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October 7, 2015
  Parker v. Stevenson, et al. -- Fourth Circuit
Headline: Individual Without Attorney Presents Viable Claim: Excessive Force Claim Reconsidered Where Lower Court's Sole Focus Was Severity of Injury

Areas of Law: Civil Procedure, Eighth Amendment

Issue Presented: Whether the district court erred in dismissing appellant's excessive force, cruel and unusual punishment, and deliberate indifference claims.

Brief Summary: In a per curiam opinion, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded for further proceedings appellant Rodney Parker's excessive force claim within his civil complaint for deprivation of rights filed under 42 U.S.C. §1983.

Extended Summary: In 2012, in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Rodney Parker filed a § 1983 civil action for deprivation of rights. The complaint raised Eighth Amendment excessive force, cruel and unusual punishment, and deliberate indifference claims against individuals at his prison, including the Warden, as well as several sergeants, officers, and a nurse. Specifically, Parker alleged (1) that an extraction team of correctional officers beat him and used excessive force when removing him from his cell and placing him in a restraint chair; (2) that his placement in a control cell without clothing, utensils, bedding, or a mattress for an extended period of time constituted cruel and unusual punishment and deliberate indifference; and (3) that the prison officials were deliberately indifferent for not providing adequate medical care for swelling in his lower extremities.

The district court granted summary judgment for the Defendants, and in doing so, drew the following conclusions: (1) the extraction team used reasonable force to remove Parker; (2) the record did not show that the extraction team beat Parker, (3) putting Parker in a control cell was reasonable given his prior conduct and prison violations, (4) the medical records showed Parker had been evaluated repeatedly for his condition, and (5) Eleventh Amendment immunity barred Parker's claims against Defendants in their official capacities.

On review, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment on Parker's cruel and unusual punishment claim, as well as his deliberate indifference claim. However, the court vacated and remanded Parker's excessive force claim, finding significant error by the magistrate judge.

First, the court held there were several errors in the magistrate judge's report with regard to Parker's excessive force claim. The court highlighted that the magistrate judge used a standard that incorrectly considered "the extent of the injury inflicted." The court explained there was no "significant injury" threshold to be met in the instant case. Even where there is only a minor injury, an excessive force claim may proceed if there is a showing of malicious and sadistic use of force. As a result, the court vacated and remanded Parker's claim for further consideration.

On remand, the lower court should consider (1) the need for the application of force; (2) the relationship between the need and the amount of force that was used; (3) the extent of any reasonably perceived threat that the application of force was intended to quell; and (4) any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response. The court went on to emphasize that the extent of Parker's injury is just one, rather than the sole factor, to consider in analyzing his excessive force claim. The court additionally stressed that the district court should view the facts and inferences from the record in the light most favorable to Parker, as he is the non-moving party.

To read the full opinion, click here.

Panel: Judges Agee, Diaz, and Davis

Argument Date: 08/31/2015

Date of Issued Opinion: 09/23/2015

Docket Number: Case No. 15-6613

Decided: Affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded by unpublished per curiam opinion.

Case Alert Author: Janna Domico, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law

Counsel: Rodney Parker, PRO SE, for Appellant. Drew Hamilton Butler, RICHARDSON PLOWDEN & ROBINSON, P.A., Charleston, South Carolina, for Appellees. Carmen Vaughn Ganjehsani, RICHARDSON PLOWDEN & ROBINSON, P.A., Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellees. Caleb Martin Riser, RICHARDSON PLOWDEN & ROBINSON, P.A., Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellees.

Author of Opinion:
Per curiam

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 10/07/2015 09:41 AM     4th Circuit  

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