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Hammonds v. Jones

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

March 5, 2018

MIKEL HAMMONDS, #177646 Plaintiff,
v.
WARDEN JONES, et al., Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          CHARLES S. COODY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Mikel Hammonds ("Plaintiff) is an inmate of the Alabama Department of Corrections ("ADOC"), currently incarcerated at Fountain Correctional Facility. He brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting that he was subjected to cruel and unusual conditions of confinement while he was an inmate in Unit C-l of the Restrictive Privilege Dorm at Easterling Correctional Facility ("Easterling").[1] Doc. 1-1 at 3; Doc. 25 at 3-5. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief as well as damages. Doc. 1-1 at 5; Doc. 25 at 10-11.

         Plaintiff sues the defendants in their individual and official capacities, and he names as defendants former Commissioner Kim Thomas, Warden Karla Jones, Warden Derrick Carter, Warden Kenneth Sconyers, Captain Willie Bryant, Lieutenant Larry Peavy, Sergeant Dominic Jones, and Sergeant Kevin Teal (collectively "Defendants"). Doc. 1 at 1. Plaintiff also sues Warden Carter Davenport as a Defendant, though Plaintiff does not clarify whether Davenport is sued in his official or individual capacity. Docs. 24, 26.[2]

         Pursuant to the orders of this court, the remaining Defendants filed answers, special reports, supplemental special reports, and evidentiary materials addressing the claims for relief raised in the complaint. Docs. 40, 44, 45, 48, 50, 71, 73. In their various reports, Defendants assert, among other things, that Plaintiff fails to state a claim for relief, respondeat superior is not a basis for relief, there is no merit to Plaintiffs claims, they are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity and qualified immunity, and 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). Docs. 40 at 3-5, 45 at 2.

         The court directed Plaintiff to respond to Defendants' reports. Docs. 52, 67. The court advised Plaintiff it would, in the future, treat Defendants' report and Plaintiffs 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 filed one response, Doc. 55, and Plaintiff did not respond to Defendants' latest supplemental report.

         This case is now pending before the court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Upon consideration of the motion, Plaintiffs response, and the evidentiary materials filed in support of and in opposition to the motions, the court concludes that Defendants' motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "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. Holifieldv. 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 fact so as to preclude summary judgment. See Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Declaratory and Injunctive Relief

         Plaintiff s requests for declaratory and injunctive relief against Defendants are due to be dismissed as moot because Plaintiff is no longer incarcerated at Easterling. 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 Jacoby v. Baldwin Cty., 835 F.3d 1338, 1342 n.l (11th Cir. 2016) ("since Mr. Jacoby is no longer an inmate at the Baldwin jail, his claims for injunctive relief are moot"); Cotterall v. Paul, 755 F.2d 777, 780 (11th Cir. 1985) (case or controversy requires "continuing present injury or real and immediate threat of repeated injury") (quotation marks and citation omitted). Consequently, Plaintiffs requests for equitable relief are due to be dismissed as moot.

         B. Suit Against Defendants in Their Official Capacities

         Plaintiffs seeks money damages against Defendants, who were state actors during the time relevant to the complaint, and he sues them in their official capacities. Official capacity lawsuits are "in all respects other than name, . . . treated as a suit against the entity." Kentucky v. Graham, Al?> U.S. 159, 166 (1985). State officials may not be sued in their official capacity for money damages unless the state has waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity or unless Congress has abrogated the state's immunity, and neither has occurred in this case. See Lancaster v. Monroe County, 116 F.3d 1419, 1429 (11th Cir. 1997) (citing Seminole Tribe v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 59 (1996) (discussing abrogation by Congress); Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984) (discussing Eleventh Amendment immunity); Carr v. City of Florence, 916 F.2d 1521, 1525 (11th Cir. 1990) (Alabama has not waived Eleventh Amendment immunity)). In light of the foregoing, Defendants are entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment for Plaintiff's claims seeking monetary damages from them in their official capacities.

         C. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) and Damages

         Defendants also assert that Plaintiff does not allege "a prior showing of physical injury;" consequently, he cannot obtain compensatory damages "for mental or emotional injury." See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e);[3] Doc. 71 at 6. Section 1997e(e) is a limit on relief, consequently Plaintiff cannot obtain punitive damages and compensatory damages for simply mental or emotional injury. SeeAl-Amin v. Smith, 637 F.3d 1192, 1198 (11th Cir. 2011) (holding prior case law "forecloses the punitive damage relief sought by Al-Amin, given that his constitutional claim does not meet § 1997e(e)'s physical injury requirement"). Nevertheless, if Plaintiff can show a physical injury, § 1997e(e) does not bar relief. In addition, to the extent Plaintiff requests nominal damages, [4] they "'are appropriate if a plaintiff establishes a violation of a fundamental constitutional right, even if he cannot prove actual injury sufficient to entitle him to compensatory damages.'" Williams v. Brown, 347 Fed.Appx. 429, 436 (11th Cir. 2009) (quoting Hughes v. Lott, 350 F.3d 1157, 1162 (11th Cir. 2003)); see also Brooks v. Warden, 800 F.3d 1295, 1307-08 (11th Cir. 2015) (holding that nothing in § 1997e(e) prevents a prisoner from recovering nominal damages for a constitutional violation without a showing of physical injury); Hughes, 350 F.3d at 1162 ("Nominal damages are appropriate if a plaintiff establishes a violation of a fundamental constitutional right, even if he cannot prove actual injury sufficient to entitle him to compensatory damages.").

         D. Eighth Amendment Claim ...


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