does not allege that he made any attempt to change his bunk assignment by directly obtaining a recommendation from "medical."

Forty-eight days after being assigned to the top bunk, on November 28, 2001, he fell out of the bunk to the floor and injured himself. Compl., Part IV, at 1. His complaint accuses the defendant of displaying deliberate indifference to his medical condition in that she knew his placement in a top bunk posed a substantial risk of serious harm given his medical conditions and she failed to remedy the problem. Id. at 2. Pennington also sued various institutional defendants in addition to Taylor, but those parties have been dismissed.

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate when it is apparent from the entire record, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, that there are no genuine disputes of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P 56(c); Clark v. Alexander, 85 F.3d 146, 150 (4th Cir.1996); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The court may deny summary judgment when there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party that would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for that party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A properly supported motion for summary judgment, however, may not be defeated by "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties." Id. at 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

Entry of summary judgment is mandated "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548. "A scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 244, 106 S.Ct. 2505. Accordingly, the court must grant summary judgment where "the evidence is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 251-52, 106 S.Ct. 2505; see also Harleysville Mut. Ins. Co. v. Packer, 60 F.3d 1116, 1120 (4th Cir.1995) (quoting Anderson).

In the instant case, the defendant's motion was accompanied by sworn affidavits and supporting documentary evidence. When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported in this manner, the "adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials" of his pleading, but must respond with affidavits or some other proper evidence, and "set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). Local Rule 56 provides that a response to a motion for summary judgment must set forth the specific facts that the non-movant believes are in dispute, with support from the record. The court may assume facts not so controverted are admitted.

III. Analysis

The plaintiff alleges that the defendant is liable for the failure to adequately respond to his claim that he had medical conditions that put him at risk due to his assignment to a top bunk. Deliberate indifference to an inmate's medical needs and the risk of harm that it presents in certain contexts creates a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976). The proper standard in assessing deliberate indifference is recklessness: that a prison official knew an inmate faced a substantial risk of serious harm and disregarded that risk. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837, 114 S.Ct. 1970. Thus, there must be knowledge of the risk and a failure to act to mitigate that risk.

In the instant case, the defendant did not "know" of a substantial risk of serious harm. She simply had the plaintiff's representations as to his medical condition. The court finds this factual context different from the more common instances where the risk is actually known because a prison official need not accept an inmate's bare assertion on this point. See Aswegan v. Henry, 49 F.3d 461 (8th Cir.1995). Simply because the plaintiff claims a risk exists does not make it so. However, a duty may arise in certain contexts to inquire further into such a claim. The Supreme Court has stated that a defendant will not escape liability "if the evidence showed that he merely refused to verify underlying facts that he strongly suspected to exist...." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 843 n. 8, 114 S.Ct. 1970. In the present case, the defendant is accused of just that: failing to contact medical as requested to verify his condition, or alternatively to verify whether he had a "medical slip" requiring a bottom bunk, and then providing him with a bottom bunk.

The record indicates the defendant could not have "strongly suspected" the alleged facts to be true based on the information before her. More importantly, it seems to the court that the defendant had no duty to confirm the plaintiff's claim. By affidavit, the defendant has stated that she has no authority over bed assignments, that this is done by the...

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    • March 13, 2018
    ...bunk, Lovern had no reason to believe that there was an error with Perry's top bunk assignment. See, e.g., Pennington v. Taylor, 343 F. Supp. 2d 508, 512-13 (E.D. Va. 2004). Even if, arguendo, Perry established that Lovern was deliberately indifferent as to his bunk assignment, Perry's age,......
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    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
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    ...with medical staff regarding same, while perhaps negligent, does not demonstrate deliberate indifference. See Pennington v. Taylor, 343 F. Supp 2d 508, 512-13 (E.D. Va. 2004) (correctional staff's failure to personally consult with medical department regarding inmate's need for a bottom bun......
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    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • August 24, 2021
    ...Dr. Ulep's actions rise to the "level of recklessness required to succeed on a claim of deliberate indifference." Pennington v. Taylor. 343 F.Supp.2d 508 (E.D. Va. 2004) (granting summary judgment in favor of defendants on a claim regarding failure to provide a lower bunk). Accordingly, Dr.......
1 books & journal articles
  • Pennington v. Taylor.
    • United States
    • Corrections Caselaw Quarterly No. 33, February 2005
    • February 1, 2005
    ...District Court LOWER BUNK Pennington v. Taylor, 343 F.Supp.2d 508 (E.D.Va. 2004). A state prisoner brought a pro se [section] 1983 against a correctional officer, alleging that the officer showed deliberate indifference to a risk of harm by assigning him to a top bunk in light of certain me......

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