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Wilbur v. Fitzpatrick

United States District Court, D. Maine

November 12, 2019

JOSEPH FITZPATRICK, et al., Defendants


          John C. Nivison, U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         In this action, Plaintiff, an inmate at the Maine State Prison, alleges that Defendant Charles Horton, a former guard at the prison, used excessive force against him during an incident at the prison on July 7, 2018. (Complaint, ECF No. 1; Amendments to Complaint, ECF No. 12.) The matter is before the Court on Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Motion, ECF No. 39.)

         Following a review of the summary judgment record and after consideration of the parties' arguments, I recommend the Court grant Defendant's motion.

         Procedural History

         On June 29, 2018, Plaintiff filed a complaint against more than twenty defendants alleging cruel and unusual punishment, violations of procedural due process, and unlawful search and seizure. (Complaint, ECF No. 1.) On July 19, 2018, Plaintiff amended his complaint to add claims based on an alleged use of excessive force and retaliation. (Amendments to Complaint, ECF No. 12; Order, ECF No. 13.)

         On October 12, 2018, the Court dismissed most of the claims against most of the named defendants. (Order, ECF No. 17.) The Court determined, however, that Plaintiff's allegations against Defendants Harold Abbott, Joseph Theriault, Eric Bueno, Shane Blakely, and Troy Ross regarding the imposition of a $100 fine following a disciplinary proceeding could proceed. (Id.) The Court also permitted Plaintiff to proceed on his excessive force claim against Defendant Horton and on his retaliation claim against Defendants Horton and Casey Chadwick. (Id.) The Court ordered Plaintiff to provide information regarding his efforts to exhaust the available administrative remedies. (Id.)

         On November 20, 2018, Plaintiff filed documentation of his efforts regarding the prison grievance process. (Grievance Records, ECF No. 18-1.) On November 27, 2018, the Court concluded that Plaintiff could pursue his claims based on the $100 fine and excessive force, but the Court dismissed the retaliation claim because Plaintiff did not produce evidence that he exhausted the available remedies for that claim. (Order, ECF No. 19.)

         Defendants Horton, Ross, Abbott, Blakely, Bueno, and Theriault filed a motion for summary judgment. Defendant Horton argued that Plaintiff had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to his excessive force claim; the remaining defendants argued that Plaintiff's due process claim regarding the imposition of the fine was not supported by the factual record. (Motion, ECF No. 24.) The Court granted summary judgment to Defendants on Plaintiff's due process claim, but the Court denied Defendant Horton's motion on the excessive force claim because material issues of fact existed regarding whether Plaintiff had exhausted his administrative remedies. (Recommended Decision, ECF No. 29; Order Affirming Recommended Decision, ECF No. 30.)

         Defendant Horton subsequently filed the instant motion for summary judgment on the merits of Plaintiff's excessive force claim. (ECF No. 39.)

         Summary Judgment Standard

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “After the moving party has presented evidence in support of its motion for summary judgment, ‘the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, with respect to each issue on which he has the burden of proof, to demonstrate that a trier of fact reasonably could find in his favor.'” Woodward v. Emulex Corp., 714 F.3d 632, 637 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Hodgens v. Gen. Dynamics Corp., 144 F.3d 151, 158 (1st Cir. 1998)).

         A court reviews the factual record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, resolving evidentiary conflicts and drawing reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Perry v. Roy, 782 F.3d 73, 77 (1st Cir. 2015). If a court's review of the record reveals evidence sufficient to support findings in favor of the non-moving party on one or more of his claims, a trial-worthy controversy exists and summary judgment must be denied as to any supported claim. Id. (“The district court's role is limited to assessing whether there exists evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Unsupported claims are properly dismissed. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986).

         Summary Judgment Record

         When presented with a summary judgment motion, a court ordinarily considers only the facts included in the parties' statements of material facts, which statements must be supported by citations to evidence of record. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) and District of Maine Local Rule 56(b)-(d) require the specific citation to record evidence. In addition, Local Rule 56 establishes the manner by which parties must present their factual statements and the evidence on which the statements depend. A party's pro se status does not relieve the party of the obligation to comply with the court's procedural rules.[1] Ruiz Rivera v. Riley, 209 F.3d 24, 27-28 & n. 2 (1st Cir. 2000); Marcello v. Maine, 489 F.Supp.2d 70, 77 (D. Me. 2007).

         By rule, a party seeking summary judgment must file, in addition to its summary judgment motion, a supporting statement of material facts setting forth each fact in a separately numbered paragraph, with each factual statement followed by a citation to evidence of record that supports the factual statement. D. Me. Loc. R. 56(b). A party opposing a motion for summary judgment must file an opposing statement in which it admits, denies, or qualifies the moving party's statements by reference to each numbered paragraph, with citations to supporting evidence, and in which it may set forth additional facts, in separately numbered paragraphs, with citation to supporting evidence. D. Me. Loc. R. 56(c). If an additional statement is introduced by the non-moving party, the moving party must file a reply statement in which it admits, denies, or qualifies the non-moving party's additional statements by reference to each numbered paragraph, with citations to supporting evidence. D. Me. Loc. R. 56(d).

         “Facts contained in a supporting or opposing statement of material facts, if supported by record citations as required by this rule, shall be deemed admitted unless properly controverted.” D. Me. Loc. R. 56(f). Additionally, “[t]he court may disregard any statement of fact not supported by a specific citation to record material properly considered on summary judgment.” Id. Finally, “[t]he court shall have no independent duty to search or consider any part of the record not specifically referenced in the parties' separate statement of facts.” Id.

         Nevertheless, the factual assertions contained in the verified pleadings and affidavits filed by a pro se litigant generally will be considered in the review of a summary judgment motion. That is, where a pro se litigant has failed to comply strictly with the summary judgment rules, this Court has considered the sworn assertions of record. See Clarke v. Blais, 473 F.Supp.2d 124, 128 - 30 (D. Me. 2007) (“The First Circuit has not addressed this notice debate directly, but has said, in the summary judgment context, that unrepresented plaintiffs' opposing affidavits and opposition papers are to be read ‘liberally.'” (citing Posadas de Puerto Rico, Inc. ...

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