United States District Court, Middle District of Alabama, Northern Division
RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE
CHARLES S. COODY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
This case is before the court on a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint filed by Carroll Joe Driskell. At the time of the events described in the amended complaint, Driskell was serving a ninety-nine-year sentence in Bullock Correctional Facility for rape in the first degree.(Doc. 29 p. 4). On June 21, 2011, after being found with a map of the prison and escape plans, Driskell was placed into a disciplinary segregation unit and, subsequently, was classified as a security risk to the prison. (Doc. 29 p. 12). Driskell challenges his consecutive assignment to disciplinary segregation for various rule infractions, the institutional decision to confine him in administrative segregation rather than transfer him to another facility following his completion of disciplinary segregation, and the constitutionality of various conditions of his confinement in the administrative segregation unit. (Doc. 6). Driskell names Warden Kenneth Jones, Warden Renee Mason, Captain Sylvester Nettles, Laundry Supervisor Telease Ellison, and Chief Steward Fedrick McClain as Defendants. (Doc. 6; Doc. 13 p. 1). Driskell seeks a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and monetary damages for the alleged violations of his constitutional rights.
The Defendants have filed answers, a report and supplemental report, and relevant supporting evidentiary materials, including affidavits and disciplinary reports, addressing Driskell’s claims for relief. (Doc. 13; Doc. 42). The court informed Driskell that the Defendants’ special report may, at a future time, be treated as a motion for summary judgment and explained to Driskell the proper manner in which to respond to a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 14). Driskell responded to the report and to the supplemental report. (Doc. 29; Doc. 48). Pursuant to that order, the court deems it appropriate to treat the Defendants’ report as a motion for summary judgment. Thus, this case is now pending on the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Upon consideration of this motion and the evidentiary materials filed in support thereof, the court concludes that the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
“Summary judgment is appropriate ‘if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine [dispute] as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.’” Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomm., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (citation to former rule omitted); Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 56(a) (“The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”). The party moving for summary judgment “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the [record, including pleadings, discovery materials and affidavits], which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue [- now dispute -] of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant may meet this burden by presenting evidence indicating there is no dispute of material fact or by showing that the nonmoving party has failed to present evidence in support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322-324.
The Defendants have met their evidentiary burden and demonstrated the absence of any genuine dispute of material fact. Thus, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to establish, with appropriate evidence beyond the pleadings, that a genuine dispute material to his case exists. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(3) (“If a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party’s assertion of fact by [citing to materials in the record including affidavits, relevant documents or other materials] the court may ... grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting materials -- including the facts considered undisputed -- show that the movant is entitled to it.”) A genuine dispute of material fact exists when the nonmoving party produces evidence that would allow a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict in its favor. Greenberg, 498 F.3d at 1263.
In civil actions filed by inmates, federal courts
must distinguish between evidence of disputed facts and disputed matters of professional judgment. In respect to the latter, our inferences must accord deference to the views of prison authorities. Unless a prisoner can point to sufficient evidence regarding such issues of judgment to allow him to prevail on the merits, he cannot prevail at the summary judgment stage.
Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 530 (2006) (internal citation omitted). Consequently, to survive the Defendants’ properly supported motion for summary judgment, Driskell is required to produce “sufficient [favorable] evidence” which would be admissible at trial supporting his claims of constitutional violations. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); Fed R. Civ. P. 56(e). “If the evidence [on which the nonmoving party relies] is merely colorable ... or is not significantly probative ... summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-250. “A mere ‘scintilla’ of evidence supporting the opposing party’s position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the [trier of fact] could reasonably find for that party.” Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1576-1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. 242). Conclusory allegations based on subjective beliefs are likewise insufficient to create a genuine dispute of material fact and, therefore, do not suffice to oppose a motion for summary judgment. Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1564 n.6 (11th Cir. 1997) (plaintiff’s “conclusory assertions ..., in the absence of [admissible] supporting evidence, are insufficient to withstand summary judgment.”); Harris v. Ostrout, 65 F.3d 912, 916 (11th Cir. 1995) (grant of summary judgment appropriate where inmate produces nothing beyond “his own conclusory allegations” challenging actions of the Defendants); Fullman v. Graddick, 739 F.2d 553, 557 (11th Cir. 1984) (“mere verification of party’s own conclusory allegations is not sufficient to oppose summary judgment....”); Evers v. General Motors Corp., 770 F.2d 984, 986 (11th Cir. 1985) (“[C]onclusory allegations without specific supporting facts have no probative value.”). Hence, when a plaintiff fails to set forth specific facts supported by requisite evidence sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to his case and on which the plaintiff will bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment is due to be granted in favor of the moving party. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322 (“[F]ailure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party’s case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.”); Barnes v. Southwest Forest Industries, Inc., 814 F.2d 607, 609 (11th Cir. 1987) (If on any part of the prima facie case the plaintiff presents insufficient evidence to require submission of the case to the trier of fact, granting of summary judgment is appropriate).
