United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE
SUSAN RUSS WALKER, Chief 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 Jermaine Mitchell ("Mitchell"), an indigent state inmate confined at the Hamilton Aged and Infirmed Facility ("Hamilton"). Doc. No. 5. Mitchell subsequently filed an amendment to the complaint on November 29, 2012. Doc. No. 35. In these pleadings, Mitchell alleges, inter alia, that the defendants violated various state statutes during the parole consideration process which resulted in the decision to deny him parole on January 25, 2012. Mitchell also challenges the constitutionality of the parole consideration process and the decision to deny him parole. The defendants in this cause of action are William Wynne, Jr., Robert Longshore and Cliff Walker, members of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles; Robert Bentley, Governor of the State of Alabama; and Kim Thomas, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections. Mitchell seeks declaratory relief, production of various parole documents and a new parole consideration hearing conducted in a fair manner.
The defendants filed special reports 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 each of these reports as a motion for summary judgment. Order of June 11, 2012 - Doc. No. 27; see also Order of June 27, 2012 - Doc. No. 29. 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, the sworn complaint, the plaintiff's responses to the reports, including relevant affidavits and documents, the court concludes that the defendants' motions for summary judgment are 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."). 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. Mitchell 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 [and 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, 126 S.Ct. 2572, 2578, 165 L.Ed.2d 697 (2006) (internal citation omitted). Consequently, to survive the defendants' properly supported motions 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 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 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. MATERIAL FACTS
Mitchell is currently confined in the custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections on convictions for first degree robbery and first degree kidnapping imposed upon him by the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama. Exhibit A to the Special Report of Defendant Thomas - Doc. No. 16-1 at 2. On December 19, 2012, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles requested a warden's report on Mitchell from the warden of Hamilton for use in Mithchell's upcoming parole hearing. Id. at 4. Warden Freddie Butler compiled the requested report and provided it to the parole board. Id. The report detailed Mitchell's criminal convictions and disciplinary history, and also advised that Mitchell was confined to a wheelchair due to a medical condition. Id. at 2-4. Prior to conducting the parole hearing, parole board members also had possession of the Pre-Sentence Report prepared at the time of Mitchell's current convictions and an Institutional Parole Officer Report compiled on January 4, 2012. Exhibit 1 to the Supplemental Special Report of the Parole Defendants (Aff. of Ken Fetzer, Parole Manager of Board Operations) - Doc. No. 30-1 at 2. The Pre-Sentence Report contains details of Mitchell's robbery and kidnapping convictions, and the report of the parole officer "includes information about Mitchell's personal history, social history, criminal history and information about Mitchell's disability (his being paralyzed)." Id.
The board conducted a parole hearing and, on January 25, 2012, defendants Walker and Wynne voted to deny Mitchell parole. Exhibit 1 to the Special Report of the Parole Defendants (Report of Action by the Board) - Doc. No. 26-1 at 4. The record demonstrates that the denial of parole occurred because the voting members of the parole board did not believe that Mitchell was an acceptable risk for release on parole. Exhibit 2 to the Supplemental Special Report of the Parole Defendants (Aff. of Cliff Walker) - Doc. No. 30-2 at 2 ("I personally studied Mr. Mitchell's parole file, which included information about his personal history, social history, criminal history, the details of the offenses for each sentence under consideration, an assessment of Mr. Mitchell's adjustment during his sentence, Mr. Mitchell's proposed home [plan] and job program and information about and circumstances surrounding Mr. Mitchell's being paralyzed. In addition to considering the information in Mr. Mitchell's parole file, I also took testimony from witnesses in attendance at Mr. Mitchell's parole hearing.... When considering Mr. Mitchell for parole, I had all the required investigative reports required by law before me for review and consideration. Regardless of the fact that Mr. Mitchell is presently paralyzed, I was not of the opinion that Mr. Mitchell's release would be compatible with the welfare of society and that he could live and remain at liberty without violating the law at this time...."); Exhibit 3 to the Supplemental Special Report of the Parole Defendants (Aff. of William Wynne, Jr.) - Doc. No. 30-3 at 2 (same). The board members scheduled Mitchell's next parole consideration for December of 2016. Exhibit 1 to the Special Report of the Parole Defendants (Report of Action by the Board) - Doc. No. 26-1 at 4
