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Heras v. Corrections Corporation of America

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 18, 2019



         This matter comes before the Court upon “Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment” (Motion for Summary Judgment) and “Defendants' Notice of Errata Re: Exhibits 2 and 3 to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, ” both filed by Defendants CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and G. Guzman (collectively, Defendants) on June 18, 2018. (Doc. 40 and 41). Pro se Plaintiff did not respond to the Motion for Summary Judgment. Having reviewed the Motion for Summary Judgment and the accompanying exhibits, the Court grants the Motion for Summary Judgment.

         A. Federal Jurisdiction

         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3), the Court has a duty to raise and determine sua sponte whether subject matter jurisdiction exists in a particular case. See McAlester v. United Air Lines, 851 F.2d 1249, 1252 (10th Cir. 1988) (“The general rule is that subject matter jurisdiction may be challenged by a party or raised sua sponte by the court at any point in the proceeding.”). In this case, Plaintiff alleges federal diversity jurisdiction in bringing his state negligence and intentional tort claims against the individual Defendants and his state respondeat superior claim against CoreCivic. (Doc. 18) at ¶ 1. Plaintiff bases these claims on the alleged use of excessive or unreasonable force on him.

         A federal court has diversity jurisdiction in suits between citizens of a state and citizens or subjects of a foreign state where the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(2). The Court is satisfied that diversity of citizenship exists in this case: Plaintiff is a Mexican national, the individual Defendants are New Mexico citizens, and CCA (now CoreCivic) is a citizen of Maryland with a principal place of business in Tennessee. (Doc. 18) at ¶¶ 5, 6, 7, and 9.

         With respect to the amount in controversy, “[a]lthough allegations in the complaint need not be specific or technical in nature, sufficient facts must be alleged to convince the district court that recoverable damages will bear a reasonable relation to the minimum jurisdictional floor.” State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Narvaez, 149 F.3d 1269, 1272 (10th Cir. 1998). “Multiple claims by the same plaintiff against the same defendant may be aggregated, even if the claims are entirely unrelated.” Swiech v. Fred Loya Ins. Co., 264 F.Supp.3d 1113, 1130 (D.N.M. 2017). Also, “[p]unitive damages may be considered in determining the requisite jurisdictional amount.” Woodmen of the World Life Ins. Soc'y v. Manganaro, 342 F.3d 1213, 1218 (10th Cir. 2003). Considering the multiple claims against the individual Defendants as well the claim against CoreCivic, the nature of Plaintiff's claims (alleged excessive or unreasonable force), and Plaintiff's request for punitive damages, the Court concludes that Plaintiff meets the $75, 000 amount in controversy necessary to satisfy federal diversity jurisdiction. The Court, therefore, has subject matter jurisdiction over this case to decide Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

         B. Undisputed Material Facts

         By failing to respond to the Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff does not dispute either Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts or Defendants' accompanying exhibits supporting those facts. See (Doc. 40) at 2-10. Under the Local Rules, “[a]ll material facts set forth in the Memorandum [in support of a motion for summary judgment] will be deemed undisputed unless specifically controverted.” D.N.M. LR-Cv 56.1(b). Moreover, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2) provides that if a party fails to properly address an assertion of fact in a motion for summary judgment, the Court may “consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion” for summary judgment. In accordance with these rules, the Tenth Circuit has held that

[b]y failing to file a response within the time specified by the local rule, the nonmoving party waives the right to respond or to controvert the facts asserted in the summary judgment motion. The court should accept as true all material facts asserted and properly supported in the summary judgment motion.

Reed v. Bennett, 312 F.3d 1190, 1195 (10th Cir. 2002).

         The Court finds that Defendants' written declarations, incident reports, and medical report support the Statement of Undisputed Material Facts. Also, Gifford Exhibits B and C, videos of the incident at issue and of the actions following the incident, do not contradict the Statement of Undisputed Material Facts and substantially support the Statement of Undisputed Material Facts.[1] The Court accepts the Statement of Undisputed Material Facts as true, because the evidence properly supports the Statement of Undisputed Material Facts and Plaintiff failed to controvert the Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, .

