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Cutler v. Kootenai County Sheriff"S Dep't

May 19, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Edward J. Lodge U. S. District Judge


Pending before the Court in the above-entitled matter are Defendants' Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket Nos. 37 and 56) and Plaintiff Mark Cutler's ("Cutler") motions for appointment of counsel (Docket No. 65) and order to show cause (Docket No. 62). The Court has previously denied numerous requests by Plaintiff for appointment of counsel and summarily denies the current motion for counsel on the same grounds as previously set forth. As to the motion for an order to show cause, such relates to the payment of his filing fee and Plaintiff needs to contact prison officials to work out the details of partial payments up to 20% of the inmate's income in his prison account. Accordingly, this motion is also denied without prejudice.

As to the motion for summary judgment, having fully reviewed the record, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record.*fn1 Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the Court conclusively finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, this matter shall be decided on the record before this Court without oral argument.


Plaintiff is an inmate in the custody of the Idaho Department of Correction ("IDOC"), currently incarcerated at Idaho State Correctional Institution ("ISCI"). At all times relevant to this action, Plaintiff was housed at the Kootenai County Jail. Plaintiff was housed at the Kootenai County Jail from August 11, 2006 until January 8, 2007. At the time of the relevant allegations in the Complaint, Plaintiff was being confined post-conviction. Defendants are Kootenai County Sheriff Department, Kootenai County Sheriff Rocky Watson, and Sheriff's Deputies Spencer Mortensen ("Mortensen") and Shane Moline ("Moline").

On January 6, 2007,*fn2 Plaintiff was involved in a fight with another inmate. Plaintiff alleges that the other inmate attacked him and that Plaintiff fought back to defend himself.*fn3 Deputy Moline and Deputy Linda Simmons ("Simmons") responded to the scene. Cutler was ordered to freeze by the Deputies. Plaintiff alleges that he did so, but that after he froze, he was shot with a taser twice: once by Deputy Moline and then by Deputy Mortenson after Plaintiff was immobile from the first taser. Defendants Moline and Simmons indicate in their affidavits that Plaintiff did not obey the order to freeze, but instead kept fighting with the other inmate. Defendants also claim that Defendant Moline used the taser on Plaintiff only once, but that the two taser probes hit the Plaintiff in the left shoulder and the left buttocks. Deputy Simmons indicates in her affidavit that only Moline fired his taser and that she was not carrying a taser as she had not completed the requisite certification process. Moline and Simmons both maintain Deputy Mortenson did not fire his taser as he responded to the disturbance after Moline and Simmons. The Affidavit of Thomas Stangeland, Docket No. 37-5, includes Sgt. Stangland's investigation of the allegations in the Complaint. Sgt. Stangeland indicates in his report that Deputy Mortenson was not certified to carry a taser and that he did not deploy a taser at Cutler. Id.

Plaintiff alleges as he fell to the floor after being shot by the taser, he re-broke his left hand*fn4 causing permanent damage and pain and that he did not receive any medical treatment for his hand injury. Defendants maintain that Plaintiff slowly slid down the wall to the floor and did not complain of any injuries to his hand.

It is undisputed that Defendants Moline and Mortensen took Plaintiff to safety cell 1 at 1720 hours, also known as a "rubber room." The inmate Cutler was fighting with was taken to safety cell 3. An inmate is placed in a safety cell when an inmate poses a risk to themselves or others. Plaintiff alleges that he was placed naked into this room and denied medical treatment for his injuries to his hand. Defendants maintain Plaintiff's clothes were never taken from him, however, he was asked to remove his shirt in order to allow Sgt. Merrill to take photos of the puncture wounds from the taser and the puncture wounds were disinfected by staff. Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint the temperature in the room was 50 degrees*fn5 and he was not given a blanket.

Defendants acknowledge that when an inmate is placed in a safety cell, there is no bed or sheets provided, but note there are no records of Plaintiff complaining about the temperature of the room, requesting additional clothing, requesting medical attention for his hand or that Plaintiff was naked in the safety cell. Defendants offer jail records which indicate the Plaintiff was checked numerous times during his 16 hours in the safety cell, that he was offered and accepted some meals, and that the medical cart provided Plaintiff with his normal medicines at 2212 hours on January 6, 2007 and at 0830 hours on January 7, 2007.

