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Latimore v. Houle

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

April 26, 2018



          F. Dennis Saylor IV United States District Judge.

         This action arises out of an alleged attack on a prisoner by a correctional officer at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk (“MCI-Norfolk”). In his second amended complaint, plaintiff Jason Latimore asserts claims for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 12 § 11I, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 214 § 1B, and state tort law. The complaint alleges that on November 2, 2011, defendant Vincent Poon repeatedly slammed the door to Latimore's cell on his hands and arms, severely injuring him. It further alleges that defendant John Houle, who was the lieutenant on duty, failed to report the incident or reprimand Poon for his actions. Finally, it alleges that defendant William Grossi, the security director, failed to investigate Latimore's grievances or arrange for medical treatment.

         Defendants have moved for partial summary judgment. For the following reasons, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed.[1]

         A. Factual Background

         1. The November 2, 2011 Incident

         Jason Latimore was incarcerated at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution-Norfolk (“MCI-Norfolk”) at all times relevant to the complaint. (Def. SMF ¶ 1). He was serving two concurrent sentences of three years and a concurrent sentence of two-and-a-half years for various drug offenses. (Id.). He was at MCI-Norfolk from June 2010 to November 2012. (Id.).[2]

         On November 2, 2011, Latimore was held in the Special Management Unit (“SMU”) of MCI-Norfolk waiting to be transferred to the Department Disciplinary Unit (“DDU”) at MCI-Cedar Junction. (Def. Ex. 1). He was being transferred for seriously injuring another inmate in a fight. (Id.).

         After a morning recreation period, Latimore returned to his cell. (Def. Ex. 2). Correctional Officer Vincent Poon, who was the escorting officer, told Latimore that he removed one of the two radios in his cell. (Id.).[3] Latimore then became agitated, placing his hands in the trap door of the cell, and began arguing with Poon. (Id.).

         The parties dispute what happened next. Latimore contends that Poon “closed and slammed the trap door” repeatedly on his arm without warning for 30 to 40 seconds. (Pl. SMF ¶ 8; Latimore Dep. at 20-21). Two other correctional officers, Fernando Pontes and Terrel Panis, observed the incident. (Latimore Dep. at 29). Latimore testified that Pontes stopped Poon by pushing him against the wall. (Id. at 36). Pontes then called over Lieutenant John Houle, the supervising officer. (Id. at 37).

         Defendants contend that “[a]fter repeated warnings, Latimore removed his hands and arms from the trap and his cell door was secured.” (Def. SMF ¶ 10; Def. Ex. 2).

         Houle wrote a disciplinary report concerning the incident. (Def. Ex. 3; Latimore Dep. at 55). Houle also later stated that no force was used against Latimore by any officer, and that he suffered no injuries. (Def. Ex. 22). There is no record that Latimore was ever disciplined in response to the report. (Latimore Dep. at 55-56).[4]

         2. Latimore Files a Grievance

         The same day the alleged assault and battery occurred, Latimore filed a grievance. (Def. Ex. 5). He requested that Poon be “reprimanded[, ] suspended and removed from working in the SMU/RV building with segregated inmates.” (Id.). The following day, Latimore filed another grievance making substantively identical claims. (Def. Ex. 6). It appears that he simultaneously filed a document titled “Statement of Events” recounting his version of the incident. (Def. Ex. 9). Thereafter, Latimore received a letter dated November 16, 2011, from prison Superintendent Gary Roden stating that the grievances had triggered an investigation. (Def. Ex. 7). Latimore later received a letter dated November 25, 2011, from Assistant Deputy Commissioner Karen Hetherson of the DOC Internal Affairs Unit stating that an investigation was underway. (Def. Ex. 8).

         3. Evidence of Injuries

         Immediately after the alleged assault and battery, Latimore submitted a sick slip requesting medical services. (Def. Ex. 10). He wrote that he was suffering from “Severe pain in my fingers on both hands & wrists. My right forearm & elbow is hurting bad & bruised. I need help. I want to be seen my right hand goes numb on me on & off. Thank you.” (Id.). On November 5, 2011, three days after the incident, he was examined by a nurse. The nurse found no swelling and concluded that he had good motion in his hands, wrists, and fingers. (Id.). The nurse prescribed Motrin. (Id.).

