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Bracy v. Dunn

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

March 21, 2018




         Plaintiff Charles William Bracy, Jr., a former inmate of the Alabama Department of Corrections (“ADOC”), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to challenge his placement in segregation and the conditions of his confinement while he was an inmate at Kilby Correctional Facility. Before the court is the Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge. (Doc. # 209.) Although there were no timely objections made to the Recommendation, based on an independent review of the record, the Recommendation is due to be adopted in part and rejected in part. Specifically, the court will reject the Magistrate Judge's recommendation on summary judgment to deny Defendants Dunn, Conway, Culliver, and McDonnell qualified immunity, and it is that issue alone that merits further discussion.


         The court has subject-matter jurisdiction over this action under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue.


         A district court judge “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 18 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The court reviews the Recommendation using the same summary judgment standard applied by the Magistrate Judge. (See Doc. # 209, at 4-6.) Summary judgment is appropriate when 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).


         At the time Mr. Bracy was an inmate, [1] ADOC's classification manual provided that “[i]nmates being held on a detainer warrant for a capital offense or an offense which is likely to result in [life without parole] will be held in Close custody until the resolution of the offense. . . . 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.) Close custody was the most restrictive custody level to which an inmate could be assigned, and placement there required specific approval by the Central Review Board. (Doc. # 27-3, at 6.) Other inmates eligible or mandated for Close custody included those with three or more documented incidents of assault with a weapon in the past year (mandated 24 months in Close custody); an assault that resulted in death (mandated 30 months in Close custody); an escape from a secure facility (eligible for up to 24 months in Close custody); and an escape with hostages or an escape that resulted in serious personal injury (mandated 24 months in Close custody). (Doc. # 27-3, at 5-6.) In contrast to inmates facing the possibility of life without parole (“LWOP”), inmates already sentenced to LWOP would “be observed in Close custody for a least a thirty (30) day period, ” but then could be classified at a less restrictive level. (Doc. # 27-3, at 6.)

         On September 17, 2013, Mr. Bracy was notified that the classification team would meet the next day to recommend that he be placed in Close custody due to a pending drug trafficking charge that could result in an LWOP sentence. (Doc. # 27-3, at 3.) Mr. Bracy attended the meeting and had a chance to speak; he expressed his desire to have a lawyer present. (Doc. # 27-3, at 4.) The classification team recommended that Mr. Bracy be placed in Close custody, and that recommendation was approved by a Central Review Board analyst on October 4, 2013. (Doc. # 27-3, at 7-8.)

         Mr. Bracy remained in Close custody for roughly two years. On August 17, 2015, ADOC's classification manual was amended to allow inmates facing potential LWOP sentences to be placed in medium custody. Mr. Bracy was approved for this downgrade on September 2, 2015, and was transferred to a different facility on October 7, 2015. He has since been released from ADOC custody.

         Mr. Bracy alleges that ADOC violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection by placing him in Close custody for two years. He claims that he suffered psychological harm from the two years spent in a cell that measured 8 feet by 5 feet, where the lights were on 24/7, where he could only eat either sitting on his toilet or on his bed, and where he was forced to spend roughly 23 hours of each day. Further, he alleges that his visitation and phone call allowances were drastically limited; that his exercise time was reduced to being allowed outside for 45 minutes per day, weather and security permitting, while his hands were cuffed behind his back and his feet were shackled; and that he was prohibited from attending religious services, self-help programs, and educational programs offered by the prison. He asserts that these limitations of Close custody were not imposed on inmates actually serving LWOP sentences, but that ADOC treated him differently because he was facing the possibility of an LWOP sentence. (Doc. # 61, at 2-6.)

         The Magistrate Judge compared Mr. Bracy's due process allegations to those in Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209 (2005), and concluded that the factual similarities were such that “a reasonable prison official would have known that a similar deprivation could give rise to a protected liberty interest.” (Doc. # 209, at 22.) Accordingly, the Magistrate Judge recommended denying qualified immunity for the defendants responsible for promulgating the standards that landed Mr. Bracy in Close custody: Jefferson Dunn, the Commissioner of ADOC; Cassandra Conway, ADOC's Director of Classification; Grant Culliver, the Associate Commissioner for Operations for ADOC; and Terrance McDonnell, the Associate Commissioner of Plans and Programs who oversaw the Classification Division.

         The Magistrate Judge also concluded that Mr. Bracy's equal protection claim should go forward because questions remained about “whether there was a rational basis for treating inmates potentially facing LWOP more harshly than inmates actually serving LWOP, ” and whether there was a rational basis “for treating inmates facing LWOP on retrial differently than those facing LWOP who had not been tried.” (Doc. # 209, at 23.) Because the rational basis standard was well established when Mr. Bracy was placed in Close custody, the Magistrate Judge likewise recommended denying qualified immunity for Defendants Dunn, Conway, Culliver, and McDonnell on Mr. Bracy's equal protection claim. (Doc. # 209, at 23 (citation omitted).)

         IV. ...

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