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Significant Injury Showing Not Required to Defeat Qualified Immunity in Excessive Force Case

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected a claim for qualified immunity by a Texas prison guard who used excessive force against a prisoner.

Texas state prisoner Marcus Brown alleged that in 1998 prison guard Fred Lippard grabbed his arm and verbally abused him while escorting him to recreation. When Brown asked to speak to a supervisor, Lippard struck him repeatedly on his back, head and shoulders, and tried to force his cuffed hands over his head. Lippard then cited him for creating a disturbance and refusing orders, but both charges were later dismissed.

Brown claimed that the assault exacerbated prior back injuries and resulted in chronic tendonitis; medical personnel noted that he experienced abrasions and pain. Lippard introduced a doctor’s statement that the injuries were minor as no fractures, sprains, lacerations or bleeding was evident.

Brown tried the case to a jury, which found in his favor and awarded damages. However, the verdict was vacated by the district court based on Brown’s failure to exhaust administrative remedies. After exhausting available remedies, Brown renewed his claim. Lippard then moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, which was denied by the district court.

On appeal, Lippard claimed that Brown’s injuries were de minimis and thus failed to support an excessive force claim, thereby entitling him to qualified immunity. The Fifth Circuit rejected this argument, holding that the court had never ruled that excessive force claims require injuries “beyond some arbitrary threshold”; that Brown’s injuries were not de minimus as shown at the prior trial; and that Lippard was acting in bad faith – a fact also found at trial.

Lippard also objected to the district court’s judicial notice of the prior trial and use of its findings in denying summary judgment. The Fifth Circuit found judicial notice was proper under Federal Rules of Evidence 201(b), because its existence was “not subject to reasonable dispute” and was “capable of accurate and ready determination.” The appellate court also held the very existence of the prior trial raised an issue of material fact sufficient to overcome summary judgment. See: Brown v. Lippard, 472 F.3d 384 (5th Cir. 2006).

Brown tried his case to a jury once again on remand. This time, the jury ruled in favor of the guard and Brown appealed, contending primarily that the district court erred in failing to provide him with a free transcript of the first trial for impeachment purposes. The Fifth Circuit rejected this argument and affirmed the jury verdict. See: Brown v. Lippard, No. 07-40723 (5th Cir. 2009).

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Brown v. Lippard

MARCUS PHILLIP BROWN, Plaintiff - Appellant v. FRED LIPPARD, Defendant - Appellee

No. 07-40723


2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 22820

October 19, 2009, Filed




* Pursuant to 5TH CIR. R. 47.5, the court has determined that this opinion should not be published and is not precedent except under the limited circumstances set forth in 5TH CIR. R. 47.5.4.

Marcus Phillip Brown, an inmate at a Texas correctional facility, appeals from a judgment on a jury verdict rejecting his Section 1983 claim for excessive use of force. Brown asserts that the verdict should be vacated and that his case should be remanded for a new trial. We disagree and AFFIRM.


Brown's suit concerns a September 1998 incident in which Brown alleges then-correctional officer Fred Lippard used excessive force when escorting Brown from his cell to a day room for recreation. Brown's original Section 1983 claim proceeded to a jury trial in 2001. Brown, appearing pro se, [*2] prevailed and was awarded $ 27,500 in compensatory and punitive damages. Prior to entering a judgment on the jury's verdict, however, the district court ruled on a motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. It relied on a newly issued Supreme Court opinion requiring exhaustion regardless of the type of relief available through the administrative process. Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741, 121 S. Ct. 1819, 149 L. Ed. 2d 958 (2001). The court dismissed Brown's claim without prejudice so that Brown could exhaust his administrative remedies.

After finishing the administrative process, Brown filed the present suit against Lippard, complaining of the same excessive use of force. Brown's claim again went to trial in 2007. This time the jury returned a defense verdict, finding in a special interrogatory that Lippard did not use unreasonable, unnecessary, or excessive force. After judgment, Brown timely appealed.


