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Oliver v. Laseter

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

March 5, 2018

JERMAINE D. OLIVER, #188519, Plaintiff,
v.
ELIZABETH LASETER, et al., Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Susan Russ Walker United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION[1]

         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is pending before the court on a complaint filed by Jermaine D. Oliver, a state inmate, challenging the constitutionality of a disciplinary imposed upon him while incarcerated at the Bullock Correctional Facility. Specifically, Oliver alleges that the defendants denied him due process during a disciplinary hearing on a charge for unauthorized possession of a phone. Doc. 1 at 4-5. Oliver names Elizabeth Laseter, the hearing officer, and Jimmy Thomas, the arresting officer, as defendants in this cause of action. He seeks monetary damages for the alleged violation of his constitutional rights. Doc. 1 at 7.

         The defendants filed a special report and relevant evidentiary materials in support of this report, including affidavits and prison records, addressing the due process claim presented by Oliver. In their report, the defendants deny acting in violation of Oliver's constitutional rights.

         After reviewing the special report filed by the defendants, the court issued an order on May 23, 2016, directing Oliver to file a response to each of the arguments set forth by the defendants in their report, supported by affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury and other evidentiary materials. Doc. 13 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. 13 at 3. Oliver filed an unsworn and unsigned response to this order on June 10, 2016. Doc. 15.

         Pursuant to the order entered on May 23, 2016, the court now treats the defendants' report 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) (per curiam) (citation to former rule 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.”).[2] 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 [now dispute] of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Williamson Oil Company, Inc. v. Phillip Morris USA, 346 F.3d 1287, 1298 (11th Cir. 2003) (holding that moving party bears the initial burden of establishing there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact); Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 64 F.3d 590, 593 (11th Cir. 1995) (same). The movant may meet this burden by presenting evidence indicating there is no dispute of material fact or by demonstrating 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. The moving party discharges his burden by showing that the record lacks evidence to support the nonmoving party's case or that the nonmoving party would be unable to prove his case at trial. Moton v. Cowart, 631 F.3d 1337, 1341 (11th Cir. 2011)

         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) (“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.”). 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 that there is a genuine dispute of material fact. Jeffery, 64 F.3d at 593-94 (internal quotation marks 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 nonmoving 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 Education for Bibb County, 495 F.3d 1306, 1313 (11th Cir. 2007). 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).

         To proceed beyond the summary judgment stage, an inmate-plaintiff is required to produce “sufficient [favorable] evidence” which would be admissible at trial supporting his claim of a constitutional violation. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). “If the evidence [on which the nonmoving party relies] is merely colorable … or is not significantly probative … summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-250. “A mere ‘scintilla' of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the [trier of fact] could reasonably find for that party.” Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1576-77 (11th Cir. 1990) (internal citation omitted). Conclusory allegations based on subjective beliefs are likewise insufficient to create a genuine dispute of material fact and, therefore, do not suffice to oppose a motion for summary judgment. Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1564 n.6 (11th Cir. 1997); Harris v. Ostrout, 65 F.3d 912, 916 (11th Cir. 1995) (holding that grant of summary judgment is appropriate where inmate produces nothing beyond “his own conclusory allegations” challenging actions of the defendants); Fullman v. Graddick, 739 F.2d 553, 557 (11th Cir. 1984) (“Mere verification of party's own conclusory allegations is not sufficient to oppose summary judgment.”); Evers v. General Motors Corp., 770 F.2d 984, 986 (11th Cir. 1985) (“[C]onclusory allegations without specific supporting facts have no probative value.”). Hence, when a plaintiff fails to set forth specific facts supported by requisite evidence sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to his case and on which the plaintiff will bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment is due to be granted in favor of the moving party. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322 (“[F]ailure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.”); Barnes v. Southwest Forest Industries, Inc., 814 F.2d 607, 609 (11th Cir. 1987) (If on any part of the prima facie case the plaintiff presents insufficient evidence to require submission of the case to the trier of fact, granting of summary judgment is appropriate.); Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1023 (11th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (holding that summary judgment is appropriate where no genuine dispute of material fact exists). At the summary judgment stage, this court must “consider all evidence in the record … [including] pleadings, depositions, interrogatories, affidavits, etc. - and can only grant summary judgment if everything in the record demonstrates that no genuine [dispute] of material fact exists.” Strickland v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co., 692 F.3d 1151, 1154 (11th Cir. 2012).

         For summary judgment purposes, only disputes involving material facts are relevant. United States v. One Piece of Real Property Located at 5800 SW 74th Avenue, Miami, Florida, 363 F.3d 1099, 1101 (11th Cir. 2004). What is material is determined by the substantive law applicable to the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. “Only factual disputes that are material under the substantive law governing the case will preclude entry of summary judgment.” Lofton v. Secretary of the Department of Children and Family Services, 358 F.3d 804, 809 (11th Cir. 2004). “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) (citing Anderson, supra).

         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). In cases where the evidence before the court which is admissible on its face or which can be reduced to admissible form indicates there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the party moving for summary judgment is entitled to it as a matter of law, summary judgment is proper. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24. A court may grant summary judgment where the pleadings, evidentiary materials and affidavits before the court show there is no genuine dispute as to a requisite material fact. Id. To establish a genuine dispute of material fact, the nonmoving party must produce evidence such that a reasonable trier of fact could return a verdict in his favor. Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Associates, Inc., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001). “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 nonmoving party 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. Beard, 548 U.S. at 525, 126 S.Ct. at 2576; Brown v. Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 670 (11th Cir. 1990). Thus, Oliver's pro se status alone does not mandate this court's disregard of 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 such review, the court finds that Oliver 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. ...


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