IV. DISCUSSION OF CLAIMS
Mitchell asserts that the defendants deprived him of fair consideration for parole in violation of his due process right, as the decision to deny parole allegedly arose from arbitrary and capricious actions. Amended Complaint - Doc. No. 5 at 5. In support of this assertion, Mitchell alleges that the defendants deprived him of due process in the parole consideration process by (1) failing to provide him copies of the information contained in his parole file, the statutes governing parole, and the rules and regulations of the parole board; (2) failing to explain the factors on which the parole board members relied in determining that he was not suited for release on parole; (3) failing to provide him specific reasons for the denial of parole; (5) denying him the opportunity to review the information contained in his parole file; (6) denying him the opportunity to present arguments in favor of parole personally; (7) failing to investigate community reaction to his potential release, the nature and extent of his disability, and community programs which might be available to him under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq., if he was released on parole; (8) basing the decision to deny parole on mere opinions; and (9) depriving him of his liberty interest in parole. Amended Complaint - Doc. No. 5 at 5-15. Mitchell also asserts that defendants Walker and Wynne relied on false information - i.e., two disciplinaries issued against him in July of 2011 - to deny him parole. Amendment to the Complaint - Doc. No. 35 at 2; Affidavit in Support of Response - Doc. No. 28-1 at 3. Mitchell further challenges the scheduling of his next parole consideration, which was set off for five years, Amended Complaint - Doc. No. 5 at 2-3; asserts that the parole process deprived him of free speech because only documents compiled by state officials were reviewed, id. at 8-9; and argues that denial of parole constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, id. at 12. Finally, Mitchell alleges that the defendants violated several state laws during the parole consideration process and in denying him parole. Under applicable federal law, these claims entitle Mitchell to no relief from this court.
A. Respondeat Superior
Defendants Wynne and Walker are the only defendants who in any manner participated in the decision to deny Mitchell parole. Thus, the claims against the remaining defendants entitle Mitchell to no relief as these claims are based on theories of respondeat superior and/or vicarious liability.
The law is well settled "that Government officials may not be held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates under the theory of respondeat superior [or vicarious liability].... Robertson v. Sichel, 127 U.S. 507, 515-516, 8 S.Ct. 1286, 3 L.Ed. 203 (1888) (A public officer or agent is not responsible for the misfeasances or position wrongs, or for the nonfeasances, or negligences, or omissions of duty, of the subagents or servants or other persons properly employed by or under him, in the discharge of his official duties'). Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to... § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1948 (2009); Cottone v. Jenne, 326 F.3d 1352, 1360 (11th Cir. 2003) ("[S]upervisory officials are not liable under § 1983 for the unconstitutional acts of their subordinates on the basis of respondeat superior or vicarious liability."); Marsh v. Butler County, 268 F.3d 1014, 1035 (11th Cir. 2001) (A supervisory official "can have no respondeat superior liability for a section 1983 claim."); Gonzalez v. Reno, 325 F.3d 1228, 1234 (11th Cir.2003) (concluding supervisory officials are not liable on the basis of respondeat superior or vicarious liability); Hartley v. Parnell, 193 F.3d 1263, 1269 (11th Cir. 1999), citing Belcher v. City of Foley, 30 F.3d 1390, 1396 (11th Cir. 1994) (42 U.S.C. § 1983 does not allow a plaintiff to hold supervisory officials liable for the actions of their subordinates under either a theory of respondeat superior or vicarious liability.). "Absent vicarious liability, each Government official, his or her ...