Brown's primary appellate argument is that the district court erred in denying his request for a transcript 1 of the 2001 trial. Brown maintains that he needed the transcript for impeachment purposes during his second trial. He submits that Lippard and Russell Johse, another correctional [*3] officer who witnessed the incidents leading to the alleged excessive use of force, perjured themselves during the 2007 proceedings. He argues their testimony at the second trial materially differed from their prior testimony.


1 Brown refers to this as the "voir dire transcript"; however, it is clear from the record that he is referencing the transcript of the 2001 trial testimony.

Brown's first request for a free transcript was considered under a statute that allows a person who is permitted to appeal in forma pauperis, to have the fees for a transcript paid by the United States if there is a judicial certification "that the appeal is not frivolous (but presents a substantial question)." 28 U.S.C. § 753(f). Brown first requested a copy of the 2001 transcript during post-judgment proceedings with respect to that first trial. The district court denied that request. That denial is not now before us and those events are irrelevant.

Brown again made production of the 2001 transcript an issue during his 2007 trial. He did so when the witness Johse testified that he could not remember whether Brown followed proper prison protocol when exiting his cell for recreation prior to the use of force. [*4] Brown attempted to question Johse regarding the testimony he had given in 2001, but Johse stated that he could not remember it. Brown then indicated that he did not have a transcript of those statements with which to impeach Johse.

Outside of the presence of the jury, Brown explained to the court that he had requested a copy of the "witness's statement" at the previous trial "so that [he] could have something to present." The trial judge was uncertain whether the 2001 proceedings were ever transcribed. When the court asked defense counsel whether a transcript of the 2001 trial testimony existed, she responded by referring to the 2001 post-trial hearing on exhaustion:

The hearing afterwards -- the evidentiary hearing afterwards were transcribed because we obtained those because of that exhaustive issue. Anyway, as far as the other, I'm not aware at this time if it was. Now as far as -- he's never sent me a discovery request asking for transcription of the trial and I've never been disclosed that I didn't have it. And I've never been ordered . . . to produce it.

Brown replied that he had not made a written request for the transcript. At that point, he had made an oral motion, which was [*5] denied. The court again indicated uncertainty about the transcript's existence: "whether or not the testimony [the witnesses] gave was ever transcribed in written form I don't know. I have no idea." Brown stated that he had requested that the proceedings be transcribed but that his request had been denied. The court concluded that the 2001 trial had not been transcribed, stating "if it doesn't exist, I'm sorry that I can't furnish it to you." Brown explained that he needed the transcript to contradict anticipated testimony from Lippard that Brown had not followed proper protocol in exiting his cell and that Lippard had used physical force against him only for that reason. The court determined that this purpose could be served through Brown's cross examination of Lippard.

At the conclusion of the 2007 trial, after Lippard's testimony, Brown again asked about the 2001 transcript. He stated,

And the next thing that I want -- I don't know how to do it. I mean I'm in here above my head. I'm not willing to admit when I'm above my head. Okay. But the officers that have gotten up there and testified on the stand have given totally different statements, totally different. I mean the whole cross [*6] from the last hearing.

So either they [perjured] themselves then or they're [perjuring] themselves now. And I don't know how to go about getting what I need to prove that they [perjured themselves]. But I -- on everything I stand for as a human being, they are [perjuring] themselves. And I don't have the material that I requested so that I could have this just for this instance. I was denied it.

Brown once more noted that he had requested and been denied the transcript because he "didn't know how to word it, . . . that [he] was trying to use it for impeachment." He said he had asked for the transcript prior to the recent trial when he appeared before the court on his motion for a default judgment. He said that the court denied his request because the transcript had no relevance to the case at that time. Lippard's counsel responded,

I do not ever recall Mr. Brown requesting either in this trial in this case or the previous case a transcript, a trial transcript in the previous trial.

[The court] did bring us down here . . . for a hearing on his motion for default. And I do not recall him at that time him ever asking for a transcript of the previous trial. I may be mistaken. But I do not [*7] recall that completely.

Ultimately, the court again concluded that the transcript did not exist. The court explained,

had a proper motion been made at the proper time and granted by one of the many courts whose hands this has passed through that [Brown] might have been granted access to . . . a transcript at someone else's expense, not his own.

