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Mitchell v. Rouse

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

February 9, 2015

JERMAINE MITCHELL, #205893, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT ROUSE, et al., Defendants.

RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

SUSAN RUSS WALKER, Chief Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is pending before the court on an amended complaint filed by Jermaine Mitchell ("Mitchell"), a paraplegic state inmate confined to a wheelchair, challenging removal of word processing functions from the computer in the law library at the Hamilton Aged and Infirmed Facility ("Hamilton"). Mitchell also alleges that this adverse action and a subsequent denial of a request for copies of state law occurred in retaliation for his filing a previous civil rights complaint and this case. In addition, Mitchell asserts that the defendants conspired against him to violate his rights. The defendants named in this case are Scott Rouse, Anne A. Hill, Bart Harmon, Katherine S. Jessip, and Al Butler, attorneys for the Alabama Department of Corrections, and Kim Thomas, Commissioner for the Alabama Department of Corrections. Mitchell seeks a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. Amended Complaint - Doc. No. 4 at 6.

The defendants filed a special report, supplemental 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 these reports as a motion for summary judgment. Order of April 17, 2012 - Doc. No. 22. 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, the plaintiff's response and documents filed in support of the response, the court concludes that the defendants' motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

"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.").[1] 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 is no genuine dispute 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 appropriate 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 defendants 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."); 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 a 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 defendants' properly supported motion for summary judgment, Mitchell 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." 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. 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 dispute of material fact exists). 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 [dispute] of material fact exists." Strickland v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co., 692 F.3d 1151, 1154 (11th Cir. 2012).

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, 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 Mitchell has failed to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact in order to preclude entry of summary judgment. Matsushita, supra .

III. DISCUSSION[2]

Mitchell alleges that in November 2011, during his confinement at Hamilton, the defendants ordered the removal of the word processing functions from the computer in the law library. Amended Complaint - Doc. No. 4 at 3. Mitchell maintains that this action denied him the right of access to the courts and constituted a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq., as it deprived him of one method by which to prepare and print legal documents. Id. at 1-3. Mitchell also alleges that this action occurred in retaliation for his filing a prior federal civil rights action addressing conditions of confinement in the state prison system. Id. at 4. In an amendment to the complaint, Mitchell further complains that the defendants continued to retaliate against him by failing to update the computer with "new case law rulings" and refusing to provide him copies of the Alabama Correctional Incentive time in act form rather than statute form. Amendment to the Complaint - Doc. No. 19 at 2. Finally, Mitchell asserts that each of the actions about which he complains occurred as the result of a conspiracy among the defendants.

The defendants deny each of the plaintiff's claims for relief. Specifically, defendants Thomas, Rouse, Harmon, Jessip and Butler aver that they had no involvement, direct or otherwise, with the removal of word processing functions from the law library computer at Hamilton. Defendants' Exhibit C to the Special Report - Doc. No. 17-3, Defendants' Exhibit D to the Special Report - Doc. No. 17-4, Defendants' Exhibit E to the Special Report - Doc. No. 17-5, Defendants' Exhibit F to the Special Report - Doc. No. 17-6 and Defendants' Exhibit H to the Special Report - Doc. No. 17-8. Defendant Hill, however, acknowledges that in November of 2011 she "did approve the request by our [Information Technology] Department to remove all unauthorized software from all law library computers across the state [as] computers placed in the institution [are] for the sole purpose of conducting legal research." Defendants' Exhibit G to the Special Report - Doc. No. 17-7 at 1. During the relevant period of time, Henry M. Redden served as the Director of Information Technology for the Alabama Department of Corrections. Mr. Redden explains that the decision to remove all unauthorized software from the law library computers occurred upon his department's receipt of a notification advising that "the provider of legal research material was changing [to LexisNexis] and the replacement software would need to be installed on the law library equipment. Prior to this request, there had been occurrences of unauthorized and unlicensed software being loaded on this equipment. The law library equipment is for the sole purpose of inmate legal research." Defendants' Exhibit L to the Supplemental Special Report - Doc. No. 21-2 at 1-2. To complete the software transition, a member of the Information Technology Department was "required [to make] a site visit to each institution with a law library system... to upgrade the research material. With this requirement, it was determined that we would reload the equipment with the new law research product and only approved software as defined by the ADOC Legal Division. In addition, we secured the administration of the equipment to the point that only Information Systems' staff can add or update the software. Information Systems is notified of updates to the research material. At that point, technicians are dispatched to update the systems." Id. at 2. LexisNexis furnishes updated material on a quarterly basis and this information is downloaded to the institutional computer systems at this time. Id .; Defendants' Exhibit K to the Supplemental Special Report - Doc. No. 21-1.

The only probative evidence before the court demonstrates that defendants Thomas, Rouse, Harmon, Jessip and Butler were not involved with the decision to remove word processing programs from the law library computer systems. The evidentiary materials further demonstrate that defendant Hill was the sole defendant with any involvement in the challenged action, as she approved the removal of unauthorized and/or unlicensed word processing programs from the computer systems within the law libraries. In addition, the undisputed evidentiary materials establish that, throughout his confinement at Hamilton, Mitchell has been allowed access to the law library and afforded the opportunity to ask inmate law clerks for assistance with conducting research and preparing legal documents. Defendants' Exhibit B to the Special Report - Doc. No. 17-2 at 1 ("[T]he facility has inmate law library workers that are required to help other inmates according to their needs. Inmate Mitchell was advised in March of 2010 that if he needed assistance, help would be provided.").

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

"[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 Committee to Stop the War, 418 U.S. 208, 218-219 (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[.]' Baker v. Carr, 369 ...


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