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Nooner v. Norris

February 8, 2010

TERRICK TERRELL NOONER, APPELLANT, DON WILLIAM DAVIS; JACK HAROLD JONES, JR., INTERVENOR PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
LARRY NORRIS, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS DIRECTOR, ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION; GAYLON LAY, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS WARDEN, ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION, CUMMINS UNIT; WENDY KELLY, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR HEALTH AND CORRECTIONAL PROGRAMS, ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION; JOHN BYUS, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS ADMINISTRATOR, CORRECTIONAL MEDICAL SERVICES, ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION; DOES, 1-50, UNKNOWN EXECUTIONERS, IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES AS EMPLOYEES AND/OR AGENTS OF THE ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION, APPELLEES,
FRANK WILLIAMS, JR., APPELLANT,
v.
LARRY NORRIS, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS DIRECTOR, ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION; GAYLON LAY, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS WARDEN, ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION, CUMMINS UNIT; WENDY KELLY, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR HEALTH AND CORRECTIONAL PROGRAMS, ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION; JOHN BYUS, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS ADMINISTRATOR, CORRECTIONAL MEDICAL SERVICES, ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION; DOES, 1-50, UNKNOWN EXECUTIONERS, IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES AS EMPLOYEES AND/OR AGENTS OF THE ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION, APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gruender, Circuit Judge.

Submitted: September 24, 2009

Before MELLOY, GRUENDER and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

Terrick Terrell Nooner, Don William Davis, Jack Harold Jones and Frank Williams, Jr. (collectively, "the Inmates") were each convicted of capital murder in Arkansas. Their convictions have been affirmed, their petitions for post-conviction relief have been denied, and they await execution by the State of Arkansas. In this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit against Larry Norris, Director of the Arkansas Department of Correction, and other corrections employees (collectively, "the ADC"), the Inmates challenge the constitutionality of Arkansas's protocol for execution by lethal injection. The district court*fn1 granted the ADC's motion for summary judgment, and the Inmates now appeal. For the following reasons, we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

Nooner filed his lawsuit on May 1, 2006. Davis and Jones filed motions to intervene as party plaintiffs, which the district court granted on May 26, 2006, and December 1, 2006, respectively. On August 9, 2007, the district court ordered the case consolidated with a similar lawsuit filed by Williams on July 11, 2007.

On June 26, 2006, the district court granted Davis a preliminary injunction, staying his execution. The ADC appealed, and on July 9, 2007, we vacated the preliminary injunction and stay of execution. Nooner v. Norris, 491 F.3d 804, 806 (8th Cir. 2007). The next day, the Inmates sought discovery for the first time by filing a motion for expedited discovery. The district court denied the Inmates' motion for expedited discovery on August 9, 2007, but the ADC nevertheless produced more than 300 pages of documents in response. The ADC moved for summary judgment, arguing that the Inmates had failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact about the constitutionality of Arkansas's lethal injection protocol. The Inmates sought shelter under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f), claiming that they lacked access to the facts necessary to oppose the ADC's motion for summary judgment and that they needed further discovery.

Before the district court ruled on the ADC's motion for summary judgment, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Baze v. Rees, 552 U.S. 945 (2007), a case challenging the constitutionality of Kentucky's lethal injection protocol. Accordingly, the district court denied the ADC's motion for summary judgment without prejudice and stayed and administratively terminated the Inmates' lawsuit pending the outcome in Baze.

The Supreme Court issued its decision in Baze on April 16, 2008, upholding Kentucky's lethal injection protocol. 553 U.S. 35, 128 S.Ct. 1520 (2008). The Inmates successfully moved to reopen their case on May 15, 2008. The ADC amended its lethal injection protocol on May 22, 2008, and moved for summary judgment on June 4, 2008. The Inmates opposed this motion but did not renew their request for a continuance to obtain further discovery under Rule 56(f). On August 5, 2008, the district court granted the ADC's motion for summary judgment.

Under Arkansas law, the Director of the ADC is responsible for determining the policies and procedures followed by the ADC to execute prisoners by lethal injection. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-4-617(a)(4). The parties refer to the set of execution instructions he has developed-and revised-as the Arkansas lethal injection protocol.

