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Estate of Johnson v. Weber

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

May 4, 2015

Estate of Ronald E. Johnson, and through its Personal Representative, Lynette K. Johnson; Lynette K. Johnson, Individually, Plaintiffs - Appellants
v.
Douglas Weber; Troy Ponto; Darin Young; Crystal Van Vooren; Denny Kaemingk; Laurie Feiler; Timothy A. Reisch; South Dakota Department of Corrections; State of South Dakota; John Does 1-20, Defendants - Appellees

Submitted February 11, 2015.

Page 268

Appeal from United States District Court for the District of South Dakota - Sioux Falls.

For Estate of Ronald E. Johnson, and through its Personal Representative, Lynette K. Johnson, Lynette K. Johnson, Individually, Plaintiffs - Appellants: John William Burke, Thomas & Braun, Rapid City, SD; Donald Mark McCarty, Mccann & Mccarty, Brookings, SD.

For Douglas Weber, Troy Ponto, Darin Young, Crystal Van Vooren, Denny Kaemingk, Laurie Feiler, Timothy A. Reisch, South Dakota Department of Corrections, State of South Dakota, Defendants - Appellees: James Ellis Moore, Woods & Fuller, Sioux Falls, SD.

Before BYE, BEAM, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 269

BYE, Circuit Judge.

The Estate of Ronald E. Johnson and Lynette K. Johnson (collectively, " Johnson" ) commenced this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint alleging violations of the constitutional and state law rights of the deceased Ronald Johnson. The district court[1] granted summary judgment to defendants. Johnson filed the instant appeal, arguing summary judgment was improper. We affirm.

I

Pursuant to the proper standard of review, described below, the following are the facts as most favorable to Johnson. At the time of his death, Ronald Johnson was a prison guard for the South Dakota State Penitentiary (" the penitentiary" ), a South Dakota Department of Corrections (" DOC" ) facility in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. On April 12, 2011, Rodney Berget and Eric Robert, inmates at the penitentiary, attempted to escape and in the process intentionally murdered Robert Johnson. Berget and Robert were convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death.

Rodney Berget first came to the penitentiary at the age of fifteen after escaping at least twice from his placement at South Dakota's State Training School. During his lifetime, Berget amassed multiple convictions for grand theft, burglary, escape, and attempt to escape. He spent most of his life in the South Dakota prison system. In addition to his two escapes from the State Training School, Berget escaped from the penitentiary on three separate occasions, the last of which occurred in 1987. None of Berget's escapes or escape attempts were violent and although Berget has a history of violence, he did not have a history of institutional violence. Berget was last incarcerated in 2003, and was initially placed in the maximum security area, but in 2004 was transferred to the medium security area, West Hall. Berget had various disciplinary problems during this incarceration, including refusing housing assignments and conducting hunger strikes. During his incarceration Berget was transferred to segregation at various times and would thereafter return to West Hall. The paperwork for transfers was not always timely and properly completed, and Johnson alleges at least some transfers were negotiated in exchange for ending hunger strikes.

Eric Robert had no criminal history when he arrived at the penitentiary in 2006 to serve an eighty-year sentence for kidnapping. Robert did not have a history of institutional violence prior to the murder of Ronald Johnson, but in 2007 was discovered making preparations for an escape attempt. Thereafter, Robert was moved to maximum security and the DOC learned through a confidential informant Robert had threatened a correctional officer. Robert conducted a hunger strike and was moved from maximum security into West Hall. The paperwork process was not followed and Johnson alleges the transfer was negotiated in exchange for ending the hunger strike.

Although no concrete threats or plans were known by any of the defendants, there was some ...


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