Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Blanding v. Thomas

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

January 29, 2018

ERIC BLANDING, #170679, Plaintiff,
v.
KIM THOMAS, et ah, Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          GRAY M. JORDEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is pending before the court on an amended complaint filed by Eric Blanding, an indigent state inmate, challenging actions which occurred during a prior term of incarceration at the Easterling Correctional Facility. Specifically, Blanding challenges the lack of a grievance procedure in the state prison system, general conditions at Easterling, an attack by another inmate, his access to an attorney visit, the due process provided to him in a disciplinary proceeding, the adequacy of investigations conducted by correctional officials, the failure of classification personnel to grant him a particular custody classification, and alleged violations of administrative regulations. Doc. 25-1 at 5-12. Blanding names as defendants Kim Thomas, the former Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections; and Derrick Carter, Karla Jones, Sherry Lightner, Stacey Ott, Larry Peavey, Kenneth Drake, Jimmie Wilson, James Deloach, Brian Thompkins and James Griffin, all of whom were correctional officials employed at Easterling during the relevant period of time.[1] Blanding seeks monetary damages for the alleged violations of his constitutional rights. Doc. 25-1 at 13.

         The defendants filed special reports, supplemental special reports and relevant evidentiary materials in support of these reports-including affidavits, prison documents and medical records-addressing the claims presented by Blanding. In their reports, the defendants deny acting in violation of Blanding's constitutional rights.

         After reviewing the initial special reports filed by the defendants, the court issued an order on October 9, 2015 directing Blanding to file a response to each of the arguments set forth by the defendants in their reports, supported by affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury and other evidentiary materials. Doc. 53 at 2. The order specifically cautioned that "unless within fifteen (15) days from the date of this order a party . . . presents sufficient legal cause why such action should not be undertaken ... the court may at any time [after expiration of the time for the plaintiff filing a response to this order] and without further notice to the parties (1) treat the special reports and any supporting evidentiary materials as a motion for summary judgment and (2) after considering any response as allowed by this order, rule on the motion for summary judgment in accordance with the law." Doc. 53 at 2-3. Blanding filed an unsworn response to this order on March 28, 2016. Doc. 62. In this response, Blanding merely listed his claims for relief and presented nothing to dispute the arguments or evidentiary materials submitted by the defendants. Doc. 62 at 1-2. The court likewise provided Blanding an opportunity to file a response to the defendants' supplemental special reports. Doc. 69. Blanding was advised to do so in compliance with the directives of the October 9, 2015 order. Doc. 69. Blanding filed no response to the defendants' supplemental special reports.

         Pursuant to the directives of the orders entered in this case, the court now treats the defendants' reports collectively as a motion for summary judgment and concludes that summary judgment is due to be granted in favor of the defendants.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         "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) (internal quotation marks omitted); Rule 56(a), Fed.R.Civ.P. ("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 issue [dispute] of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 64 F.3d 590, 593 (11th Cir. 1995) (holding that moving party has initial burden of showing there is no genuine dispute of material fact for trial). 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 appropriate evidence in support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-24; Moton v. Cowart, 631 F.3d 1337, 1341 (11th Cir. 2011) (holding that the moving party discharges its burden by showing the record lacks evidence to support the nonmoving party's case or the nonmoving party would be unable to prove its case at trial).

         When the defendants meet their evidentiary burden, as they have in this case, the burden shifts to the 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, 64 F.3d at 593-94 (holding that, once a moving party meets its burden, "the non-moving party must then go beyond the pleadings, and by its own affidavits [or statements made under penalty of perjury], or by depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, " demonstrate that there is a genuine dispute of material fact). 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). This court will also consider "specific facts" pleaded in a plaintiffs 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 nonmoving party produces evidence that would allow a reasonable factfinder to return a verdict in its favor such that summary judgment is not warranted. Greenberg, 498 F.3d at 1263; Allen v. Bd. of Pub. Educ. for Bibb Cnty., 495 F.3d 1306, 1313 (11th Cir. 2007). "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 of Fort Lauderdale, 333 F.3d 1234, 1243 (11th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). "[T]here must exist a conflict in substantial evidence to pose a jury question." Hall v. Sunjoy Indus. Group, Inc., 764 F.Supp.2d 1297, 1301 (M.D. Fla. 2011) (citation omitted). "When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

         Although factual inferences must be viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff and pro se complaints are entitled to liberal interpretation, a pro se litigant does not escape the burden of establishing by sufficient evidence a genuine dispute of material fact. See Beard, 548 U.S. at 525; Brown v. Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 670 (11th Cir. 1990). Thus, Blanding's pro se status alone does not compel this court to disregard elementary principles of production and proof in a civil case.