But it's far, far too late to go into that. There's nothing we can do about that now. Perhaps it has resulted in some disadvantage to him in this trial. But it's just too late to do anything about that.

Brown filed a more formal request for a transcript of the 2001 and 2007 proceedings after judgment was entered. The court granted the motion with respect to the 2007 trial. However, it denied the request for the 2001 transcript.

We examine the different requests for a transcript of the 2001 trial. Brown alleges that he requested a copy during a default judgment hearing prior to the second trial. The record does not support this assertion. We cannot find error when there is a no record of a motion or a denial.

There is record evidence of Brown's requests for a transcript during the 2007 trial itself, as we have quoted from the record. Brown several [*8] times requested a copy of the 2001 transcript during the 2007 trial. He sought to justify the transcript's production for impeachment purposes. Though briefly addressing the utility of the 2001 transcript, the district court's comments suggest that its rulings were based largely, and even primarily, on the belief that the 2001 trial was never transcribed. If no transcript was ever made, the court could not provide Brown with a copy.

Notwithstanding the district court's uncertainty regarding the existence of the 2001 transcript, a review of the electronic docket for Brown's 2001 suit reveals that the first trial was transcribed. 2 A copy of the transcript was docketed in March 2002, shortly before the final judgment in that action. The transcript was docketed in a separate case with a different docket number than the 2007 proceedings. During Brown's efforts to obtain a copy of the transcript, he never notified the court that the first trial had been transcribed. Indeed, he surely was unaware. Lippard's counsel also represented to the court that she was not certain a transcript of the 2001 trial testimony had ever been made.


2 Although the docket for the 2001 case is outside of our record [*9] on appeal, we may take judicial notice of the docket entry establishing the existence of the 2001 transcript. See, e.g., United States v. Mercado, 412 F.3d 243, 247 (1st Cir. 2005) (taking judicial notice of state court records); Mar. Elec. Co. v. United Jersey Bank, 959 F.2d 1194, 1200 n.3 (3d Cir. 1992) (taking judicial notice of the docket entries in a bankruptcy court's file); Jacques v. U.S. R.R. Ret. Bd., 736 F.2d 34, 40 (2d Cir. 1984) (taking judicial notice of a district court pleading in a related case).

We know there is a transcript. The trial court may have readily provided it to Brown had its existence been known. Where to go from this point is the question. This late discovery that a transcript existed at the time would not entitle Brown to a new trial without some proof both of error and prejudice. Brown must show that he adequately requested the transcript, that he justified its production, and that he was prejudiced by the court's failure to provide him with a copy.

Brown's request for the transcript in about 2002 is not a motion on which error in the entirely separate trial in 2007 could be shown. The 2002 request was to support an appeal to set aside the judgment. The [*10] justification today is, and has to be, different. If Brown requested the transcript immediately prior to the 2007 trial, that action does not appear in the record. Thus, no record exists to consider whether such a denial would have been error.

Thus, we enter the realm of the 2007 trial itself. He must show that it was error for the trial court to rule as it did. Such error would depend on using the proper analysis to apply in reviewing a trial judge's mid-trial decision on obtaining a record of previous proceedings, and the impact of the fact that the trial judge here may primarily have denied the request because of an error -- not pointed out by anyone -- regarding whether the transcript already existed.

We find a more expedient means to consider the issues regarding the timing and manner of Brown's attempted requests, and consider the ultimate point of whether there was any prejudice to Brown if there was error. The admission and exclusion of evidence are left to the sound discretion of a trial judge. Error in the decisions will not lead to reversal absent a showing that the complaining party's substantial rights were affected. Compaq Computer Corp. v. Ergonome Inc., 387 F.3d 403, 408 (5th Cir. 2004).

The [*11] basic consideration is whether the 2007 trial was so affected by the district court's failure to provide Brown with a copy of the 2001 transcript that a third trial is warranted. The answer depends on what was in the 2001 trial transcript that would have been useful for impeachment.