It is undisputed that Plaintiff was moved from the safety cell to the court holding cell at 0845 hours on January 7, 2007. The court holding cell has bunk, blanket, toilet and sink. A medical cart visited Plaintiff at 1345 hours and 2023 hours on January 7, 2007. Shortly after Plaintiff refused breakfast on January 8, he was placed on an IDOC transport. The records reflect that for the time the Plaintiff was in the safety cell and the holding cell, he was seen or checked by staff 57 times for various reasons and there is no record of any medical complaints written or oral regarding Plaintiff's hand. Since Plaintiff was in custody of the jail from August 11, 2006 until January 8, 2007, and was on regular medicines, it is presumed he was familiar with the procedures to request medical attention in the jail.

Plaintiff has provided some medical records from IDOC. On January 11, 2007 Plaintiff wrote a medical request for ibuprofen for his chronic H/A [head ache]. On January 23, 2007, he wrote a medical request indicating that he fell to the ground while at county jail and needed his hand x-rayed. It is unclear from the medical records provided as to what medical care Plaintiff received regarding his hand after he was transported to IDOC's custody. In June of 2008, there is a IDOC medical record that indicates his hand had a "left boxers fracture" but that was approximately one and half years after the fight at the county jail.

Plaintiff brings Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment claims against Defendants Mortensen, Moline, Watson, and Kootenai County Sheriff's Department. He sues the individuals in their personal and official capacities. His claims fall into three categories: (1) excessive force claims for the use of the taser; (2) claims that he did not receive adequate medical care after the incident; and (3) inhumane conditions claims that he was wrongly placed naked into the rubber room. Defendants move for summary judgment on all three claims.


Motions for summary judgment are governed by Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 56 provides, in pertinent part, that judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

The Supreme Court has made it clear that under Rule 56 summary judgment is mandated if the non-moving party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element which is essential to the non-moving party's case and upon which the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See, Celotex Corp v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). If the non-moving party fails to make such a showing on any essential element, "there can be no `genuine issue of material fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id. at 323.*fn6

Moreover, under Rule 56, it is clear that an issue, in order to preclude entry of summary judgment, must be both "material" and "genuine." An issue is "material" if it affects the outcome of the litigation. An issue, before it may be considered "genuine," must be established by "sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute . . . to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial." Hahn v. Sargent, 523 F.2d 461, 464 (1st Cir. 1975) (quoting First Nat'l Bank v. Cities Serv. Co. Inc., 391 U.S. 253, 289 (1968)). The Ninth Circuit cases are in accord. See, e.g., British Motor Car Distrib. v. San Francisco Automotive Indus. Welfare Fund, 882 F.2d 371 (9th Cir. 1989).

According to the Ninth Circuit, in order to withstand a motion for summary judgment, a party (1) must make a showing sufficient to establish a genuine issue of fact with respect to any element for which it bears the burden of proof; (2) must show that there is an issue that may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party; and (3) must come forward with more persuasive evidence than would otherwise be necessary when the factual context makes the non-moving party's claim implausible. Id. at 374 (citation omitted).

Of course, when applying the above standard, the court must view all of the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Hughes v. United States, 953 F.2d 531, 541 (9th Cir. 1992).

Plaintiff was advised of the summary judgment rule requirements in the Notice (Docket No. 38) sent to the Plaintiff by the Clerk of Court.


1. Constitutional Claims and Section 1983 Claims

The Constitutional violations and the 1983 claims are intertwined.

Basically, Plaintiff is claiming Deputies Moline and Mortensen used excessive force by using the taser to subdue him, all Defendants failed to provide proper medical care and treated Plaintiff inhumanely by placing him in the safety cell and removing his clothes.

The purpose of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is to deter state actors from using the badge of their authority to deprive individuals of their federally guaranteed rights and to provide relief to harmed parties. See Wyatt v. Cole, 504 U.S. 158, 161 (1992). To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege facts which show a deprivation of a right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or federal law by a person acting under color of state law. Id. Acting under color of state law is "a jurisdictional requisite for a § 1983 action." West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 46 (1988). In this case, it is not disputed that Deputies Moline, Simmons and Mortensen were acting under color of state law when they responded to the disturbance in the jail. Therefore, the question becomes, did Defendants' actions deprive Plaintiff of a right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or federal law.

2. Qualified Immunity

Defendants have raised the defense of qualified immunity. Police officers are entitled to "qualified immunity" for their actions within the scope of their employment "insofar as 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, 815 (1982). The purpose of qualified immunity is to "avoid excessive disruption of government and permit the resolution of many insubstantial claims on summary judgment." Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200, 202 (2001). On the other hand, this privilege allows redress where clear wrongs are caused by state actors. Id. "The privilege is animmunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability, and like an absolute immunity, it is effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial." Id. at 200-01. "As a result, [courts] have repeatedly stressed the ...

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