         The court has undertaken a thorough and exhaustive review of all the evidence contained in the record. After this review, the court finds that Blanding has failed to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact in order to preclude entry of summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Absolute Immunity

         To the extent Blanding lodges claims against the defendants in their official capacities and seeks monetary damages, the defendants are entitled to absolute immunity.

         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). As the Eleventh Circuit has held,

the Eleventh Amendment prohibits federal courts from entertaining suits by private parties against States and their agencies [or employees]. There are two exceptions to this prohibition: where the state has waived its immunity or where Congress has abrogated that immunity. A State's consent to suit must be unequivocally expressed in the text of [a] relevant statute. Waiver may not be implied. Likewise, Congress' intent to abrogate the States' immunity from suit must be obvious from a clear legislative statement.

Selensky v. Alabama, 619 Fed.Appx. 846, 848-49 (11th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Thus, a state official may not be sued in his official capacity unless the state has waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity, see Pennhurst St. School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984), or Congress has abrogated the State's immunity, see Seminole Tribe v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 59.

Neither waiver nor abrogation applies here. The Alabama Constitution states that "the State of Alabama shall never be made a defendant in any court of law or equity." Ala. Const, art. I, § 14. The Supreme Court has recognized that this prohibits Alabama from waiving its immunity from suit.

Selensky, 619 Fed.Appx. 849 (citing Pugh, 438 U.S. at 782). "Alabama has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity in § 1983 cases, nor has Congress abated it." Holmes v. Hale, 701 Fed.Appx. 751, 753 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Carr v. City of Florence, Ala., 916 F.2d 1521, 1525 (11th Cir. 1990)). In light of the foregoing, the defendants are entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment for claims seeking monetary damages from them in their official capacities. Selensky, 619 Fed.Appx. 849; Harbert Int'l, Inc. v. James, 157 F.3d 1271, 1277 (11th Cir. 1998) (holding that state officials sued in their official capacities are protected from suit for damages under the Eleventh Amendment); Edwards v. Wallace Comm. College, 49 F.3d 1517, 1524 (11th Cir. 1995) (holding that damages are unavailable from a state official sued in his official capacity).

         B. Lack of Grievance Procedure

         Blanding complains that the Alabama Department of Corrections does not provide a grievance procedure. Doc. 25-1 at 5. This claim is without merit because an inmate grievance procedure is "not constitutionally mandated." Baker v. Rexroad, 159 Fed.Appx. 61 (11th Cir. 2005); McCray v. Mallory, 931 F.2d 54 (4th Cir. 1991) (holding that Plaintiffs claim challenging sufficiency of inmate grievance procedure "is frivolous" as such procedure is not constitutionally required); Flowers v. Tate, 925 F.2d 1463 (6th Cir. 1991) (holding that an inmate "does not have a constitutional right to an effective grievance procedure"); Mann v. Adams, 855 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1988) (holding that there "is no legitimate claim of entitlement to a grievance procedure"); Miller v. Jones, 791 F.Supp. 240, 241-42 (E.D. Mo. 1992) (finding that inmate's allegation of "wrongful denial of a grievance [fails to state a viable claim for relief in a § 1983 action because he] has no constitutional right to a grievance procedure"). Thus, the failure of the Alabama Department of Corrections to establish an inmate grievance procedure can provide no basis for relief in this cause of action.