For summary judgment purposes, only disputes involving material facts are relevant. United States v. One Piece of Real Property Located at 5800 SW 74th Avenue, Miami, Florida, 363 F.3d 1099, 1101 (11th Cir. 2004). What is material is determined by the substantive law applicable to the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Lofton v. Secretary of the Department of Children and Family Services, 358 F.3d 804, 809 (11th Cir. 2004) (“Only factual disputes that are material under the substantive law governing the case will preclude entry of summary judgment.”). “The mere existence of some factual dispute will not defeat summary judgment unless that factual dispute is material to an issue affecting the outcome of the case.” McCormick v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 333 F.3d 1234, 1243 (11th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). To demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact, the party opposing summary judgment “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.... Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no ‘genuine [dispute] for trial.’” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). In cases where the evidence before the court which is admissible on its face or which can be reduced to admissible form indicates there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the party moving for summary judgment is entitled to it as a matter of law, summary judgment is proper. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-324 (summary judgment appropriate where pleadings, evidentiary materials and affidavits before the court show no genuine dispute as to a requisite material fact); Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Associates, Inc., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001) (to establish a genuine dispute of material fact, nonmoving party must produce evidence such that reasonable trier of fact could return a verdict in his favor).
Although factual inferences must be viewed in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party and pro se complaints are entitled to liberal interpretation by the courts, a pro se litigant does not escape the burden of establishing by sufficient evidence a genuine dispute of material fact. Beard, 548 U.S. at 525; Brown v. Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 670 (11th Cir. 1990). Thus, the plaintiff’s pro se status alone does not mandate this court’s disregard of elementary principles of production and proof in a civil case. In this case, Driskell fails to demonstrate a requisite genuine dispute of material fact in order to preclude summary judgment. Matsushita, supra.
III. Relevant Facts
Since February 20, 1987, Driskell has been serving a ninety-nine-year sentence in Alabama state prisons for rape in the first degree. (Doc. 29 p. 4; Doc. 13-8 p. 1). He is currently housed at Donaldson Correctional Facility, but, at all times relevant to his complaint, he was housed at Bullock Correctional Facility.
On June 2, 2011, Officer Marvin Pitts was roving Driskells’ dormitory and waking up the inmates to go to the yard. (Doc. 42-1 p. 4; Doc. 42-1 p. 19). When Pitts approached Driskell, Driskell presented papers showing that, for medical reasons, he was not to be subject to prolonged standing or walking. Id. Officer Pitts instructed Driskell that he was required to attend yard call but that he was allowed to sit down while attending. Id. Driskell responded: “Where the fuck do you want me to go man?” Id. Officer Pitts ordered Driskell to stop cursing and go to the yard. Id. Driskell replied: “Write it up then, cause I’m not going to the yard.” Id. Officer Pitts informed Driskell that he would be written up for violating rule #56, Failure to Obey A Direct Order of A DOC Official and rule #57, Insubordination. Id. Driskell responded: “I don’t give a fuck. I got twenty-five years in this shit.” Id. Officer Pitts notified Lt. Rebecca Bonner of the situation, and Driskell complied with Lt. Bonner’s subsequent instructions to report to the yard. Id.
On June 10th, 2011, Driskell was served with two disciplinary reports each citing him for a separate rule violation committed during the June 2 incident and notifying him that he would be required to attend a disciplinary hearing related to those violations. (Doc. 42-1 p. 18).