To look at the transcript, and not just note its existence, as we have already done, requires additional analysis. Authority from other jurisdictions suggests that we may. See, e.g., Lumen Constr., Inc. v. Brant Constr. Co., 780 F.2d 691, 697 n.4 (7th Cir. 1985); Jacques v. U.S. R.R. Ret. Bd., 736 F.2d 34, 39-40 (2d Cir. 1984). We find those courts' reasoning to be logical and relatively persuasive. Accordingly, for the purpose of assessing the merits of Brown's claims, we will assume arguendo that the contents of the transcript are subject to judicial notice. Our examination of the transcript reveals the prior testimony that Brown would have been able to use as ostensible impeachment of Johse and Lippard.

In Brown's 2001 trial, Johse testified that Brown backed out of his cell, that Johse closed the cell door thereafter, and that Brown did not violate prison protocol or do "anything wrong" when exiting his [*12] cell. Johse stated that Brown was not being "unruly" or "yelling or screaming" while exiting. After Brown exited his cell, Johse turned away from Brown and Lippard and went to open the door to the recreation room. When he turned back around, Brown and Lippard were both on the ground. He did not witness the use of force.

In 2007, Johse testified that he could not remember whether Brown followed proper protocol in exiting his cell. He again stated that the use of force occurred while he was turned away from Brown and Lippard, so he did not see what happened. When Brown attempted to impeach Johse with his prior statements, Johse testified that he did not remember giving the prior statements. The impeachment, therefore, would have at most shown that in 2001, the witness recalled Brown's proper and calm exit from the cell.

Turning to Lippard's testimony, Lippard testified in 2001 that Brown did not follow orders when exiting his cell. Brown was instructed to back out of his cell, but Brown twisted and came out of his cell facing forward or sideways. Brown continued to resist, both verbally and physically. Lippard used force to bring him to a controlled position on the ground. In 2007, Lippard [*13] testified that when exiting his cell, Brown "back[ed] out very abruptly, just turn[ed] and back[ed] into" him and that Brown threw him "up against the wall, against the door." Lippard further stated, "[i]nstead of backing out, [Brown] twists around abruptly, twisting my body with his and twisting counterclockwise." Brown continued to be physically and verbally aggressive, so Lippard used force to "take [Brown] down." Brown said he wished to impeach Lippard with the statements Brown remembered from the 2001 trial, but Lippard advised that he did not remember making those statements.

We find no basis for a new trial. It is true that Johse stated in 2007 that he could not remember whether Brown followed proper protocol in exiting his cell and that he could not recall his prior statements that Brown followed the appropriate procedures. However, it is undisputed that Johse did not witness the use of force, a fact he acknowledged both in 2001 and in 2007. Moreover, Lippard's characterization of the events leading to the use of force did not vary significantly from 2001 to 2007. In both trials, Lippard testified that Brown did not follow proper protocol in exiting his cell, that Brown verbally [*14] and physically resisted Lippard's control, and that Lippard used force to bring Brown to a subdued position on the ground. Lippard's description of exactly how Brown exited his cell was different in 2007, but that distinction did not implicate Lippard's alleged justification for the use of force or his description of the amount of force used. In both trials, Lippard testified that Brown verbally and physically resisted Lippard's instructions, so Lippard used force to subdue Brown and maintain control. Even if the 2001 transcript would have assisted Brown, and that is not clear, any prejudice from its absence is minor.

No party is entitled to a perfect trial, but only a fair one. We are not finding that no possible benefit could have flowed to Brown from the availability of Johse's prior testimony, though it would only have been usable for impeachment. It would have presented a picture of a fairly calm Brown upon exiting the cell, and then complete lack of knowledge of what happened that led to the altercation. We find no prejudice.

Brown does have other appellate issues. He maintains that the district court erred in preventing him from introducing into evidence the full record of an [*15] administrative investigation into the alleged excessive use of force, conducted not long after the incident. Brown identifies the administrative record by number. He argues that it should have been admitted to prove the character of the witnesses. Brown further explains that a witness statement within the record was admissible despite the unavailability of that witness because the statement was undisputed and was capable of "accurate and ready determination." Brown does not name the relevant witness. Nor does Brown provide any record citations allegedly supporting his attempt to introduce this evidence or the district court's ruling on its admissibility.

