United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE
WALLACE CAPEL, Jr., Magistrate Judge.
I. INTRODUCTION AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is pending before the court on an amended complaint filed by Raymond Broadnax ["Broadnax"], an indigent state inmate, on February 9, 2012. In this complaint, Broadnax alleges that his parole consideration date was improperly delayed from May 25, 2011, until June 29, 2011. Broadnax further challenges the constitutionality of the decision to deny him parole issued by members of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles as a result of this hearing and the conditions of confinement to which he has been subjected since this denial of parole. The defendants in this cause of action are Bill Wynne, Robert Longshore and Cliff Walker, members of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Parole, Kim Thomas, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, and David Barber, a former District Attorney for Jefferson County, Alabama. Broadnax seeks issuance of declaratory relief, a new parole consideration hearing before an independent body that will not utilize his criminal history in the decision-making process and monetary damages. Amended Complaint - Doc. No. 14 at 4.
The defendants filed special reports, supported by relevant evidentiary materials, addressing Broadnax's claims for relief. Pursuant to the orders entered in this case, the court deems it appropriate to treat these reports as motions for summary judgment. Order of April 25, 2012 - Doc. No. 40. Thus, this case is now pending on the defendants' motions for summary judgment. Upon consideration of these motions, the evidentiary materials filed in support thereof and Broadnax's responses in opposition to the reports, the court concludes that the defendants' motions for summary judgment are 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. 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 322-24.
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 [parole] 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 motions for summary judgment, Broadnax is required to produce "sufficient [favorable] evidence" which would be admissible at trial supporting his claims for relief. 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." Id. at 249-50. "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, 1576-77 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 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, 115 F.3d at 1564 n.6 (A 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) ("[M]ere verification of party's own conclusory allegations is not sufficient to oppose summary judgment...."); Evers v. Gen. 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. Sw. Forest Indus., 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 Prop. Located at 5800 SW 74th Ave., Miami, Fla., 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. Sec'y of the Dep't of Children and Family Servs., 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 that there is no genuine dispute of material fact and that the party moving for summary judgment is entitled to it as a matter of law, summary judgment is proper. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24 (Summary judgment is appropriate where pleadings, evidentiary materials and affidavits before the court show there is no genuine dispute as to a requisite material fact.); Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., Inc., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001) (To establish a genuine dispute of material fact, the nonmoving party must produce evidence such that a 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, Broadnax fails to demonstrate a requisite genuine dispute of material fact as is necessary to preclude summary judgment.
III. RELEVANT MATERIAL FACTS
In 1994, Broadnax was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment for this conviction. At the time Broadnax filed the instant action, he had been considered for parole on two occasions, in the latter part of 2005 and in June of 2011, but was denied parole after each parole consideration hearing. Defendant Barber submitted a letter to the Parole Board prior to the 2005 parole consideration hearing in which he requested that the Board deny Broadnax release on parole "due to the heinous nature of the crime for which [Broadnax] had been convicted." Exhibit 1 in Support of Defendant Barber's Special Report - Doc. No. 35-1. In this letter, Barber set forth the circumstances of Broadnax's murder conviction which indicated that Broadnax fired several shots at the victim as the victim fled the scene striking him "three times, twice in the back and once in the head.... He then callously left [the victim's] lifeless body lying out in the open while he hid the weapon [at a separate location] and then returned to the scene of the crime, only to go inside the apartment to sleep." Exhibit 3 in Support of Defendant Barber's Special Report - Doc. No. 35-3 at 1-2. Deputy District Attorney T. Michael Anderton appeared at Broadnax's June 29, 2011 at which time he likewise "requested that... parole be denied due to the heinous nature" of the murder. Exhibit 2 in Support of Defendant Barber's Special Report - Doc. No. 35-2. The evidentiary materials submitted by the parole defendants demonstrate that the denial of parole occurred because Broadnax failed to persuade members of the Parole Board that he is an acceptable risk for release on parole. Exhibits B, C and D in Support of the Parole Defendants' Special Report - Court Doc. No. 39-1 at 2-7.
IV. ABSOLUTE IMMUNITY
Official capacity lawsuits are "in all respects other than name, ... treated as a suit against the entity." Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985).
A state official may not be sued in his official capacity unless the state has waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity, see Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100, 104 S.Ct. 900, 908, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984), or Congress has abrogated the state's immunity, see Seminole Tribe v. Florida, [517 U.S. 44, 59], 116 S.Ct. 1114, 1125, 134 L.Ed.2d 252 (1996). Alabama has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity, see Carr v. City of Florence, 916 F.2d 1521, 1525 (11th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted), and Congress has not abrogated Alabama's immunity. Therefore, Alabama state officials are immune from claims brought against them in their official capacities.
