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Gosnell v. Strommen

United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division

December 19, 2017

DOUGLAS JAMES GOSNELL, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRIS STROMMEN, [1]Defendant.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Jeremiah C. Lynch, United States Magistrate Judge

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Chris Strommen's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 41.) The only remaining claim in this matter is Gosnell's Fifth Amendment failure-to-protect claim under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971) with regard to an alleged assault at the Missoula County Detention Facility (MCDF) in December 2015. The motion for summary judgment should be granted and this matter dismissed.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate when there are no genuine issues as to any material facts and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine issue of fact is one in which the "evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Guidroz-Brault v. Mo. Pac. R.R. Co., 254 F.3d 825, 829 (9th Cir. 2001). Judgment is required as a matter of law if the moving party has satisfied their burden to demonstrate that there is a lack of genuine issues as to any material facts. Horphag Research Ltd. v. Garcia, 475 F.3d 1029, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). Once satisfied, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to set forth specific facts showing that a dispute remains for trial. Id.

         Because Gosnell is proceeding pro se, the Court must construe his documents liberally and give them "the benefit of any doubt" with respect to Strommen's summary judgement motion. Frost v. Symington, 197 F.3d 348, 352 (9th Cir. 1999); see also Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

         II. UNDISPUTED FACTS

         Plaintiff Douglas Gosnell is a former federal prisoner appearing without counsel.[2] In February 2015, Gosnell was transported from the Anaconda-Deer Lodge County Jail to MCDF by Deputy U.S. Marshal Chris Strommen so Gosnell could attend his initial appearance and arraignment on a federal indictment pending against him at the Missoula Division of this Court. Gosnell alleged that during this trip he informed Strommen that he "would not be safe" at MCDF because he "had a problem with the officers there back in 2008, and they said they would get [him]." (Amd. Compl, Doc. 18 at 4.)

         Gosnell alleges that subsequently on August 10, 2015, while in a holding cell at MCDF, he was thrown from his wheelchair and beaten by four unknown officers at MCDF. (Amd. Compl., Doc. 18 at 5.) Strommen admits he transported Gosnell on August 11, 2015 from MCDF to federal court and then back to MCDF and that during the transports, Gosnell informed Strommen that four unknown booking guards assaulted him at MCDF the prior day. (Statement of Undisputed Facts ("SUF"), Doc. 43 at ¶ 3.) Gosnell also requested that Strommen review video footage from MCDF of the booking area at the time of the alleged assault. Id. Gosnell did not show Strommen any injury that supported his claim that he was assaulted during his August 10, 2015 visit to MCDF and Strommen did not believe that Gosnell behaved in any manner that indicated he was injured. Id. at ¶ 4.

         On August 11, 2015, after returning Gosnell to MCDF, and based on Gosnell's statements and request, Strommen reviewed available video footage of the holding cell where Gosnell was held at MCDF on August 10, 2015. (SUF at ¶ 5.) Strommen saw no objectionable behavior by any booking guards or other MCDF personnel, and, after viewing the video footage, did not believe that Gosnell was at any risk of suffering substantial harm at MCDF. (SUF at ¶¶ 6-7.)

         During Strommen's employment as a Deputy U.S. Marshal in the U.S. Marshals Service, no prisoner in whose transportation Strommen participated, other than Gosnell, has complained that they were assaulted by booking guards at MCDF. (SUF at ¶ 8).

         Gosnell alleges he was again assaulted at MCDF on December 5, 2016. (Amd. Compl., Doc. 18 at 5.) Strommen did not transport Gosnell at any time during Gosnell's December 2015 trip to Missoula. (SUF at ¶ 9.)

         III. DISCUSSION

         The only remaining claim is Gosnell's allegation that Defendant Strommen failed to protect him from the December 2015 beating. Because Defendant Strommen is a federal employee, the Court liberally construes Gosnell's allegations as presenting a Fifth Amendment failure-to-protect claim against Defendant Strommen.[3] The elements of a pretrial detainee's Fifth Amendment failure-to-protect claim against an individual officer are:

(1) The defendant made an intentional decision with respect to the conditions under which the ...

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