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Barfield v. Hetzel

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

January 29, 2015

KEVIN BARFIELD, #185340, Plaintiff,
v.
GARY HETZEL, Defendant.

RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

TERRY F. MOORER, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is pending before the court on a complaint filed by Kevin Barfield ("Barfield") challenging a myriad of conditions of confinement at the Easterling Correctional Facility ("Easterling"). The sole defendant remaining in this case is Warden Gary Hetzel. Barfield seeks a declaratory judgment and transfer to a correctional facility closer to his home. Complaint - Doc. No. 1 at 6.

The defendant 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 July 2, 2012 - Doc. No. 15. Thus, this case is now pending on the defendant's motion for summary judgment. Upon consideration of this motion, the evidentiary materials filed in support thereof, the plaintiff's response and the documents filed in support of the response, the court concludes that the defendant's motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.[1]

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.").[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); Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 64 F.3d 590, 593 (11th Cir. 1995) (moving party has initial burden of showing there are no genuine issues of material fact for trial.). 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. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-324.

The defendant has met his 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."); Jeffery, 64 F.3d at 593-594 (internal quotation marks omitted) (Once the moving party meets its burden, "the non-moving party must then go beyond the pleadings, and by its own affidavits [or sworn statements], or by depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, " demonstrate that there is no genuine dispute of material fact.). This court will also consider "specific facts" pled in a plaintiff's sworn complaint when considering his opposition to summary judgment. Caldwell v. Warden, FCI Talladega, 748 F.3d 1090, 1098 (11th Cir. 2014). 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; Allen v. Bd. of Public Education for Bibb County, 495 F.3d 1306, 1313 (11th Cir. 2007).

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, 126 S.Ct. 2572, 2578, 165 L.Ed.2d 697 (2006) (internal citation omitted). Consequently, to survive the defendant's properly supported motion for summary judgment, Barfield 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); Rule 56(e), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. "If the evidence [on which the nonmoving party relies] is merely colorable... or is not significantly probative... summary judgment may be granted." Id. at 249-250. "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. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2512, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)." Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1576-1577 (11th Cir. 1990). 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. 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.); Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1023 (11th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (summary judgment appropriate where no genuine issues of material fact exist). At the summary judgment stage, this court must "consider all evidence in the record.... [including] pleadings, depositions, interrogatories, affidavits, etc. - and can only grant summary judgment if everything in the record demonstrates that no genuine issue of material fact exists.").

For summary judgment purposes, only disputes involving material facts are relevant. United States v. One Piece of Real Property Located at 5800 SW 74 th 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, 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, 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, 126 S.Ct. at 2576; 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. The court has undertaken a thorough and exhaustive review of all the evidence contained in the record. After such review, the court finds that Barfield has failed to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact in order to preclude entry of summary judgment. Matsushita, supra .

III. CLAIMS FOR RELIEF

In his complaint, Barfield alleges that during his confinement at Easterling the facility has been overcrowded, understaffed and underfunded causing various alleged unconstitutional conditions and actions to occur. The challenged conditions and actions presented by Barfield include the following allegations: (a) The law library is too small, maintains insufficient legal references, contains inadequate research tools and fails to provide inmates sufficient time to conduct research; (b) The water feels slimy and is irritating to the skin; (c) The kitchen is equipped with unsafe equipment; (d) Meals are inadequate; (e) He is forced to travel to the kitchen and other areas of the facility during times of inclement weather without an umbrella or raincoat; (f) Officers have threatened him with disciplinary actions; (g) An unidentified doctor ordered some inmates removed from the wellness diet; (h) Food trays and cups are not properly cleaned; (i) Drinks are served to inmates from containers in close proximity to trash cans; (j) Windows are missing screens; (k) Snakes have been killed at the facility; and (l) Inmates are charged a $3.00 co-pay for medical screening, a $3.00 fee for replacement of wristbands lost/damaged/destroyed by inmates, and a $1.00 processing fee upon receipt of a money order.