Ray Hobbs, Chief Deputy Director of the ADC, submitted an affidavit ("the Hobbs affidavit") dated July 28, 2008, stating that he was authorized to make statements about the protocol on behalf of the ADC. The Inmates have not argued that Hobbs acted ultra vires in submitting this affidavit, and the ADC specifically stated at oral argument that it considers the statements in the Hobbs affidavit to be binding on the ADC. Because the ADC may amend the protocol at the Director's discretion, see Ark. Code Ann. § 5-4-617, we accept the Hobbs affidavit as a written addendum to the May 22, 2008 protocol.

Under the protocol, the ADC's Deputy Director for Health and Correctional Programs is primarily responsible for supervising executions. The Deputy Director must be "healthcare trained, educated, and/or experienced in matters related to the establishment and monitoring of IVs, the mixing and administration of lethal chemicals, and assessing the presence or absence of consciousness." The protocol allows a designee to perform the functions of the Deputy Director, but the designee must meet the same qualifications. If needed, the Deputy Director provides an orientation for the executioners before each execution. She also selects the IV team, which is responsible for establishing intravenous infusion sites in condemned prisoners. Each member of the IV team must have at least two years of professional experience as an emergency medical technician, nurse, physician assistant or physician.

Arkansas administers the same combination of lethal chemicals to execute prisoners that at least thirty other states use: sodium pentothal, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride. See Baze, 128 S.Ct. at 1527 (plurality opinion).*fn2 Before each execution, the Deputy Director is responsible for ensuring that the lethal chemicals are mixed properly and transferred to conspicuously numbered syringes that are secured in a carrying case.*fn3

Arkansas executes condemned prisoners in an execution chamber that is adjoined by a witness room and a control room. There is a large window between the execution chamber and the witness room that can be covered by a curtain. From the control room, the executioners can see into the execution chamber through a one-way mirror. The protocol directs the Deputy Director to bring the condemned prisoner into the execution chamber strapped to a gurney, which is positioned directly in front of the one-way mirror so that the Deputy Director and the executioners can observe the IV infusion sites and the prisoner's face throughout the execution. The Deputy Director affixes cardiac monitor leads to the prisoner and then summons the IV team.

The IV team establishes two independent IV infusion sites, preferably one in each of the prisoner's arms. If two sites cannot be established, the protocol directs the Deputy Director to dismiss the IV team and "summon trained, educated, and experienced person(s) necessary to establish a primary IV line as a peripheral line or as a central venous line." After the infusion sites are established, the IV team connects the IV lines to the control room with extension tubing, allowing the executioners to administer the lethal chemicals from the control room. When the warden authorizes the executioners to begin injecting the lethal chemicals, the curtain between the execution chamber and the witness room is opened.

The executioners first inject two syringes containing three grams of sodium pentothal, a barbiturate, into the primary IV line. The protocol requires the Deputy Director to wait at least three minutes after the executioners begin the injection of sodium pentothal before directing the executioners to administer the contents of the remaining syringes. During this time, the protocol instructs the Deputy Director to use standard medical techniques, "such as checking for movement, opened eyes, eyelash reflex, and response to verbal commands and physical stimuli," to verify that the prisoner has been rendered completely unconscious. After three minutes have elapsed and the Deputy Director verifies that the prisoner is completely unconscious, the protocol instructs the executioners to inject a syringe of normal saline to flush the IV line, followed by two syringes containing 100 mg of pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes the prisoner's muscles and stops respiration. After injecting another syringe of saline, the executioners administer two syringes containing 240 mEq of potassium chloride, which induces cardiac arrest.

The protocol requires the Deputy Director to monitor the primary IV infusion site continuously and to reduce the flow of lethal chemicals or redirect them to the alternate infusion site if she suspects a problem. The curtain between the witness room and the execution chamber is closed if an infusion problem develops but otherwise remains open during the administration of lethal chemicals. After the cardiac monitors display a flat-line, a coroner is summoned to pronounce death. Prison officials then close the curtain to the witness room and escort the witnesses from the building.

The Inmates argue that the district court abused its discretion in finding that the case is ripe for summary judgment. They also argue that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the ADC because the record establishes genuine issues of material fact ...


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