         Latimore filed another sick slip on November 7, 2011. (Def. Ex. 11). He wrote “I need to see medical for my hand, wrist & arm pain. I have numbness in my right hand & my bones hurt. Since Nov. 2nd it has been hurting and in pain all day.” (Id.). That same day, he was examined by a different nurse, who found no swelling. (Id.). The nurse also found “no apparent discomfort” when Latimore was asked to push down on an object. (Id.). He was again prescribed Motrin. (Id.). Various photographs of his hands, arms, wrists, and fingers were also taken on November 7, 2011. (Def. Ex. 12). The photographs show no visible injuries, swelling, or redness. (Id.).

         On November 14, 2011, Latimore had a Health Services appointment and again stated that he was suffering pain as a result of the attack. (Def. Ex. 13). The nurse noted: “No edema; skin intact. No pain over bony prominences including wrist, metatarsals and fingers.” (Id.). Although he initially refused to make a fist “due to pain, ” he did not complain when the nurse “palpated the bones.” (Id.).

         On November 15, 2011, the date of his transfer to MCI-Cedar Junction, Latimore was seen by a nurse. (Latimore Dep. at 75). He was brought into an employee break room, where several correctional officers, including Poon, were present. (Id.). The nurse examined his hand; according to Latimore, the examination lasted approximately five minutes. (Id. at 76).

         At his deposition, Latimore testified that Poon's actions had caused him to suffer various cuts and “scrapes” that bled. (Id. at 57). He also contends that he had a torn tendon and could not bend his left thumb. (Id. at 43). He testified that his injuries prevented him from performing various sexual acts and vigorously exercising. (Id. at 58) (“I can't-it's messed up my sex life. I can't do sexual positions I used to [be] able to do for the amount of time I used to do them.”) (“[I]f I get up on the pull-up bar, it puts so much strain on the left hand . . . that by the time I got to the third or fourth set, it's like I'm going to be out of commission for the next five days.”). Latimore also stated that as a result of the attack, he became “emotionally messed [ ] up” and “paranoid of the police.” (Id. at 68). He also claims to suffer from various mental-health issues, including depression, anxiety, and paranoia, and that he has lost his fiancée. (Id. at 69-70).[5]

         4. Alleged Injuries Suffered Outside MCI-Norfolk

         Latimore had a fracture in his right thumb at least seven months before the alleged assault. (Def. Ex. 15). Medical progress notes from April 6 and April 20, 2011, discuss the thumb injury. (Def. Ex. 16). A separate radiology report from April 21, 2011, indicates that the injury stemmed from a sports-related incident. (Def. Ex. 17). On April 27, 2011, Latimore filled out a sick slip requesting a medical appointment because his finger was broken. (Def. Ex. 18). However, he then declined to see a nurse. (Id.).

         After the alleged incident at question, Latimore also filed suit against the City of Chelsea. See Latimore v. City of Chelsea, No. 17-cv-10817-WGY. In his complaint, Latimore alleged that during a traffic stop, a Chelsea police officer committed assault and battery, causing his left arm and elbow to be injured.

         5. DOC's Investigation of Latimore's Grievances

         As noted, the two grievances filed by Latimore triggered an investigation by DOC. The DOC Inner Perimeter Security (“IPS”) Unit conducted an investigation into the grievances at the request of Superintendent Roden. (Def. Ex. 21). It appears that the investigation began on November 8, 2011. (Id.).

         IPS interviewed Latimore and several corrections officers and other prison staff. (Id.). It concluded that “[t]he allegations brought forth by Latimore claiming he was assaulted by Poon are unfounded” and that Latimore “could not provide supporting evidence or reliable witnesses to support any of the allegations.” (Id.). The IPS report, which was finalized in July 2012, exonerated Poon of any wrongdoing.

         William Grossi was the Director of Security at MCI-Norfolk. (Def. SMF ¶ 50). He states that he does not recall Latimore ever telling him about Poon's actions. (Def. Ex. 20). As Director of Security, he had no role in these events except to review and sign off on DOC's investigation once it was complete. (Id.). In Latimore's deposition, the only mention he makes of Grossi is that Grossi should have provided medical care and initiated the IPS investigation immediately upon learning of the alleged assault and battery. (Latimore ...

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