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Absolute Immunity

With respect to the alleged constitutional violations Barfield lodges against defendant Hetzel in his official capacity, the defendant is 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 County, 116 F.3d 1419, 1429 (11th Cir. 1997).

In light of the foregoing, the defendant is entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment for claims seeking monetary damages from him in his official capacity for asserted violations of Barfield's constitutional rights. Lancaster, 116 F.3d at 1429; Jackson v. Georgia Department of Transportation, 16 F.3d 1573, 1575 (11th Cir. 1994).

B. Threats

Barfield contends that correctional officers threatened him with disciplinary action on two separate occasions with respect to his receipt of a wellness diet. Complaint-Doc. No. 1 at 3. This claim entitles Barfield to no relief.

To state a viable claim for relief in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, the conduct complained of must have deprived the plaintiff of rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution. American Manufacturers Mutual Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40 (1999); Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981); Willis v. University Health Services, Inc., 993 F.2d 837, 840 (11th Cir. 1993). Derogatory, demeaning, profane, threatening or abusive comments made by an officer to an inmate, no matter how repugnant or unprofessional, do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Edwards v. Gilbert, 867 F.2d 1271, 1274 n.1 (11th Cir. 1989) (mere verbal taunts, despite their distressing nature, directed at inmate by jailers do not violate inmate's constitutional rights); Ayala v. Terhune, 195 Fed.Appx. 87, 92 (3rd Cir. 2006) ("[A]llegations of verbal abuse, no matter how deplorable, do not present actionable claims under § 1983."); McBride v. Deer, 240 F.3d 1287, 1291 n.3 (10th Cir. 2001) ("[A]cts... resulting in an inmate being subjected to nothing more than threats and verbal taunts do not violate the Eighth Amendment."); Sims v. Hickok, 185 F.3d 875 (10th Cir. 1999) (district court's summary dismissal of inmate's complaint for failure to state a claim appropriate because officer's insults and racial slurs did not amount to a constitutional violation); Siglar v. Hightower, 112 F.3d 191, 193 (5th Cir. 1997) (verbal abuse, even if racially or ethnically motivated, does not give rise to a cause of action under § 1983); Northington v. Jackson, 973 F.2d 1518, 1524 (10th Cir. 1992) (mere threats, even to inmate's life, made by guard do not satisfy the objective component of the Eighth Amendment as verbal threats and harassment are "necessarily excluded from the cruel and unusual punishment inquiry...."); Ivey v. Wilson, 832 F.2d 950, 954-955 (6th Cir. 1987) (verbal abuse alone is not violative of the Eighth Amendment); O'Donnell v. Thomas, 826 F.2d 788, 790 (8th Cir. 1987) ("alleged verbal threats by jail officials... did not rise to the level of a constitutional violation."); Gaul v. Sunn, 810 F.2d 923, 925 (9th Cir. 1987) (Eighth Amendment trivialized by assertion that mere threat constitutes a constitutional wrong); Purcell v. Coughlin, 790 F.2d 263, 265 (2nd Cir. 1986) (mere name-calling did not violate inmate's constitutional rights); Collins v. Cundy, 603 F.2d 825, 827 (10th Cir. 1979) (verbal abuse, including threat of harm, not actionable under § 1983). Thus, Barfield fails to state a cognizable claim with respect to the threats lodged against him by correctional officers and this claim is therefore due to be dismissed in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

C. Respondeat Superior

Barfield also asserts that a doctor at Easterling ordered that certain inmates be removed from the wellness diet and complains that officers sometimes caused him to miss his meals. Complaint - Doc. No. 1 at 3. Defendant Hetzel denies that he ever denied Barfield his wellness diet or ordered any other official to prohibit Barfield from receiving a wellness diet. Hetzel also asserts he had no involvement with any action by which Barfield was denied a meal. The court assumes arguendo that Barfield was one of the ...


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