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Bracy v. Dunn

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

February 1, 2018

JEFFERSON S. DUNN, et al., Defendants.




         Plaintiff Charles William Bracy (“Plaintiff”) is a former[1] inmate of the Alabama Department of Corrections (“ADOC”). He brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, challenging his placement in segregation and the conditions of his confinement while he was an inmate at Kilby Correctional Facility (“Kilby”) in Mt. Meigs, Alabama. Doc. 1 at 2. Plaintiff's allegations include claims that he suffered violations of the Due Process Clause, Equal Protection Clause, and Eighth Amendment.[2] Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief as well as damages. Docs. 1 at 5, 20-1, 21, 60, 61, 86. Plaintiff names as defendants Jefferson S. Dunn, Cassandra Conway, Kathy Holt, Phyllis Billups, Leon Bolling, Timothy Logan, John Richardson, Jeffery Williams, Grantt Culliver, and Terrance G. McDonnell[3] (“Defendants”). Plaintiff sues Defendants in their individual and official capacities. Doc. 33 at 2.

         Pursuant to the orders of this court, Defendants filed answers, special reports, supplemental special reports, and evidentiary materials addressing the claims for relief raised in the complaint. Docs. 27, 35, 42, 45, 51, 69, 82, 85, 88, 99, 100, 102, 128, 135, 139, 140, 147, 161, 162, 171, 172, 174, 194, 195, 207. In their various reports, Defendants assert that Plaintiff fails to state a claim for relief, respondeat superior is not a basis for relief, there is no merit to Plaintiff's claims, they are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity and qualified immunity, Plaintiff cannot recover damages for mental or emotional injury because he does not allege a physical injury as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e), and Plaintiff did not properly exhaust his available administrative remedies before filing suit as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a).

         The court directed Plaintiff to respond to Defendants' reports. Docs. 52, 196. The court advised Plaintiff it may, in the future, treat Defendants' report and Plaintiff's response as a dispositive motion and response. Doc. 52 at 2. The court advised Plaintiff that his response should be supported by affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury or appropriate other evidentiary materials, and it advised him of the proper manner in which to respond to the reports. Id. at 2-3. Plaintiff responded. Docs. 33, 53, 81, 167, 201, 204.

         This case is now pending before the court on Defendants' motion to dismiss based on lack of exhaustion under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), and Defendants' motion for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Upon consideration of the motions, Plaintiff's responses, and the evidentiary materials filed in support of and in opposition to the motions, the court concludes that Defendants' motion to dismiss is due to be denied, and Defendants' motion for summary judgment is due to be granted in part and denied in part.

         II. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)

         Defendants argue Plaintiff's claims are due to be dismissed pursuant to the exhaustion requirement of the Prison Ligation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Doc. 27 at 16. Under § 1997e(a), “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” The exhaustion requirement is an affirmative defense; it is not jurisdictional or a pleading requirement. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216 (2007); Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 101 (2006) (“the PLRA exhaustion requirement is not jurisdictional”); Bryant v. Rich, 530 F.3d 1368, 1374-75 & n.10 (11th Cir. 2008). If the defense is raised in a motion for summary judgment, it must be treated as a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12. Bryant, 530 F.3d at 1374-75. The court conducts a two-step inquiry in applying § 1997e(a). See Turner v. Burnside, 541 F.3d 1077 (11th Cir. 2008). First, the court considers the parties' versions of the facts, and if they conflict, takes the plaintiff's version as true. Id. at 1082. If, based on the plaintiff's version, the claim is unexhausted, the court must dismiss the claim. See Id. Second, if the case cannot be dismissed based on plaintiff's version and there are factual disputes, “the court then proceeds to make specific findings in order to resolve the disputed factual issues related to exhaustion. The defendants bear the burden of proving that the plaintiff has failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies.” Id. (citations omitted).

         Plaintiff states there is no grievance or appeal procedure he could use, therefore the PLRA does not apply to his case. Doc. 33 at 4. Defendants identify no administrative remedy that Plaintiff could exhaust. Consequently, the court concludes, Defendants have not met their burden to show Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing suit regarding his claims. Defendants' motion to dismiss based on § 1997e(a) is therefore due to be denied.


         “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 and demonstrated the absence of any genuine dispute of material fact. 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 requisite genuine dispute of material so as to preclude summary judgment on all but one of his claims. See Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.


         Plaintiff entered Kilby in June 2013, to serve a twenty-year sentence for manufacture of a controlled substance and a fifteen-year sentence for manufacture of a controlled substance. Docs. 27-3 at 10, 139-1 at 12. He was transferred to the W.E. Donaldson Correctional Facility (“Donaldson”) in Bessemer, Alabama, on October 7, 2015. Doc. 54. Plaintiff now resides at an address outside the custody of the ADOC. Doc. 208.

         During the time relevant to the claims, Defendants were employed by the ADOC. Jefferson Dunn (“Dunn”) became Commissioner of the ADOC on April 1, 2015, and before that he had no contact with the ADOC and appointed Deputy Commissioner of the ADOC on March 1, 2011. Doc. 27-1 at 1. Jeffery Williams (“Williams”) was Deputy Commissioner of Governmental Relations with the ADOC. Doc. 69-2 at 1. Cassandra Conway (“Conway”) has been the ADOC Director of Classification since June 1, 2013. Doc. 27-2 at 1. Grantt Culliver (“Culliver”) was Associate Commissioner for Operations in the ADOC. Doc. 69-3. Terrance McDonnell (“McDonnell”) was Associate Commissioner of Plans and Programs; in July 2014, the ADOC Classification Division was added to his responsibilities, and McDonnell retired in 2016. Doc. 135-1 at 1. Kathy Holt (“Holt”) was Director of Central Records, and she retired on December 31, 2012. Doc. 51-1. Phyllis Billups (“Billups”) was Warden III at Kilby. Doc. 27-4. Leon Bolling (“Bolling”) was Warden II at Kilby. Doc. 27-5. Timothy Logan (“Logan”) was a Correctional Captain at Kilby. Doc. 27-6. John Richardson (“Richardson”) was a Correctional Sergeant at Kilby. Doc. 27-7.