On balance, Brown's argument is conclusory and inadequately briefed. See In re Repine, 536 F.3d 512, 518 n.5 (5th Cir. 2008) (noting that because of conclusory briefing, the court could not "discern the basis or substance" of the appellant's argument, and therefore the argument was waived due to inadequate briefing); Yohey v. Collins, 985 F.2d 222, 224-25 (5th Cir. 1993).

Finally, Brown contends that Lippard, Johse, and other defense witnesses perjured themselves during the 2007 trial. Brown alleges that the witnesses conspired with [*16] each other, changing their testimony in an effort to cover up the excessive use of force and in retaliation against Brown for exercising his right to access the courts. Brown submits that he was also subjected to acts of retaliation outside of court, including prison officials refusing to mail his legal materials and even destroying them. He argues that this conduct violated his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Though referencing perjury and retaliation in different contexts during the course of the 2007 trial and pleadings, these issues were not presented to the jury, and the district court did not rule on these claims. We will not consider these issues for the first time on appeal. See Nasti v. CIBA Specialty Chems. Corp., 492 F.3d 589, 595 (5th Cir. 2007) ("[I]f a litigant desires to preserve an argument for appeal, the litigant must press and not merely intimate the argument during the proceedings before the district court. If an argument is not raised to such a degree that the district court has an opportunity to rule on it, we will not address it on appeal." (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)); Brown v. Ames, 201 F.3d 654, 663 (5th Cir. 2000).

For the above [*17] reasons, we affirm the district court's judgment. Brown's request for sanctions is denied.


Brown v. Lippard

MARCUS P. BROWN, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. FRED LIPPARD, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 05-41277


472 F.3d 384; 2006 U.S. App. LEXIS 30522

December 12, 2006, Filed


[*385] BENAVIDES, Circuit Judge:

Marcus Brown ("Brown") alleges that while he was incarcerated, Correctional [*386] Officer Fred Lippard ("Lippard") used excessive physical force against him. He brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for compensatory and punitive damages, arguing that Lippard violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Brown previously prevailed on this claim and was awarded damages in a jury trial, but the district court set aside that judgment because Brown had not exhausted his administrative remedies. Having exhausted his administrative remedies, Brown renewed this claim.

Lippard moved for summary judgment, arguing that he was entitled to qualified immunity, but the motion was denied. He now appeals, arguing that Brown never showed anything [**2] more than a de minimis injury, and thereby cannot overcome his qualified immunity protection. We disagree and AFFIRM the district court's denial of summary judgment.


Brown alleges that on September 12, 1998, Lippard came to his cell under the pretense of escorting him to recreation. As Brown exited his cell, Lippard grabbed his arm and told him "You don't lead me, I lead you." A brief exchange ensued in which Lippard indicated Brown's recreation privileges were denied. Brown, believing Lippard was set on harassing him, asked to speak with a superior officer and sat down to wait for one to arrive.

As Brown sat knelt on one knee, Lippard allegedly struck him several times in his back, head and shoulders. Lippard also tried to ratchet his arms--at that point handcuffed behind him--up and over his head. Lippard issued Brown citations for creating a disturbance and refusing an order. Both citations were eventually dismissed.

After the attack, Brown went immediately to a physician and complained of knee, hand and shoulder pain. The nurse noted one-centimeter abrasions on both his left knee and left shoulder, pain in his right knee, and tenderness around his left thumb. [**3] Brown also alleges that the attack exacerbated his prior back problems and contributed to chronic tendinitis. Lippard introduced evidence from Dr. Glenda Adams concluding that Brown's injuries were minor since there were "no fractures, sprains, lacerations, or bleeding."


On summary judgment and appeal, Lippard argues that Brown's injuries are not severe enough to support an excessive force claim. This Court has never directly held that injuries must reach beyond some arbitrary threshold to satisfy an excessive force claim, 1 as Lippard assumes. Nonetheless, Brown's injuries satisfy any such standard.


