Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

COCKRELL-EL v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

July 30, 1996

RAY COCKRELL-EL, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HARRIS

 This matter comes before the Court on plaintiff's unopposed "Motion To Supplement the Complaint." Also before the Court are "Motion of Defendant Darrell Dowery To Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment," plaintiff's February 15, 1996, letter and exhibits, "Declaration of Ray Cockrell Sr.-El," "Motion of Defendant District of Columbia To Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment," plaintiff's "Supplemental Complaint and Preliminary Opposition to Defendants' Motions," and defendants' "Supplemental Motion To Dismiss Plaintiff's Supplemental Complaint or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment."

 Upon consideration of the entire record, the Court grants plaintiff's motion to supplement the complaint. The Court grants summary judgment to defendants on plaintiff's federal claims. The Court declines to exercise its pendent jurisdiction and thus dismisses plaintiff's state law claims.

 This case arises from an incident that occurred on Sunday, June 4, 1995, as plaintiff was returning from a religious service. Plaintiff contends that defendant Darrell Dowery, a prison guard at the maximum security institution where plaintiff is incarcerated, used "foce [sic ] and violence . . . willfully, maliciously, and sadistically " against plaintiff while he was in handcuffs, resulting in damage to plaintiff's eye and face, and causing plaintiff mental anguish. Pl.'s Compl. at 3, 4 (emphasis in original). Plaintiff contends that he filed administrative complaints with little relief. Pl.'s Supplement to Compl. at 11. Plaintiff subsequently filed the instant action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that defendants inflicted cruel and unusual punishment upon him in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and impermissibly interfered with his religious freedom in violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act of 1993. *fn1"

 Plaintiff supplemented his complaint in an April 25, 1996, filing which adds additional counts. Specifically, plaintiff contends that he was denied due process during the disciplinary process arising from the assault. Pl.'s Supplement to Compl. at 4-5. Furthermore, plaintiff adds a trio of state law claims: (1) intentional tort, (2) negligence arising from the District of Columbia's alleged failure to properly train and discipline its staff and its failure to provide a safe environment for plaintiff, and (3) deliberate indifference by the District to the need for a properly-trained correctional staff. Id. at 3.

 Summary judgment may be granted only if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). In considering a summary judgment motion, all evidence and the inferences to be drawn from it must be considered in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Co., 475 U.S. 574, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986). Mere allegations of the pleadings are not sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion. Celotex, 106 S. Ct. at 2553; Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2514, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986).

 Plaintiff first contends that defendant Dowery used excessive force against plaintiff in a sadistic and malicious manner in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment. Pl.'s Compl. at 2. A violation of the Eighth Amendment occurs when force is applied "maliciously and sadistically to cause harm." Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 112 S. Ct. 995, 998, 117 L. Ed. 2d 156 (1992). No liability arises when force is applied in "'a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline.'" Id. (citation omitted). In determining whether the force was excessive, the Court considers (1) the extent of the injury suffered, (2) the need for application of the force, (3) the relationship between that need and the amount of force used, (4) the threat to the safety of staff and inmates reasonably perceived by responsible officials, and (5) any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response. Id. (citing Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 106 S. Ct. 1078, 89 L. Ed. 2d 251 (1986)). In reviewing these factors, the Court recognizes that "'prison administrators . . . should be accorded wide-ranging deference in the adoption and execution of policies and practices that in their judgment are needed to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security.'" Id. (quoting Whitley, 106 S. Ct. at 1085 (citation omitted)).

 Plaintiff's allegation, however, does not create a genuine issue of material fact. Plaintiff's contention is incredible given defendant Dowery's injuries. Mot. of Def. Dowery to Dismiss or for Summ. J., Decl. of Darrell Dowery. The Court need not accept as true proffered evidence that unduly strains credibility. Yeatman v. Inland Property Management, Inc., 845 F. Supp. 625, 629 (N.D. Ill. 1994). Defendant Dowery received a cut to his lower lip and injuries to his wrist and arm; plaintiff received injuries to his left eye and cheek. Mot. of Def. Dowery to Dismiss or for Summ. J., Ex. 3. A comparison of these injuries convinces the Court that only one inference is possible from the evidence. See Edwards v. Consol. Rail Corp., 567 F. Supp. 1087, 1091 (D.D.C. 1983), aff'd, 236 U.S. App. D.C. 135, 733 F.2d 966, cert. denied, 469 U.S. 883, 105 S. Ct. 252, 83 L. Ed. 2d 189. Moreover, even if plaintiff's allegation that he was handcuffed were true, it would nonetheless be without legal probative force. Even if handcuffed, plaintiff would still have been able to attack defendant, such as by butting defendant with his head; plaintiff does not counter this in his declaration or opposition. See Mot. of Def. Dowery to Dismiss or for Summ. J., Decl. of Darrell Dowery. Accordingly, the Court finds that defendant Dowery did not violate plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights.

 Plaintiff's second claim involves his right to free exercise of religion. Plaintiff contends that his rights were violated because he was unable to travel to and from his religious service without harassment. *fn2" The Religious Freedom Restoration Act provides in relevant part that the "government shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability." 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1(a). The text of the statute thus requires plaintiff to make a threshold showing that his exercise of religion has been substantially burdened. Boone v. Comm'r of Prisons, 1994 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10027, *21, Civil Action No. 93-5074 (July 21, 1994) (citations omitted).

 To establish an unconstitutional burden on religion, plaintiff must show that

 
the state conditions receipt of an important benefit upon conduct proscribed by a religious faith, or [that] it denies such a benefit because of conduct mandated by religious belief, thereby putting substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs.

 Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm'n of Fla., 480 U.S. 136, 107 S. Ct. 1046, 1049, 94 L. Ed. 2d 190 (1987) (emphasis omitted) (quoting Thomas v. Review Bd. of Ind. Employment Security Div., 450 U.S. 707, 101 S. Ct. 1425, 1431-32, 67 L. Ed. 2d 624 (1981).

 Under this standard, defendants have not substantially burdened plaintiff's free exercise rights. The incident occurred after plaintiff had attended religious services. Defendants neither prevented plaintiff from attending the service nor pressured him to commit any act forbidden by his religion. Plaintiff has thus failed to make the requisite threshold ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.