         A. Close Custody Segregation

         While at Kilby in 2013, Plaintiff had a pending charge against him for drug trafficking and, because of his past criminal history, he faced a potential sentence of life without parole (“LWOP”) on the pending charge. Docs. 27-2 at 1, 27-3 at 2.

         In 2013, under ADOC Classification Manual §, inmates held on a detainer warrant for an offense which is likely to result in a sentence of death or LWOP were held in close custody until the resolution of the offense. Doc. 27-3 at 5, 8. “Close custody” was “the most restrictive custody level to which an inmate can be assigned . . . .” Doc. 27-3 at 6. Section provided:

Detainers. Inmates being held on a detainer warrant for a capital offense or an offense which is likely to result in LWOP will be held in Close custody until the resolution of the offense. This does not apply to LWOP sentences that have been reversed and remanded for retrial from the death sentence or out-of-state cases . . . . Placement into Close custody under these circumstances is a matter of internal security and does not imply any presumption of guilt.

Doc. 27-3 at 5 (dated October 2010).

         At the same time, Classification Manual § provided that inmates serving LWOP “will be observed in Close custody for at least a thirty (30) day period. . . .” Doc. 27-3 at 6. Standard Operating Procedure (“SOP”) VI-7 Segregation Unit also contemplated LWOP inmates being placed in medium custody:

[LWOP] inmates entering Kilby will be placed and housed in a single cell while at Kilby unless the Central Review Board has approved medium custody and the Warden of Kilby has personally authorized the LWOP inmate to be housed in a designated dormitory setting, unless assigned to a dormitory setting, LWOP inmates will be handled as Close or higher custody at all times.

Doc. 27-9 at 4 (dated May 27, 2015). Jimmy Thomas, Warden II at Kilby, who is not a defendant in this case, said Plaintiff was subject to the above wording of SOP VI-7 Segregation Unit when Plaintiff arrived at Kilby in 2013. Doc. 139-1 at 12. Inmates in close custody administrative segregation have fewer privileges and are subject to greater security procedures than inmates in medium custody administrative segregation. Doc. 128-1 at 8-11 (sealed).

         On September 17, 2013, Plaintiff was notified that the reclassification team would meet the next day to recommend that he be placed in close custody. Doc. 27-3 at 3. Plaintiff was present at the hearing held on September 18, 2013, and he said he wished he had a lawyer. Doc. 27-3 at 4. He was told he did not have a sentence yet of LWOP, just the possibility. Id. At the end of the hearing, it was recommended that Plaintiff be placed in close custody/Level 5. Doc. 27-3 at 7. Plaintiff's previous ADOC classification risk assessment was Level 1. Doc. 27-3 at 8. On October 4, 2013, Mike Slatton, who is not a defendant in this case, approved the classification. Docs. 27-2 at 2, 27-3 at 7-8. On June 22, 2015, Conway, the Director of Classification, stated that Plaintiff was properly classified. Doc. 27-2 at 2.

         As of October 4, 2013, Plaintiff was classified as a special needs inmate with mental health code (“MH”) MH 1, and he was taking psychological medications. Doc. 27-3 at 9. On July 28, 2015, Dr. David Tytell, Chief Psychologist of the ADOC, met with Plaintiff to obtain his mental health status pursuant to a court order. Doc. 35-2 at 3. Dr. Tytell stated on August 3, 2015, that Plaintiff was being treated for bipolar disorder, that the diagnosis was accurate and fitting, and that Plaintiff “appear[ed] to be relatively stable at this time with his mental health disorder.” Doc. 35-2 at 2. Plaintiff has stated that solitary confinement damaged him, and he took “heav[]y anti- psychotic medications to sleep or reduce anxiety.” Doc. 33 at 18. Plaintiff's mental health was reviewed periodically during his time at Kilby, and his mental health treatment while in segregation is not the subject of this lawsuit.[4] Doc. 35-2 at 4-45.

         On August 17, 2015, the classification manual was amended to remove the exception for inmates whose convictions were reversed and remanded or had out-of-state cases. It also was amended to allow inmates facing potential LWOP offenses to be placed in medium custody. Doc. 102-1 at 7-8 (dated Aug. 17, 2015).

         On September 2, 2015, based on the change to the classification manual, Plaintiff was approved for medium custody and “transfer[red] to an approved SL V facility.” Docs. 85-2 at 4, 85-3 at 2. On October 7, 2015, Plaintiff was transferred to Donaldson. Doc. 85-2 at 1. About a month later, the Classification Specialist recommended that Plaintiff remain in medium custody due to pending detainers for drug offenses. Doc. 85-2 at 2. Plaintiff states he was released into the general population at Donaldson. Doc. 163-5 at 2.

         Dunn, who became the ADOC Commissioner on April 1, 2015, stated that he does not control the daily operation of Kilby; he does not know Plaintiff; he does not recall a complaint from Plaintiff; and, to his knowledge, has had no contact with Plaintiff. Doc. ...

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