1 The Supreme Court in Hudson was concerned with a de minimis use of force showing, not a de minimis injury. Nonetheless, this Circuit has on occasion referred to de minimis injuries, although only with the caveat that when the force is "repugnant to the conscience of mankind" the gravity of the injury may be irrelevant. See Gomez v. Chandler, 163 F.3d 921, 924 n.4 (1999) ("It may also be arguable that Siglar leaves open the possibility that a physical injury which is only de minimis may nevertheless suffice for purposes of the Eighth Amendment . . . if the force used is of the kind "repugnant to the conscience of manking."); see also Siglar v. Hightower, 112 F.3d 191, 193 (1997). While beating a man on the ground who is handcuffed very well might satisfy a "repugnant to the conscience test," we voice no opinion on the ambiguities left after Gomez and Siglar, since there was more than a de minimis injury here.

[**4] In evaluating excessive force claims, courts may look to the seriousness of the injury to determine "whether the [*387] use of force could plausibly have been thought necessary, or instead evinced such wantonness with respect to the unjustified infliction of harm as is tantamount to a knowing willingness that it occur." Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 321, 106 S. Ct. 1078, 89 L. Ed. 2d 251 (1986). This Circuit has found an injury insufficient to support an excessive force claim where there is no physical injury, see, e.g., Harper v. Showers, 174 F.3d 716, 719 (5th Cir. 1999), or where it is extremely minor. See Siglar v. Hightower, 112 F.3d 191 (5th Cir. 1997) (bruise caused by having ear twisted considered de minimis). The attack and injuries described by Brown cannot be likened to a twisted ear.

A more analogous case is Gomez v. Chandler. 163 F.3d 921 (5th Cir. 1999). After being knocked down and punched repeatedly, the prisoner suffered "cuts, scrapes, contusions to the face, head, and body." Id. at 922. Not only are the injuries sustained here more akin to those in Gomez, but the alleged attack was similarly [**5] not "applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, [rather] maliciously and sadistically to cause harm." Id. at 923.

Lippard repeatedly attempts to minimize Brown's injuries as requiring "no more than swabbing with Betadine." But the Supreme Court has "put to rest a seriously misguided view that pain inflicted by an excessive use of force is actionable under the Eighth Amendment only when coupled with 'significant injury,' e.g., injury that requires medical attention or leaves permanent marks." Id. at 13 (Blackmun, J., concurring). While this particular injury did require medical attention, Lippard apparently prefers a pre-Hudson standard requiring the complainant to receive serious medical attention. There is no basis for that position.

Lippard raises two further points that merit attention. First, he claims that this case is distinguishable from Gomez since his summary judgment motion was supported by a non-treating physician's affidavit concluding that the injuries were de minimis and not the result of excessive force. The physician made this conclusion after reviewing the same medical records before us. While that [**6] affidavit is certainly some evidence that Brown's injuries are not as severe as he claims, it does not support the legal conclusion that the undisputed injuries were de minimis.

Second, Lippard asserts that there was no evidence properly before the district court that his actions were in bad faith, and therefore that Brown did not overcome the immunity shield. The evidence that Lippard was acting in bad faith came from both a fellow officer and an inmate who described Brown's behavior as cooperative and unthreatening. But Lippard complains that such evidence was not in the record on summary judgment, but from the prior action dismissed for failure to exhaust remedies, and the judge mistakenly took judicial notice of it.

Lippard's argument is off point. The district judge did not have to credit the testimony of the officer and inmate "for the truth asserted." Taylor v. Charter Med. Corp., 162 F.3d 827, 830 (5th Cir. 1998). The judge only had to notice that such testimony existed, because the testimony's very existence raises an issue of fact sufficient to overcome summary judgment. Especially here, where Lippard does not so much as allege that his actions [**7] were in response to Brown's misbehavior. Because the testimony's existence was "not subject to reasonable dispute" and "capable of accurate and ready determination," FED. R. EVID. 201(b), it was not improper to take judicial notice of it.


The district court's denial of Lippard's motion for summary judgment is AFFIRMED, and we REMAND the case for further proceedings.