         C. Failure to Protect-Deliberate Indifference to Safety

         Blanding complains that the defendants failed to protect him from attack by inmate George Black in November 2014. "A prison official's duty under the Eighth Amendment is to ensure reasonable safety, a standard that incorporates due regard for prison officials' unenviable task of keeping dangerous men in safe custody under humane conditions." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 844-45 (1994) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Officials responsible for prison inmates may be held liable under the Eighth Amendment for acting with "deliberate indifference" to an inmate's safety when the official knows that the inmate faces "a substantial risk of serious harm" and with such knowledge disregards the known risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it. Id. at 828. A constitutional violation occurs only "when a substantial risk of serious harm, of which the official is subjectively aware, exists and the official does not respond reasonably to the risk." Cottone v. Jenne, 326 F.3d 1352, 1358 (11th Cir. 2003). "It is not, however, every injury suffered by one prisoner at the hands of another that translates into constitutional liability for prison officials responsible for the victim's safety." Id. at 834. "Within [a prison's] volatile 'community, ' prison administrators are to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of. . . the prison staffs and administrative personnel. . . . They are [also] under an obligation to take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates themselves." Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27 (1984). The Eleventh Circuit has, however, stressed that a "prison custodian is not the guarantor of a prisoner's safety." Popham v. City of Talladega, 908 F.2d 1561, 1564 (11th Cir. 1990); Purcell ex rel. Estate of Morgan v. Toombs Cnty., Ga., 400 F.3d 1313 (11th Cir. 2005) (same). "Only '[a] prison official's deliberate indifference to a known, substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate violates the Eighth Amendment.'" Harrison v. Gulliver, 746 F.3d 1288, 1298 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting Marsh v. Butler Cnty., Ala., 268 F.3d 1014, 1028-29 (11th Cir. 2001), abrogated on other grounds by Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). "In order to state a § 1983 cause of action against prison officials based on a constitutional deprivation [under the Eighth Amendment], there must be at least some allegation of a conscious or callous indifference to a prisoner's rights, thus raising the tort to a constitutional stature." Williams v. Bennett, 689 F.2d 1370, 1380 (11th Cir. 1982).

         The law is settled that both objective and subjective elements are necessary components of a violation of the protections afforded by the Eighth Amendment. Caldwell v. Warden, FCI Talladega, 748 F.3d 1090, 1099 (11th Cir. 2014). With respect to the objective elements of a deliberate indifference claim, an inmate must first show "an objectively substantial risk of serious harm . . . exist[ed]. Second, once it is established that the official [was] aware of this substantial risk, the official must [have] react[ed] to this risk in an objectively unreasonable manner." Marsh, 268 F.3d at 1028-29. As to the subjective elements, "the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference. . . . The Eighth Amendment does not outlaw cruel and unusual 'conditions'; it outlaws cruel and unusual 'punishments.' . . . [A]n official's failure to alleviate a significant risk that he should have perceived but did not, while no cause for commendation, cannot under our cases be condemned as the infliction of punishment." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837-38; Campbell v. Sikes, 169 F.3d 1353, 1364 (11th Cir. 1999) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 838) ("Proof that the defendant should have perceived the risk, but did not, is insufficient."); Cottrell v. Caldwell, 85 F.3d 1480, 1491 (11th Cir. 1996) (same). The conduct at issue "must involve more than ordinary lack of due care for the prisoner's interests or safety. ... It is obduracy and wantonness, not inadvertence or error in good faith, that characterize the conduct prohibited by the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, whether that conduct occurs in connection with establishing conditions of confinement, supplying medical needs, [providing security for inmates], or restoring official control over a tumultuous cellblock." Whitley v. Alters, 475 U.S. 312, 319(1986).

To be deliberately indifferent, Defendants must have been "subjectively aware of the substantial risk of serious harm in order to have had a '"sufficiently culpable state of mind.'"" Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834-38, 114 S.Ct. at 1977-80; Wilson v. Setter, 501 U.S. 294, 299, 111 S.Ct. 2321, 2324-25, 115 L.Ed.2d 271 (1991). . . . Even assuming the existence of a serious risk of harm and legal causation, the prison official must be aware of specific facts from which an inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists-and the prison official must also "draw that inference." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837, 114 S.Ct. at 1979.

