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Golston v. Hetzel

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

January 26, 2015

ANTHONY GOLSTON, #143325, Plaintiff,
GARY HETZEL, et al., Defendants.


WALLACE CAPEL, Jr., Magistrate Judge.


This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is pending before the court on a complaint filed by Anthony Golston ("Golston") challenging a myriad of conditions of confinement, the violation of administrative procedures and an alleged use of excessive force against him on December 8, 2010 during his incarceration at the Easterling Correctional Facility ("Easterling"). The plaintiff names Warden Gary Hetzel, Warden Kenneth Sconyers, Capt. Gwendoly Babers, Sgt. Kerry Williams and Sgt. Matthew Enfinger as defendants in this cause of action. The plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, monetary damages and "whatever else the Court deem[s] appropriate." Complaint-Doc. No. 1 at 4.[1]

The defendants filed a special report and supporting evidentiary materials addressing the plaintiff's claims for relief. Pursuant to the orders entered in this case, the court deems it appropriate to treat this report as a motion for summary judgment. Order of January 31, 2012-Doc. No. 15. Thus, this case is now pending on the defendants' motion for summary judgment. Upon consideration of this motion, the evidentiary materials filed in support thereof and the plaintiff's response, the court concludes that the defendants' motion for summary judgment is due to be granted in part and denied in part.


"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.").[2] 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 assert that they have met their evidentiary burden and demonstrated the absence of any genuine dispute of material fact with respect to the claims presented by the plaintiff. Based on the foregoing, 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, Golston 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." 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 v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1564 n.6 (11th Cir. 1997) (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) ("Mere 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 74 th 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 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 323-24 (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 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, Golston, through the submission of his sworn complaint and affidavit, has demonstrated a genuine dispute of material fact in order to preclude entry of summary judgment on his excessive force and failure to protect claims. The defendants, however, are entitled to summary judgment on Golston's remaining claims for relief.


In his complaint, Golston alleges that during his incarceration at Easterling the facility was overcrowded, understaffed and underfunded causing a myriad of alleged unconstitutional conditions and actions to occur. The challenged conditions and actions presented by Golston include the following allegations: (a) Segregation cells are in various stages of disrepair, i.e., broken or missing windows, leaking sinks/toilets, missing paint and inadequate lighting; (b) Chain locks on segregation doors create a security hazard; (c) The segregation unit is not properly ventilated; (d) Some segregation cells cannot be monitored by the cubicle officer; (e) Officers do not conduct 30-minute cell checks; (f) At times, raw sewage enters the cells and tiers; (g) Certain segregation cells have only a small window in the door; (h) No classification system exists to determine cell assignments; (i) Food is served through rusted tray slots; (j) On occasion, segregation inmates are served different menu items from general population inmates, i.e., population was served french fries whereas segregation received boiled potatoes and population had a choice between coffee and juice while segregation was provided only coffee; (k) Meals are not transported in insulated containers and the food is often cold; (l) Black inmates are not furnished lotion for their skin, grease for their scalp or hairbrushes which causes some inmates to suffer irritation to affected areas; (m) The water pressure is inadequate for showering and tastes foul absent ice; (n) Institutional rules are not posted for review by inmates; (o) Walkways are not covered and inmates are exposed to the elements when walking to/from the health care unit, chow hall and other areas of Easterling; (p) The law library is inadequate and segregation inmates lack access to necessary legal materials and assistance; (q) Segregation cells are inappropriate in size to house more than one inmate; (r) Inmates are denied personal shoes and issued only blue slippers while in segregation; (s) Inmate jobs and educational opportunities are limited and accessible only by inmates with appropriate institutional records; (t) Some privileges are denied inmates in segregation; (u) Inmates are charged a $3.00 co-pay for medical treatment and a $1.00 processing fee upon receipt of a money order; (v) Unauthorized forms are used to initiate citations and disciplinaries against inmates; (w) Access to dental care is limited solely to inmates with chronic ailments; (x) Correctional officers confiscated his white state-issued jeans upon his arrival at Easterling while other inmates were allowed to maintain possession of their white jeans; and (y) Correctional officials disregard administrative regulations in dealing with inmates both in segregation and general population. Golston also alleges that Officer Matthew Enfinger subjected him to excessive force on the evening of December 8, 2010 by repeatedly punching him in the face absent provocation or need for the use of force while Sgt. Kerry Williams failed to intervene to protect him from this assault.


