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Jacobs v. Wagner

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

October 20, 2017

KYLE WAGNER, Defendant.


          J.P. Stadtmueller, U.S. District Judge.

         1. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Clancy Louis Jacobs (“Jacobs”), a prisoner, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendant Kyle Wagner (“Wagner”), a correctional official at Oshkosh Correctional Institution (“OCI”), for using excessive force against him in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. Wagner filed a motion for summary judgment, and the motion has been fully briefed. (Docket #27-31, #33-40, #41-43). For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant summary judgment in favor of Wagner and dismiss this action with prejudice.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that 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); see Boss v. Castro, 816 F.3d 910, 916 (7th Cir. 2016). A fact is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit” under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of fact is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. The court construes all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Bridge v. New Holland Logansport, Inc., 815 F.3d 356, 360 (7th Cir. 2016). The court must not weigh the evidence presented or determine credibility of witnesses; the Seventh Circuit instructs that “we leave those tasks to factfinders.” Berry v. Chicago Transit Auth., 618 F.3d 688, 691 (7th Cir. 2010). The party opposing summary judgment “need not match the movant witness for witness, nor persuade the court that [his] case is convincing, [he] need only come forward with appropriate evidence demonstrating that there is a pending dispute of material fact.” Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 921 (7th Cir. 1994).

         3. RELEVANT FACTS[1]

         Jacobs is an inmate in the custody of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. At all times relevant to this lawsuit, Jacobs was incarcerated at OCI and Wagner was a correctional officer at OCI.

         The focal point of this lawsuit arose from a brief encounter between Jacobs and Wagner on December 30, 2015. That evening, Jacobs was in a dayroom, or common area, of his housing unit at OCI, seated on chair near a table with his feet propped up on another chair, chatting with two other inmates. Wagner entered the dayroom and walked in Jacobs' direction. As he turned to walk around the table where Jacobs was seated, Wagner looked the other way and, as he did, his foot made contact with the chair on which Jacobs' feet were resting. The chair slid away and Jacobs' feet fell to the floor. According to Jacobs, when his legs fell, his heel hit the ground, causing his knee to bend backward. He says this was painful, and though he did not initially think the injury was very serious, his knee swelled up after the incident and he continues to suffer from considerable pain. Jacobs believes Wagner's action was an “intentional wanton infliction of pain.” (Docket #34 at 2).

         Wagner immediately replaced the chair under the table where Jacobs and the two other inmates were seated, placed his hands on the back of the chair, and engaged in a brief conversation with Jacobs. Wagner then left the dayroom and Jacobs continued in conversation with his two follow inmates at the table. About nine minutes went by, after which time Jacobs got up to retrieve ice for his knee. Jacobs returned to the table a few minutes later and remained in the dayroom for several more hours. He played chess with fellow inmates and engaged in laughter and conversation.

         On January 3, 2016, Jacobs reported his alleged knee injury to a nurse who examined his knee and did not observe any swelling. The nurse reported that she observed Jacobs walk with a limp as he left the health services unit, but that the limping stopped as Jacobs walked down the sidewalk to his housing unit.

         Surveillance video from OCI captured the events of December 30, 2015. (Docket #30-1). The video confirms that as Wagner passed by Jacobs' table in the dayroom, his foot hit the leg of the chair on which Jacobs' feet rested, causing the chair to slide out from under Jacobs' feet. It is unclear from the video whether Wagner's action was accidental or if it was intentional horseplay. In any event, the video shows that, following the incident, Jacobs continued to engage in conversation and laughter with his fellow inmates. As he got up and walked out of the room for a couple minutes, he did not limp. When he returned to the room and for the remainder of the evening, Jacobs did not exhibit any signs or symptoms of injury or distress.

         4. ANALYSIS

         Jacobs raises an Eighth Amendment claim for excessive force, and Wagner opposes it by arguing, first, that his use of force was de minimis and, second, that he is entitled to qualified immunity. The Court begins with the merits of Jacobs' Eighth Amendment claim.

         The Eighth Amendment prohibits the “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain” on prisoners. Outlaw v. Newkirk, 259 F.3d 833, 837 (7th Cir. 2001). When an official is accused of using excessive force, the core inquiry is “whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.” Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7 (1992); Rice ex rel. Rice v. Corr. Med. Servs., 675 F.3d 650, 668 (7th Cir. 2012). Several factors are relevant to this determination, including the need for force, the amount applied, the threat an officer reasonably perceived, the effort made ...

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