United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
GRADY A. LEE, SR., Plaintiff,
KIM THOMAS - PRISON COMMISSIONER, et al., Defendants.
RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Russ Walker, United States Magistrate Judge
Grady Lee, Sr. [“Lee”], filed this 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 action while he was incarcerated at the Ventress
Correctional Facility. Lee's suit concerns the alleged
opening of three pieces of legal mail outside of his presence
at Ventress on July 18 & 22, 2014, and December 4, 2014.
Named as defendants are former Commissioner Kim Thomas,
Warden Christopher Gordy, and mail room supervisor Elizabeth
Howard. Lee requests declaratory and injunctive relief,
damages, costs, and trial by jury. Docs. 5, 6.
filed an answer, special report, and supporting evidentiary
materials addressing Lee's claims for relief. Docs. 13,
14. Upon receipt of Defendants' special report, the court
issued an order directing Lee to file a response, including
sworn affidavits and other evidentiary materials, and
specifically cautioning Lee that “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. 16 at 2. Lee
responded to Defendants' report, see Doc. 19,
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 it concludes
that this motion is due to be resolved in favor of
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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 that the non-moving party has
failed to present evidence to support some element on which
it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at
have met their evidentiary burden. Thus, the burden shifts to
Lee 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).
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). Lee's pro se status alone does not compel
this court to disregard elementary principles of production
and proof in a civil case.
alleges that on July 18 & 22, 2014, and December 4, 2014,
his legal mail was opened by mailroom staff without his being
present. On July 23, 2014, Lee sent an inmate request slip to
Defendant Gordy complaining about this issue. Defendant Gordy
informed Lee that his mail had accidentally been cut open.
The mail about which Lee complains originated from this court
regarding a lawsuit Lee filed against medical staff at
Ventress. Attached to Lee's complaint are two
exhibits-Exhibits B and C. The exhibits are copies of
envelopes postmarked July 18, 2014, and December 4, 2014,
which show this court's return address and the written
notation “open in error.” Doc. 5 at 3-5, Doc.
5-1, Doc. 5-2.
extent Lee sues Defendants in their official capacities, they
are immune from monetary damages. Official capacity lawsuits
are “in all respects other than name, . . . treated as
a suit against the entity.” Kentucky v.
Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985). “A state
official may not be sued in his official capacity unless the
state has waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity, see
Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465
U.S. 89, 100, 104 S.Ct. 900, 908, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984), or
Congress has abrogated the state's immunity, see
Seminole Tribe v. Florida, [517 U.S. 44');">517 U.S. 44, 59], 116 S.Ct.
1114, 1125, 134 L.Ed.2d 252 (1996). Alabama has not waived
its Eleventh Amendment immunity, see Carr v. City of
Florence, 916 F.2d 1521, 1525 (11th Cir. 1990)
(citations omitted), and Congress has not abrogated
Alabama's immunity. Therefore, Alabama state officials
are immune from claims brought against them in their official
capacities.” Lancaster v. Monroe County, 116
F.3d 1419, 1429 (11th Cir. 1997).
light of the foregoing and under the facts of this case,
Defendants are entitled to sovereign immunity under the
Eleventh Amendment for claims seeking monetary damages from
them in their official capacities. Lancaster, 116
F.3d at 1429; Jackson v. Georgia Department of
Transportation, 16 F.3d 1573, 1575 (11th Cir. 1994);
Parker v. Williams, 862 F.2d 1471 (11th Cir. 1989).
Declaratory and Injunctive Relief
request for declaratory and injunctive relief against
Defendants is due to be dismissed as moot. Lee is no longer
incarcerated. The transfer or release of a prisoner renders
moot any claims for injunctive or declaratory relief. See
County of Los Angeles v. Davis, 440 U.S. 625, 631
(1979); see also Cotterall v. Paul, 755 F.2d 777,
780 (11th Cir. 1985) (past exposure to even illegal conduct
does not in and of itself show a pending case or controversy
regarding injunctive relief if unaccompanied by any
continuing present injury or real and immediate threat of
repeated injury). As it is clear from the pleadings and
records before the court that Lee is no longer incarcerated,
his request for equitable relief is moot.