Carter v. Galloway, 352 F.3d 1346, 1349 (11th Cir. 2003). A defendant's subjective knowledge of the risk must be specific to that defendant because "imputed or collective knowledge cannot serve as the basis for a claim of deliberate indifference. . . . Each individual Defendant must be judged separately and on the basis of what that person [knew at the time of the incident]." Burnette v. Taylor, 533 F.3d 1325, 1331 (11th Cir. 2008). Moreover, "[t]he known risk of injury must be a strong likelihood, rather than a mere possibility before a [state official's] failure to act can constitute deliberate indifference." Brown v. Hughes, 894 F.2d 1533, 1537 (11th Cir. 1990) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Thus, "[m]erely negligent failure to protect an inmate from attack does not justify liability under section 1983." Id.

         Consequently, to proceed beyond the properly supported motion for summary judgment filed by the defendants, Blanding must first demonstrate an objectively substantial risk of serious harm existed to him from his attacker-inmate George Black- and "that the defendant[s] disregarded that known risk by failing to respond to it in an objectively reasonable manner." Johnson v. Boyd, 568 Fed.Appx. 719, 721 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing Caldwell, 748 F.3d at 1100). If he establishes these objective elements, Blanding must then satisfy the subjective component. To do so, Blanding "must [show] that the defendant[s] subjectively knew that [he] faced a substantial risk of serious harm.

         The defendant[s] must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and [they] must also draw the inference." Id. (internal citation omitted).

To survive a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff must submit evidence that the defendant-official had subjective knowledge of the risk of serious harm. McElligott v. Foley, 182 F.3d 1248, 1255 (11th Cir. 1999). In determining subjective knowledge, a court is to inquire whether the defendant-official was aware of a "particular threat or fear felt by [the] [p]laintiffr Carter v. Galloway, 352 F.3d 1346, 1350 (11th Cir. 2003) (emphasis added). Moreover, the defendant-official "must be aware of specific facts from which an inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists-and the prison official must also draw that inference." Id. at 1349 (quotations omitted).

Johnston v. Crosby, 135 Fed.Appx. 375, 377 (11th Cir. 2005).

         In providing a factual background for his failure to protect claim, Blanding maintains that during his confinement at Holman Correctional Facility in the latter part of 2008 or January 2009 he witnessed inmate Leslie James, a known member of the Crips gang, stab an officer and the officer "then protected himself by using necessary force to subdue James[.]" Doc. 25-1 at 8. Blanding maintains that he testified on behalf of the officer, which caused friction with inmate "Demont Tucker whom was the head leader of the Crips gang at that time [and] went on to attempt to have Mr. Blanding killed by issuing a gang style hit out on him by other gang members and labeling Blanding a 'snitch.'" Doc. 25-1 at 8. Blanding alleges that after his transfer to St. Clair Correctional Facility in 2009 an inmate attacked him, and that he believes the attack occurred because of the hit placed on him by inmate Tucker. Doc. 25-1 at 8. Blanding suffered multiple injuries during this attack, leading to his transfer to Easterling. Doc. 25-1 at 8. Blanding's narrative continues, in relevant part, as follows:

         Eventually, Blanding and Tucker ended up [together] at Easterling.

While at Easterling Blanding and Tucker ended up running into each other [on October 9, 2014]. Again, the nonsense started up . . . and Tucker began calling Blanding a snitch in front of everyone and stating your dead. Another hit was put on Blanding and he immediately ran to see classification officers Stacey Ott and Sherry Lightner demanding Protective Custody. He explained everything that was going on with these gangsters
. . . Warden Carter was then called into the office and [the allegation regarding his testifying on behalf of an officer at Holman, the validation of inmate Leslie James as his enemy, and the prior attack at St. Clair were] verified on the computer. Cater, Ott and Lightner all still refused Blanding Protective Custody even though he gave up the name of who was ordering these hits. They even refused to lock up Demont Tucker pending an investigation and or transfer Tucker or Blanding to avoid any more violent assaults and or a possible killing.

Doc. 25-1 at 8-9. Blanding further states that "2 [unidentified] Crips approached [him] and threatened to stab him if anything happens to Tucker. So Blanding goes to tell Officer Wilson but again he is denied permission to go to . . . Protective Custody." Doc. 25-1 at 9.

         Blanding contends that his wife and attorneys contacted correctional officials seeking action based on his requests for protection from inmate Tucker and other unidentified inmates, but ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.