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Hickman v. Holland

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

September 5, 2017

SHARON McSWAIN HOLLAND, et al., Defendants.


          Susan Russ Walker United States Magistrate Judge


         Plaintiff Jessie Ray Hickman (“Plaintiff”), a former[1] inmate of the Alabama Department of Corrections, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming violations of his federal rights while he was an inmate at the Elba Community Based Facility/Work Center (“Elba”) in Elba, Alabama. Doc. 1. Plaintiff names as defendants Sharon McSwain-Holland, the warden at Elba; and Chequita Walker, the Chief Steward at Elba (collectively “Defendants”). Plaintiff seeks only damages. Id. at 6.

         In accordance with the court's orders, Defendants filed an answer, special report, and supporting evidentiary material in response to the allegations contained in the complaint. Docs. 5, 19, 20. The court informed Plaintiff the defendants' special report may, at any time, be treated as a motion for summary judgment. Doc. 21. The court explained the proper manner in which to respond to a motion for summary judgment, including the fact that Plaintiff's response should be supported by affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury and/or appropriate other evidentiary materials. Id. at 2-3. Plaintiff responded. Doc. 24.

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) and M.D. Ala. LR 73.1, the parties consented to a United States Magistrate Judge's conducting all proceedings in this case and ordering the entry of final judgment. Doc. 16. This case is now pending before the court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment. Upon consideration of the motion, Plaintiff's response, and the evidentiary materials filed in support of and in opposition to the motion, the court concludes that Defendants' motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.


         “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “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 [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 Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 omitted; “issue” altered to “dispute” to reflect the stylistic change in the current rule). 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) (alterations added). 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 evidence in support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322-24.

         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 the case exists. 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 … .”); see also Caldwell v. Warden, FCI Talladega, 748 F.3d 1090, 1098 (11th Cir. 2014) (court considers facts pled in a plaintiff's sworn complaint when considering his opposition to summary judgment”). 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. The evidence must be admissible at trial, and if the nonmoving party's evidence “is merely colorable … or is not significantly probative … summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). “A mere ‘scintilla' of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice … .” Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252). Conclusory allegations based on subjective beliefs are likewise insufficient to create a genuine dispute of material fact. Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1564 n.6 (11th Cir. 1997) (per curiam) (plaintiff's “conclusory assertions …, in the absence of [admissible] supporting evidence, are insufficient to withstand summary judgment”). Only disputes involving material facts are relevant, and what is material is determined by the substantive law applicable to the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. 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).

         “The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Although factual inferences must be viewed in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party and pro se complaints are entitled to liberal interpretation by the court, a pro se litigant does not escape the burden of sufficiently establishing a genuine dispute of material fact. Brown v. Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 670 (11th Cir. 1990). Thus, a plaintiff's pro se status alone does not mandate this court's disregard of elementary principles of production and proof in a civil case. In this case, Plaintiff fails to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact so as to preclude summary judgment on his claims against Defendants. See Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.


         The court views the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. Defendant McSwain-Holland acknowledges that Plaintiff “experienced numerous medical emergencies while housed at Elba … .” Doc. 20-1 at 2. Those reflected in the record began in 2013. On April 25, 2013, Plaintiff felt dizzy and passed out while working in the laundry room at Elba. Doc. 20-1 at 9-10. About a week later, on May 2, 2013, Plaintiff again had symptoms of a seizure while working in the laundry; he was shaking, vomiting, and foaming at the mouth. Id. at 11-13. McSwain-Holland was notified. Id. Plaintiff was taken to the hospital for treatment and returned to Elba. Id. at 12-21; Doc. 20-2 at 1. On June 21, 2013, Plaintiff had a seizure in the yard. Id. at 20-2, at 2-3. McSwain-Holland was notified. Id. A little over a month later, on July 30, 2013, Plaintiff had a possible seizure in the yard; he was found slumped over and shaking with his eyes closed. Id. at 6-7. Again, McSwain-Holland was notified. Id. Medical staff treated the Plaintiff. Id. at 8.

         Some months later, in December 2013, Plaintiff began working in the kitchen. Doc. 24 at 2. On February 23, 2014, Plaintiff “passed out on the facility Back Yard.”[2] Doc. 20-2 at 9-10. According to his body chart, when Plaintiff was found he was non-responsive, but he “soon became alert and talkative.” Id. at 11. He had a 11/2 cm cut inside his bottom lip and a small abrasion on his outer lower lip. Id. McSwain-Holland was notified. Id. at 9-10. Medical staff treated Plaintiff for a possible seizure. Id. at 11.

         On March 25, 2014, while Plaintiff was working in the kitchen, Walker wrote Plaintiff a disciplinary report for refusing her order to wash dishes at about 1:45 p.m. Id. at 14-16. According to the incident report, Plaintiff entered Walker's office and said, “I am not going to wash those dishes.” Id. at 14. A sergeant questioned Walker, and Walker said, “I was helping unload the canteen truck; she should have got someone else to wash the dishes instead of waiting on me.” Id. at 14. At a disciplinary hearing on April 2, 2014, Plaintiff admitted he was guilty of failing to obey a direct order; he admitted the statement but said, “I don't recall saying it to Ms. Walker. I did say it when I was in the dorm.” Doc. 20-3 at 3. On April 3, 2014, McSwain-Holland approved the discipline imposed for the rule violation. Id. at 4.

         On the morning of April 3, 2014, Plaintiff was reported in the yard “looking confused and glassy eyed.” Doc. 20-2 at 12. He said, “I just got a little hot. I don't need anything but a little rest.” Id. He refused medical treatment, although he had symptoms of light-headedness, glassy eyes, dizziness, and overheating. Id. at 12-13. ...

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