A. Absolute Immunity

With respect to the alleged constitutional violations Golston lodges against the defendants in their official capacities, they are entitled to absolute immunity from monetary damages. 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 [or her] 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, the defendants are entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment for claims seeking monetary damages from them in their official capacities for asserted violations of Golston's constitutional rights. Lancaster, 116 F.3d at 1429; Jackson v. Ga. Dep't of Transp., 16 F.3d 1573, 1575 (11th Cir. 1994).

B. Speculative Claims

To the extent Golston presents claims based on a fear of conditions or actions which could have but did not occur during his incarceration at Easterling, these claims do not warrant constitutional protection. Mere suppositious allegations that conditions could subsequently result in constitutional violations and/or that prison officials may at some time in the future act unfavorably towards an inmate fail to implicate a constitutionally protected interest. Conner v. Sticher, 801 F.2d 1266, 1268 (11th Cir. 1986) (plaintiff's subjective belief harm may occur provides no basis for relief); Cotterall v. Paul, 755 F.2d 777, 780 (11th Cir. 1985) (jurisdiction cannot be premised upon mere speculation); Carter v. Heard, 593 F.2d 10 (5th Cir. 1979) (Relief is not warranted when "the injury which [plaintiff's] pleadings contemplate is fancied, not real; prospective, not actual; and imagined, not threatened."). Thus, claims based on possible future adverse actions or conditions are subject to dismissal as these claims are purely speculative and without constitutional implication.

C. Lack of Standing-Claims Alleged on Behalf of Other Inmates

Standing is a cornerstone of American jurisprudence on which jurisdiction lies. "[A] litigant may only assert his own constitutional rights or immunities." McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 429 (1961) (citing United States v. Raines, 362 U.S. 17, 22 (1960)); Schlesinger v. Reservists Comm. to Stop the War, 418 U.S. 208, 218-19 (1974) (plaintiff must assert a legally cognizable injury in fact before federal courts have jurisdiction). "The essence of a standing question is whether the plaintiff has alleged such a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy as to assure that concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of issues upon which the court so largely depends for the illumination of difficult constitutional questions[.]'" Saladin v. City of Milledgeville, 812 F.2d 687, 690 (11th Cir. 1987) (quoting Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 204 (1962)); Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297, 320 (1981) (same).

Standing involves two aspects. The first is the minimum "case or controversy" constitutional requirement of Article III. Saladin, 812 F.2d at 690. "To satisfy this irreducible' constitutional minimum required for standing, a litigant must show 1) that he personally has suffered an actual or prospective injury as a result of the putatively illegal conduct; 2) that the injury can be fairly traced to the challenged conduct; and 3) that the injury is likely to be redressed through court action." Saladin, 812 F.2d at 690 (citing Valley Forge Christian Coll. v. Ams. United for Separation of Church and State, 454 U.S. 464, 472 (1982)); Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 499 (1975). If any element is lacking, a plaintiff's claim is not viable. In addition, the Supreme Court has established several requirements based on prudential considerations. Saladin, 812 F.2d at 690.

The Supreme Court has also stated that, in addition to these essential constitutional requirements, a court should consider the case in light of three principles which might counsel judicial constraint, referred to as "prudential" considerations.... Those considerations are 1) whether the plaintiff's complaint falls within the zone of interests protected by the statute or constitutional provision at issue; 2) whether the complaint raises abstract questions amounting to generalized grievances which are more appropriately resolved by the legislative branches; and 3) whether the plaintiff is asserting his or her own legal rights and interests rather than the legal rights and interests of third parties.

Id. (internal citations omitted).

The instant complaint references claims relative to conditions of confinement and actions to which other inmates may or were subjected during their confinement at Easterling. With respect to the claims arising from alleged violations of other inmates' constitutional rights, Golston is not "asserting [his]... own legal rights and interests [but] rather... the legal rights and interests of third parties." Id. In accordance with applicable federal law as set forth herein, Golston lacks standing to assert these claims. Summary judgment on such claims is due to be granted in favor of the defendants. This court will henceforth address those claims for which standing exists.