         The subject of this lawsuit is an incident that occurred on January 16, 2015, while Plaintiff was a post-conviction inmate at Cibola County Correctional Center, a facility owned and operated by CoreCivic. (Doc. 18) at ¶ 3; (Doc. 40-1) at 2-3, ¶¶ 2 and 3. On January 16, 2015, Correctional Officer Delgarito informed Defendant G. Guzman, an Assistant Shift Supervisor, that he observed (1) Plaintiff “with an unknown object in his hand” when he came from recreation to his cell in the segregation unit; (2) Plaintiff “trying to sharpen the object;” and (3) Plaintiff would not give up the object. (Doc. 40-1) at 3, ¶¶ 3 and 5. Captain Dominguez, the Shift Supervisor, asked Guzman to go to Plaintiff's cell “to attempt confrontation avoidance” with Plaintiff, which included talking to Plaintiff and “attempting to convince him to voluntarily surrender the object and submit to hand restraints.” Id. at ¶ 6. Plaintiff “repeatedly refused to do so.” Id.

         Around the same time, Assistant Warden Russell informed Special Operations and Response Team (SORT) Commander R. Gifford that Plaintiff “was sharpening an unidentified object in the corner of his cell with his back to the cell door, ” and that Plaintiff refused the Correctional Officer's “directives to give up the object.” (Doc. 41-1) at 3, ¶ 5. Commander Gifford immediately notified SORT team members Guzman, M. Devargas, Allender, Heredia, and Wauneka to prepare to extract Plaintiff from his cell. Id. at ¶ 6. The SORT team was informed that Plaintiff “was sharpening an unidentified metallic object in his cell.” (Doc. 41-2) at 3, ¶ 4. The purpose of the cell extraction was to remove Plaintiff from his cell to perform a strip search of Plaintiff and a search of his cell to ensure Plaintiff had no items that could be used as a weapon. (Doc. 40-1) at 4, ¶ 7.

         “Each SORT team member was assigned a different task in securing [Plaintiff] to gain compliance with the minimum amount of force necessary.” (Doc. 41-1) at 3-4, ¶ 6. Devargas was assigned to enter Plaintiff's cell first and to “pin [Plaintiff] with the shield, and secure his head.” (Doc. 41-2) at 3, ¶ 4. Guzman was the third member of the SORT team and was assigned to secure Plaintiff's left arm. (Doc. 40-1) at 4, ¶ 11.

         Commander Gifford notified the SORT team of the situation. He then obtained a clearance from Warden Pryor and the medical staff to use OC (pepper) spray on Plaintiff if necessary. (Doc. 41-1) at 4, ¶ 6. Medical staff confirmed Plaintiff had no documented respiratory issues that OC spray could aggravate. Id.

         “The SORT team assembled in the segregation unit corridor at approximately 1422 hours and made staff introductions” before a handheld video camera. Id. at ¶ 7. Meanwhile, “mental health staff attempted confrontation avoidance techniques to get [Plaintiff] to submit to hand restraints, but he refused to do so.” Id. at ¶ 8.

         The SORT team completed video camera introductions, then lined up outside of Plaintiff's cell in preparation to enter the cell. (Doc. 40-1) at 4, ¶ 8. Assistant Shift Supervisor Marquez told Plaintiff to come to the cell door and “cuff up, ” i.e., submit to hand restraints, but Plaintiff refused, stating they would have to come in and get him. Id. at ¶ 9; (Doc. 41-1) at 4, ¶ 9. Plaintiff “had what appeared to be a shirt wrapped around his face, which is common when inmates anticipate a cell extraction and the use of OC spray.” (Doc. 41-1) at 4, ¶ 9. Commander Gifford also gave Plaintiff a verbal directive to cuff up, but he refused. (Doc. 40-1), at 4, ¶ 9.

         Commander Gifford then “attempted to deploy a short burst of OC spray under the cell door, but the deployment was ineffective due to a crack in the hose.” (Doc. 41-1) at 5, ¶ 10. He also gave Plaintiff another verbal directive to cuff up. Id. at ¶ 11. Plaintiff did not obey the directive so Commander Gifford “deployed a short, one-second burst of OC spray into the cell through the food port in the cell door using the fogger without the hose.” Id. Commander ...

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