On June 10th, 2011, Driskell wrote the following letter addressed to Ms. C. Downing, Classification Officer at Bullock Correctional Facility:
Would you please put me in for an “increase” in custody. I want to go back to a max. prison Donaldson, Holman, St. Clair period!
I do not care what it takes please get me back to a max prison. I’ve got 2 disciplinaries on 6-10-11!! Parole is dead!!
I keep asking, no-one wants to help - listen or do!
I do not want to stay at any Level IV period. To force me to stay at these Level IV prisons is to force me into a whole another mode. I am not adjusting nor can I handle. I am not talking about waiting until my annual. Call and speak to me - but please get me back to a max prison ASAP!!!
(Doc. 42-1 p. 12) (sic).
On June 13th, 2011, Driskell received the following response to his letter demanding transfer to another prison: “Review due in 10/2011 however you do have a medical hold that will hold you up.” (Doc. 41-2 p.2).
On June 21, 2011, Driskell was discovered to be in possession of a crudely-drawn map of the prison and several sheets of paper upon which Driskell had scrawled notes of his escape plans such as “stay off the main road - find car or truck - hotwire.” (Doc. 42-1 pp. 1, 5). Driskell’s June 10th, 2011, letter demanding an increase in custody level and transfer to a maximum security prison were found and reviewed along with his escape plans. Id. When questioned about his escape plans, Driskell stated that it wouldn’t be hard to escape; that during medical transports the officers were not paying attention and were talking on cellular phones; that he walked up behind an officer while on medical transport and could have taken the officers’ weapon; that he could have taken any female in the institution hostage at any time; and that it would be easy to escape from the backgate because the officer stationed there was sitting in front of a computer so that “[a]ll you have to do is come up behind him and put a knife to his throat.” (Doc. 42-1 p. 5). Driskell further stated that the only reason he had not yet attempted to escape was because of his hernia. Id. Driskell was then escorted to the segregation unit within the prison to await a disciplinary hearing. Id.
On June 26th, 2011, a disciplinary hearing was held regarding charges stemming from the June 2, 2011, incident when Driskell cursed at Officer Pitts and refused to go to the yard. (Doc. 42-1 p. 20, 26). He was found guilty of insubordination for saying to Officer Pitts, “where the fuck do you want me to go, man, ” for which he received the following punishment: “30 days loss of store, visitation, telephone, and confine to segregation for 10 days, all to run consecutively.” (Doc. 42-1 p. 20, 27). Driskell was given a second additional, identical punishment “to run consecutively” after also being found guilty of refusing to follow a direct order when he refused to go to the yard and stated “I am not going to the yard write me up.” (Doc. 42-1 pp. 29-30).
On June 28, 2011, Driskell was served with a disciplinary notice for his possession of an escape plan. (Doc. 42-1 p. 13). At a June 29, 2011, hearing, Driskell admitted his guilt. (Doc. 42-1 p. 14). He was then found guilty of intentionally creating a security, safety, or health hazard, for which he received the following punishment: 60 days’ loss of store privileges, visiting privileges, and telephone privileges, extra duty for 60 days, and confinement to segregation for 45 days “to run consecutively.” (Doc. 42-1 p. 17). In addition, the hearing officer recommended that Driskell’s custody classification be reviewed. Id.
Subsequently, Driskell’s security classification was increased from 4 to 5. (Doc. 42-1 p. 2). After Driskell completed the time in the segregation unit mandated by his punishments for various rule violations, he continued to be administratively housed in the segregation unit not as a disciplinary punishment, but due to his security classification and the fact that he posed a threat to the security of the institution. (Doc. 42-1 p. 2; Doc. 6 p. 9; Doc. 29 p. 12).
Driskell contends that the prison violated due process and its own administrative regulations by requiring him to serve his disciplinary punishments for each rule violation consecutively. Driskell also contends that the prison’s decision to continue to confine him in administrative segregation unit rather than immediately transfer him to a maximum security prison following his completion of time assigned to disciplinary segregation constitutes a violation of equal protection and due process and unconstitutional retaliation for possession of escape plans. In addition, Driskell also contends that various conditions of his confinement in the Bullock Correctional Facility administrative segregation unit violate the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
A. Absolute Immunity