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Fourth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Prisoner’s Failure to Protect Claim

by Christopher Zoukis

In March 2016, the Fourth Circuit reversed a district court’s dismissal of a prisoner’s Eighth Amendment failure to protect claim in a case that subsequently settled.

The prisoner, James Herman Raynor, was held at the Sussex II State Prison in Virginia. In November 2012, Raynor, who suffers from seizures, blackouts, heart issues and breathing problems, asked to be moved to a different cell with a “caretaker” who had volunteered to help him with his various medical needs. As is typical, his request was ignored.

Raynor renewed his request on January 10, 2013 with G. Pugh, his Housing Manager. That same day Pugh told Raynor that he was going to move his cellmate, K. Mullins, instead.

Mullins did not take kindly to that plan, and in front of Pugh allegedly told Raynor “it’s on,” and that they were both “going to seg.” According to Raynor, Pugh said he didn’t care what Mullins did and ordered the two men into a cell.

Housing Manager Pugh then watched as Mullins pummeled Raynor to the floor and smashed his television. According to Raynor’s complaint, Pugh didn’t call for assistance or do anything until after the attack was over.

Raynor sued Pugh, alleging that he suffered severe and lifelong injuries from Mullins’ assault; he claimed that Pugh violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by being deliberately indifferent to his safety.

Raynor provided evidence to support his claim, including a verified (signed under penalty of perjury) complaint, a corroborating affidavit from a fellow prisoner who witnessed the attack and medical documentation of his injuries. He also submitted discovery requests.

Pugh denied everything other than the indisputable fact that Mullins had attacked Raynor. He contended he was somewhere else at the time of the incident, that prison policy would have prevented him from intervening even if he was there and that Raynor’s injuries were minor.

Pugh moved for summary judgment, despite the existence of factual disputes and the outstanding discovery requests. The district court granted Pugh’s motion anyway and dismissed the case.

The Fourth Circuit reversed, finding that several genuine issues of material fact precluded a grant of summary judgment to Pugh. From an objective standpoint, Raynor had provided evidence (which Pugh disputed) that he suffered a serious physical injury. From a subjective perspective, Raynor submitted evidence (once again, disputed by Pugh) that Pugh had actual knowledge of the risk to his safety yet did nothing.

Those types of factual disputes, as well as the outstanding discovery requests, should have precluded the grant of summary judgment by the district court, leading the Fourth Circuit to reverse and remand the case. See: Raynor v. Pugh,817 F.3d 123 (4th Cir. 2016).

Following remand and shortly before trial, the case settled in November 2016. Pursuant to the settlement, the defendants agreed to transfer Raynor to another facility where he would be “housed in an ADA compliant cell and provided access to an ADA Coordinator to determine his appropriate needs, including, but not limited to toilet access, durable medical equipment, and physical therapy.” Further, he would receive his prescribed medication for his seizures and back pain, or substitute medication would be agreed upon.

The Virginia DOC also agreed to provide Raynor with a CPAP machine and to schedule appointments with an oral surgeon and a board-certified gastroenterologist. In addition, the settlement provides that the DOC director shall “issue a written communication to the heads of all VA DOC correctional facilities ... regarding record retention, including the retention of video surveillance evidence, and transparency of public records.”

The defendants agreed to pay $50,000 to the pro bono law firm that represented Raynor, McGuireWoods LLP, in lieu of attorney fees and costs. Of that amount, the firm will donate $42,325.64 to Greater Richmond Stop Child Abuse Now and $7,674.36 to the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society. The defendants will also pay $18,501.39 to the U.S. District Court Clerk, to reimburse costs incurred by McGuireWoods during the litigation, plus pay an additional $11,000 to the law firm “to satisfy any and all additional costs.”

Finally, the Virginia DOC agreed to waive “any required payments by Raynor for any and all future medical co-pays for medical treatment visits, prescription medications, and/or medical devices of any kind,” and to remove all prior debts from his prison trust account – including past medical co-pays and legal charges. See: Raynor v. Pugh, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Va.), Case No. 1:15-cv-00842-LMB-TCB.

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Raynor v. Pugh

Raynor v. Pugh


 

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