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Johnson v. Calloway

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

February 3, 2017

CEDRIC D. JOHNSON, #159 980, Plaintiff,
BUTCH CALLOWAY, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff, a state inmate, injured himself while working as a machine operator in a meat processing plant run by the Alabama Department of Corrections. The injury occurred on March 8, 2012. At the time of the incident, Plaintiff was housed at the Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Alabama. He files this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against Butch Calloway, Food Processing Superintendent and Danny Donovan and Wesley Sanford, Meat Processing Supervisors. Plaintiff seeks damages and requests Defendants “fix all machines as required by law.” Doc. 1.

         Defendants filed an answer, special report, and supporting evidentiary materials addressing Plaintiff's claims for relief. Docs. 32, 33. Upon receipt of Defendants' special report, the court issued an order directing Plaintiff to file a response, including sworn affidavits and other evidentiary materials, and specifically cautioning Plaintiff “the court may at any time thereafter and without notice to the parties (1) treat the special report and any supporting evidentiary materials as a motion for summary judgment.” Doc. 34 at 2. Plaintiff responded to Defendants' report, see Doc. 39, but his response does not demonstrate there is any genuine issue of material fact. The court will treat Defendants' report as a motion for summary judgment, and concludes this motion is due to be resolved in favor of Defendants.


         “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); 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 indicating there is no dispute of material fact or by showing the non-moving party has failed to present evidence to support some element on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322-324.

         Defendants have met their evidentiary burden. Thus, the burden shifts to 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); Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 64 F.3d 590, 593-594 (11th Cir. 1995) (holding that, 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 there is a genuine dispute of material fact) (internal quotations omitted). 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 non-moving 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 Educ., 495 F.3d 1306, 1313 (11th Cir. 2007).

         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 by sufficient evidence a genuine dispute of material fact. See Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 525 (2006); Brown v. Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 670 (11th Cir. 1990). Plaintiff's pro se status alone does not compel this court to disregard elementary principles of production and proof in a civil case.


         On March 8, 2012, Plaintiff was working at his assigned job with the Alabama Department of Corrections Central Warehouse Meat Processing Division. The sleeve of Plaintiff's coat became entangled on the rotating arms of a meat mixing machine as he was showing another inmate how to clean it causing severe injuries to his right arm. Plaintiff files this § 1983 action alleging Defendants: 1) failed to provide a safe workplace and safe equipment because they did not maintain and/or repair safety guards on the machine Plaintiff was operating at the time of the incident; and 2) failed to train Plaintiff properly on how to operate the meat mixer. Defendants' failures, Plaintiff claims, violated the rules, regulations, and policies of the Department of Corrections' and state and federal laws. Doc. 1.


         A. Statute of Limitations

         Defendants move for summary judgment on the ground, among others, that Plaintiff's complaint is barred by the statute of limitations applicable to § 1983 actions. Doc. 33 at 8-9. According to the complaint, the actions about which Plaintiff complains occurred on March 8, 2012. Plaintiff signed his complaint on March 9, 2014, which the court considers the date of filing. See Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 271-272 (1988) (the law is settled that a pro se inmate's complaint is deemed filed the date it is delivered to prison officials for mailing). The Eleventh Circuit has consistently applied Rule 6(a) in computing federal statutes of limitation. See Am. Canoe Ass'n, Inc. v. City Of Attalla, 363 F.3d 1085, 1087-88 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing cases). Under Rule 6(a)(1)(A), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “. . . in computing any time period specified in these rules, in any local rule or court order, or in any statute that does not specify a method of computing time. . . exclude the day of the event that triggers the period.” Under F.R.Civ.P. 6(a)(1)(A), Plaintiff timely filed his complaint. Moreover, because March 9, 2014, fell on Sunday, Plaintiff had until March 10, 2014, to file a timely § 1983 suit. See F.R.Civ.P. 6(a)(1)(C).

         B. Res Judicata

         Defendants also move for summary judgment on the ground that Plaintiff's complaint is barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Doc. 33 at 9-13. To support their argument, Defendants state Plaintiff filed a civil action in the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Alabama, on April 25, 2012, against Warden Leeposey Daniels and former Commissioner Kim Thomas and several fictitious defendants. Id. Exh. I. Similar to the allegations in the instant action, Plaintiff alleged in the state court complaint he had been injured while cleaning a machine in the meat packing plant, that he had not received adequate job training, and that the safety device on the machine he operated had been wrongfully removed. Id. The state court granted Defendants Thomas' and Daniels' motion for summary judgment and Plaintiff appealed to the Court of Civil Appeals. Id. Because Plaintiff failed to pay the fee for preparation of the clerk's record, the appellate court dismissed the appeal. Id.

         Under Alabama law, which the court applies because Defendants rely on the decision of an Alabama state court to invoke the doctrine of res judicata, a later action on a previously litigated claim is barred by satisfying four elements: (1) there must have been a prior judgment on the merits; (2) the prior judgment must have been rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction; (3) there must be substantial identity of the parties; and (4) both cases must involve the same causes of action. Kizzire v. Baptist Health System, Inc., 441 F.3d 1306, 1308-09 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing Equity Res. Mgmt. Inc., v. Vinson, 723 So.2d 634, 636 (Ala. 1998)). Without going into an extended discussion of each element of the res judicata doctrine, the court finds the record regarding Plaintiff's previously litigated state court action supports a determination there was a prior judgment on the merits, rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction, and that both cases involve the same causes of action. The court, however, cannot conclude that substantial identity of the parties existed.

         Plaintiff moved to amend his state court complaint to name, as he does in this case, Messrs. Donovan, Wesley, and Calloway as parties, and he also moved to serve summons on these individuals. The record of the state court proceeding does not reflect that the state court ruled on those motions or that that the aforementioned individuals were ever added as party defendants. Doc. 33, Exh. I at 19-27. The dispositive motion filed in the state court action was submitted by Commissioner Thomas and Warden Daniels. Id. at 28-42. These defendants argued for summary judgment on grounds of state immunity and that Plaintiff had not alleged a causal connection between his injury and their actions and/or inactions and that Plaintiff could make no such connection because they had absolutely nothing to do with the operation of the ...

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