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Wheeler v. Dunn

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

April 21, 2015

MARK SHANNON WHEELER, #139044, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFERSON S. DUNN, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, [1] Defendant.

RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

CHARLES S. COODY, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 action is pending before the court on a complaint filed by Mark Shannon Wheeler ["Wheeler"], a state inmate, in which he alleges that the conditions in prison facilities run by the Alabama Department of Corrections are violative of his constitutional rights because they are overcrowded and understaffed. Wheeler contends that the defendant is acting with deliberate indifference to his health and safety by failing to alleviate the hazardous, overcrowded conditions by releasing inmates to reduce the prison population. He also contends that his Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights have been violated because the state has no mechanism for the early release of violent inmates serving life sentences. Wheeler names as the sole defendant Jefferson Dunn, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections.[2] Wheeler seeks only injunctive relief for the alleged violations of his constitutional rights. Specifically, he requests that the court "take over" the Alabama Department of Corrections and order the immediate release of inmates who have served 15 years or 85% of their sentences, regardless of whether they are violent or nonviolent offenders. (Doc. # 1 at 7).

The defendant filed a special report, supplemental reports, and supporting evidentiary material addressing Wheeler's claims. Pursuant to the orders entered herein, the court deems it appropriate to treat the defendant's report, as supplemented, as a motion for summary judgment. (Docs. # 18, 26, & 40). Thus, this case is now pending on the defendant's motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff has filed responses in opposition to the defendant's motion, as supplemented. Upon consideration of the motion, the evidentiary materials filed in support of and the plaintiff's responses in opposition to the report, as supplemented, the court concludes that the defendant's motion for summary judgment is 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][3] as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecornm., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (citation omitted) (footnote added); 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 [dispute] of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant may meet this burden by presenting evidence which would be admissible at trial 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 322-324.

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). Once the movant meets his evidentiary burden and demonstrates the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party 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(c) ("A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by: (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or (B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact."). 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.

Consequently, to survive the defendant's properly supported motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff 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). "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." Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1576-1577 (11th Cir. 1990) quoting Anderson, supra . 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. Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., 276 F.3d 1275, 1276 (11th Cir., 2001); Harris v. Ostrout, 65 F.3d 912 (11th Cir. 1995) (grant of summary judgment appropriate where inmate produces nothing beyond "his own conclusory allegations" challenging the actions of the defendants). Consequently, when a party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment is due to be granted in favor of the moving party. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322; Barnes v. Southwest Forest Industries, Inc., 814 F.2d 607 (11th Cir. 1987).

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 Dep't of Children & 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 ofFort 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, Ltd., v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

Although factual inferences must be viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, and pro se complaints are entitled to liberal interpretation by the courts, a pro se litigant does not escape the burden of establishing 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.

III. DISCUSSION

Wheeler is housed at J.O. Davis Correctional Facility but he complains that the overcrowded conditions in all facilities in the Alabama Department of Corrections constitute safety and health hazards. To the extent that Wheeler attempts to challenge conditions of confinement in any ...


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