D. Conditions at Easterling

The correctional defendants deny that the conditions made the basis of the instant complaint rise to the level of constitutional violations. Warden Sconyers addresses these claims as follows:

Inmate Golston complains that numerous physical structures and equipment including segregation cells, toilets, windows, sinks, doors, etc. are disfunctional (sic). That is incorrect. In addition, our maintenance personnel work closely with our Segregation Commander and Shift Supervisors to ensure that the ongoing needs for repairs throughout the institution are quickly satisfied.
Chains [which] are attached to doors can be easily removed without the use of keys. They exist to prevent inmates from kicking and/or rigging cell doors to open without authorization. Cell[s] are ventilated by a large window at the rear of each individual cell, a small viewing window approximately 6" × 6" in the door, and a space below the door. Exhaust fans are utilized to increase air flow if needed. All cell doors can be viewed from the cubicle. Inmates inside some cells do not have a direct view of the cubicle operator. Regular cell checks at 30 minute or less intervals are routinely conducted and counts of individual cells occur a minimum of six times daily. Documentation is affixed to each cell door to ensure that no cell occupant is housed with a known enemy. The Classification Unit works closely with the Wardens and Segregation Commander to ensure safety to each inmate assigned [to segregation].
Segregation inmates receive the same portions of food items as population inmates. Food is transported from the Kitchen to the Segregation Unit via enclosed thermal trays that are adequately designed to maintain proper food temperature. Food trays are passed through openings (Tray Doors) in each cell door. Tray doors are routinely painted to eliminate rust.
No inmates in Segregation are allowed to possess items that promote homosexual activity and violence, i.e. grease, lotions. There is no discrimination applied to black or white inmates [regarding possession of grease, lotion or other restricted items]. The water used by Segregation inmates is the same as that used by personnel throughout the facility without complaint. Each cell is equipped with hot and cold running water. Ice is provided with the drink served during each meal. Additional ice is provided during hot weather. Segregation cells are routinely cleaned by the occupants, by assigned inmates prior to filling an empty cell, and during other times as needed. There are no mirrors in individual cells. Mirrors for shaving are located in shower areas.
Inmates are not placed in segregation as a result of receiving Behavior Citations. Inmates are often placed in Administrative Segregation pending further investigation [of potential rules violations]. Some inmates receive formal disciplinary action as a result of the investigation. Investigations often clear some inmate suspects who are then released from investigative status. Upon their release, they may either receive a Behavior Citation for a lesser charge or receive no action. Inmates do not remain in disciplinary status past their out dates. Except in extreme incidents such as riots or disturbances will three inmates be temporarily housed in a Segregation cell. I have no knowledge of the restriction of any privileges to Inmate Golston except those imposed through approved disciplinary action.
Inmates in the Segregation Unit are issued one set of prison whites in order to be escorted to the Health Care Unit and other necessary locations. Jumpsuits, which are also issued, have no belt loops for the placement of belly chains. All inmates assigned to the Segregation Unit are issued slip on shoes that have no shoelaces that can be used for illegal purposes. Inmates' laundry in the Segregation Unit is collected and returned at a minimal of three days per week and as often as daily during weekdays. I have seen no complaint other than that of Inmate Golston as to clothing being wet upon return from the laundry.
Inmate Golston is correct that the institutions are crowded. The Department of Corrections determines the number of inmates assigned to our facility. Noise is not excessive. There are no areas of the institution where raw sewage is standing.
Every inmate is required to attend an orientation program upon arrival to Easterling. There he is apprised of rules, regulations, and procedures of the institution. Institutional Inmate Handbooks are available for review in each dormitory cubicle and the law library. Additional rules are listed in the daily inmate newsletter and on bulletin boards in each dorm.
Easterling is a large open facility with individual dorms arranged around the inner perimeter. Covered walkways exist along the areas near the Trade School, Kitchen, Health Care Unit, and Receiving Unit. The are no walkways extending from dorm to dorm.
The law library is adequately equipped with up to date references on compact disc. Inmates in Segregation may request legal references and materials twice per week from the law library personnel Population law library time is granted daily upon written request.
As approved by the Department of Corrections, inmates are charged a $1.00 processing fee for all money orders received.
Inmates who sign up for sick call are sometimes treated by Nurse Practitioners. If a medical need exists, an appointment is scheduled [by the reviewing nurse]. Emergency medical attention is provided for serious illnesses. Dental cleanings are prioritized [by health care personnel] for those inmates whose dental care is necessary due to their health and/or condition such as diabetes [but all inmates are allowed access to dental treatment]. A $3.00 co-pay is charged each time any inmate signs up for sick call screening. Inmates on the Chronic Care program are exempt from this charge.
Our facility strives to provide and practice the fair and consistent treatment of our assigned inmates.

Exh. B to the Defendants' Special Report-Doc. ...

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