United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
RASHAD C. LEE, Plaintiff,
WARDEN ESTES, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
H. ENGLAND, III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Rashad C. Lee, a pro se litigant incarcerated in
Fountain Correctional Facility, (doc. 60), filed this action
on or about July 13, 2013, seeking monetary damages and
injunctive relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for
violations of his civil rights. After several years of
litigation, the sole remaining claim is an Eighth Amendment
claim against Warden Estes, for which only nominal damages
are available since the plaintiff is no longer incarcerated
at the facility and does not allege any physical injury.
(See docs. 51, 54, 57, 59). Specifically, the
plaintiff contends Warden Estes violated the Eighth
Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual
punishment by allowing locked smoke cages to block emergency
exits while he was incarcerated at Limestone Correctional
Facility (“LCF”). (Doc. 1 at 63-64).
10, 2016, after the court dismissed all other claims at
summary judgment, the undersigned held a phone conference to
discuss the status of the case. Thereafter, the court set a
discovery deadline for any additional discovery needed on the
remaining claim and set deadlines for the parties to file
dispositive motions and responses thereto. (Doc. 70). On
August 26, 2016, Warden Estes filed a second motion for
summary judgment. (Doc. 79). The plaintiff has filed no
response. (See doc. 78 setting deadline for the
plaintiff s response). For the reasons stated below, the
motion for summary judgment, (doc. 79), is
Standard of Review
Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary
judgment is proper if the pleadings, the discovery, and
disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits “show
that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and
that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” “Rule 56 mandates the entry of summary
judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion,
against a party who 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.” Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 447 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party
bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine
issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then
shifts to the nonmoving party, who is required to “go
beyond the pleadings” to establish there is a
“genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted). A dispute
about a material fact is genuine “if the evidence is
such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
Court must construe the evidence and all reasonable
inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co.,
398 U.S. 144, 157, (1970); see also Anderson, 477
U.S. at 255 (all justifiable inferences must be drawn in the
non-moving party's favor). Any factual disputes will be
resolved in Plaintiffs favor when sufficient competent
evidence supports Plaintiffs version of the disputed facts.
See Pace v. Capobianco, 283 F.3d 1275, 1276-78 (11th
Cir. 2002) (a Court is not required to resolve disputes in
the non-moving party's favor when that party's
version of the events is supported by insufficient evidence).
However, “mere conclusions and unsupported factual
allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a summary
judgment motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d
1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald
Mtn. Park, Ltd. V. Oliver, 836 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th
Cir. 1989)). Moreover, “[a] mere ‘scintilla'
of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will
not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the jury
could reasonably find for that party.” Walker v.
Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).
as here, the adverse party does not respond, “summary
judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered against the
adverse party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). Even though the
motion is unopposed, the court still must determine whether
summary judgment is appropriate and must therefore consider
the merits of the motion. See United States v. One Piece
of Real Prop. Located at 5800 SW 74th Ave., Miami, Fla.,
363 F.3d 1099, 1101 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing Dulap v.
Transamerica Occidental Life Ins. Co., 858 F.2d 629, 632
(11th Cir. 1989) (per curiam)). At a minimum, the
court must determine whether the motion is supported by the
evidentiary materials filed in support; the court is,
however, not obligated to sua sponte conduct a
review of all evidentiary materials in the record. See
Summary Judgment Facts
23, 2013, approximately eight months after he arrived at LCF
in November 2012, the plaintiff filed a sixty-four-page
lawsuit wherein on the last pages he included two paragraphs
of allegations about the smoke cages at LCF. (Doc. 1 at
63-64). In the complaint, the plaintiff focuses on the
alleged safety issues involved, when the riot doors
malfunction, having to wait in the locked smoke cages that
surround and block the emergency exits while an officer
purportedly has to retrieve the key to the lock or bolt
cutters to break the lock. (Id.).
plaintiff's former dorm at LCF has three exits: one
primary exit (also referred to as riot doors) and two
emergency exits. (Doc. 79-1 at 5 (14:12-23)). As of November
2012, when the plaintiff was last incarcerated at LCF, smoke
cages were located outside the dorm's emergency fire exit
doors. (Id. at 5-7, 60 (14:12-23, 21:1-17, 22:13-19,
102:1-3)). The perimeter of each cage was twenty feet by
twelve feet. (Doc. 1 at 63-64). Barbed wire was placed across
the top of the cage. (Id. at 64).
plaintiff claims inmates could smoke in the bathrooms at LCF.