Lancaster v. Monroe Cnty., 116 F.3d 1419, 1429 (11th Cir. 1997).
In light of the foregoing and under the facts of this case, the defendants are entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment for claims seeking monetary damages from them in their official capacities. Id .; Jackson v. Ga. Dep't of Transp., 16 F.3d 1573, 1575 (11th Cir. 1994); Parker v. Williams, 862 F.2d 1471 (11th Cir. 1989).
V. MONETARY DAMAGES - INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY CLAIMS
Broadnax seeks monetary damages from defendants Wynne, Longshore and Walker for actions relative to the denial of parole. This Circuit has long recognized that parole board officials are entitled to quasi-judicial immunity from suits requesting damages based upon decisions to grant, deny or revoke parole. Fuller v. Ga. State Bd. of Pardons and Parole, 851 F.2d 1307 (11th Cir. 1988); Cruz v. Skelton, 502 F.2d 1101, 1101-02 (5th Cir. 1974). All of the actions about which Broadnax complains arose during proceedings concerning the denial of his parole in June of 2011. Under these circumstances, the actions of parole officials are inextricably intertwined with their decision-making authority and they are therefore immune from damages. Consequently, the plaintiff's claim for monetary damages against the parole board members in their individual capacities is due to be summarily dismissed.
VI. DISCUSSION OF CLAIMS
Broadnax asserts that defendant Barber and his successors in office provided false information to the Parole Board and complains that during the 2011 parole consideration process parole board members relied on this erroneous information to deny him parole. Amended Complaint - Doc. No. 1 at 3. Broadnax also contends that the failure to release him on parole resulted in his confinement in unconstitutional conditions, denied him equal protection and violated the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Constitution. Id. at 2-3. Broadnax further alleges that the parole defendants deprived him of due process when they (i) failed to conduct his second parole consideration hearing on the originally scheduled date and delayed the hearing for a few weeks, (ii) acted arbitrarily and capriciously in determining the dates of his consideration hearings and denying him parole, (iii) did not allow him an opportunity to review his parole file and present arguments in favor of parole, (iv) failed to provide him or his family members notice of the June 29, 2011, parole consideration hearing, (v) did not provide him a reason for the denial of parole, and (v) created a liberty interest in release on parole by scheduling parole consideration hearings. Amended Complaint - Doc. No. 1 at 2-34. Finally, Broadnax maintains that the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to effectuate the denial of parole. Under applicable federal law, these claims entitle Broadnax to no relief from this court.
A. False Information
Broadnax alleges that defendant Barber and his successors submitted false information to the parole board for its consideration in determining his suitability for release on parole. Amended Complaint - Doc. No. 1 at 1. He further complains that the parole defendants deprived him of due process when they relied on this information to deny him parole. Id. The defendants do not admit that the information utilized in the parole decision-making process is false and categorically deny any knowing submission of or reliance on false information. Exhibits B, C and D in Support of the Parole Defendants' Special Report - Court Doc. No. 39-1 at 2-7; Exhibit 1 in Support of Defendant Barber's Special Report - Doc. No. 35-1; Exhibit 2 in Support of Defendant Barber's Special Report - Doc. No. 35-2.
In Monroe v. Thigpen, 932 F.2d 1437 (11th Cir. 1991), the court held that reliance on admittedly false information to deny a prisoner consideration for parole was arbitrary and capricious treatment violative of the Constitution. The appellate court, however, carefully distinguished the holding in Monroe from its prior decision in Slocum.
Our holding today does not conflict with our earlier holding in Slocum, supra. In Slocum, the plaintiff, who had been denied parole, made the conclusory allegation that the Board must have relied upon erroneous information because otherwise the Board would surely have granted him parole. Slocum, 678 F.2d at 941. The plaintiff then sought to assert a due process right to examine his prison file for the alleged errors. Unlike the instant case, in Slocum the state did not admit that it had relied upon false information in denying parole nor did the plaintiff present any evidence that his prison file even contained any false information. We held in Slocum that prisoners do not state a due process claim by merely asserting that erroneous information may have been used during their parole consideration. Id. at 942. We also determined that prisoners do not have a due process right to examine their prison files as part of a general fishing expedition in search of false information that could possibly exist in their files. Id. In the case at bar, we are confronted with prison authorities who admit that information contained in Monroe's files is false and that they relied ...