(Doc. 79-1 at 8-9 (32:21-23 to 33:1-6)). He became concerned
about his safety and how he was supposed to get out if
something caught fire in the bathroom while inmates were
smoking and/or warming up food in there. (Id. at
10-11 (35:1-23 to 36:1-23)). The plaintiff testified he
believed the gate keys to the smoke cages were kept in only
two places - either in the shift office located some distance
away from the smoke cages or with the maintenance man who has
master keys to all prison locks. (Id. at 23-25
(51:15-53:16)). However, Christopher L. Gordy, a warden at
LCF since March 1, 2015, attests that during normal business
hours it would take less than ten minutes for tools to be
retrieve to cut the locks on the smoke cages. (Doc. 79-4 at
2). He further attests that after normal business hours, it
would probably take twice as long to retrieve tools to cut
the locks. (Id.). The keys to the locked smoke cages
are kept in the following locations: Dormitory Cubicles, Yard
Rovers, and all Security Supervisors. (Id.). It
would take less than five minutes for Security Personnel to
unlock the smoke cages. (Id.). The dorm's riot
doors, the primary means of ingress and egress, can be opened
manually with a key even if they “malfunction” or
could not be opened by the cube officer using the control
panel. (Doc. 79-1 at 13 (38:15-23)).
plaintiff describes three incidents involving an issue with
the smoke cage locks and riot doors. The first incident
involved the malfunctioning of the riot doors when the
inmates were lined up to go eat. The plaintiff testified that
the cube officer, Officer Gilbreath, had to call Sergeant
Griffin over the loud speaker to come manually open the riot
doors so the inmates could exit the dorm to
(Doc. 79-1 at 16-20, 27, 33, 54-55, 74-75 (41:1-7; 41:12-23
42:1-7;42:8-11; 43:1-11; 44:6-17; 55:23; 64:20-23; 94:1-23;
45:16-23 -46:1-23; 95:1-8; 132:17-23; 133:1-8)). During this
time, the inmates did not attempt to exit the smoke cages;
they were lined-up to go to lunch, and there was no
emergency. (Id. at 28-29, 51 (56:1-57:7, 91:1-11)).
The plaintiff also offers an affidavit from inmate Ronald
Sutton, who attests that he has been housed in this dorm for
six years, and appears to corroborate the plaintiff's
description of this incident. (Doc. 39 at 5).
second incident, referenced in an affidavit from inmate
Michael Perry, deals with an inmate in the dorm who had a
heart attack. The plaintiff testified it was cold, and the
locks on the smoke cages were frozen, so medical personnel
had to cut the locks off the smoke cages with bolt cutters to
take that inmate from the dorm to the healthcare unit. (Doc.
79-1 at 24, 43 (65:1-21; 74:1-11)). Inmate Perry's
affidavit states that medical personnel had already restarted
the inmate's heart and placed him on a backboard. (Doc.
39 at 4). But, medical personnel could not get out of the
dorm through the emergency exit, where the infirmary's
emergency cart was parked, because the lock on the smoke cage
around the emergency exit had rusted and would not open.
(Id.). The plaintiff later testified he does not
know if the locks were frozen or rusted. (Doc. 79-10 at 43
(74:12-18)). The plaintiff further testified, after medical
personnel left through the emergency exit with the inmate who
had a heart attack, maintenance came through and unlocked the
riot doors manually with a key. (Id. at 44-45
(75:1-22, 80:16-21)). In his affidavit, Inmate Sutton further
attests that he has seen the smoke cage locks
“malfunction several times during the winter
months” and the maintenance department had to cut the
locks off with bolt cutters during the yearly inspection.
(Doc. 39 at 5).
third incident the plaintiff points to is when the riot doors
malfunctioned because the electricity went out. (Doc. 79-1 at
76 (134:15-23)). The plaintiff explains the yard was locked
down, and the inmates had to go to their beds until someone
could come unlock the riot doors. (Id. at 56
(97:4-23)). Because there was no need for the inmates to exit
the dorm at this time, the plaintiff was unable to say if
there were or would ...