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Harris v. Conway

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

June 13, 2018

RONALD ROSS HARRIS, #138 921, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Ronald Harris, an inmate in the custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections, files this pro se civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He sues Cassandra Conway, Director of Classification for the Alabama Department of Corrections (“ADOC”), in her individual capacity. Harris complains that Conway has refused to correct and remove erroneous information in his inmate file regarding an escape conviction which he alleges negatively affects his custody level. Conway's conduct, Harris claims, has violated his due process and equal protection rights. For relief, Harris requests the erroneous information be removed from his inmate file and that he be awarded “compensatory judgment for costs of litigation.” Doc. 1.

         Conway filed an answer, special report, and supporting evidentiary materials addressing Harris's claims for relief. Docs. 12, 13. In these filings, Conway denies that she acted in violation of Harris's constitutional rights. Id. Upon receipt of Conway's special report, the court issued an order directing Harris to file a response, including sworn affidavits and other evidentiary materials, and specifically cautioning Harris “the court may at any time thereafter and without notice to the parties (1) treat the special report and any supporting evidentiary materials as a motion for summary judgment.” Doc. 14. Harris responded to Conway's special report, see Doc. 24, but his response does not demonstrate there is any genuine issue of material fact. See Doc. 14 at 2. The court will treat Conway's report as a motion for summary judgment, and it resolves this motion in her favor.


         “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); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) (“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 [dispute] of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant may meet this burden by presenting evidence indicating there is no dispute of material fact or by showing the non-moving party has failed to present evidence to support some element on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322-324.

         Conway has met her evidentiary burden. Thus, the burden shifts to Harris 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 v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 64 F.3d 590, 593-594 (11th Cir. 1995) (holding that, 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 there is a genuine dispute of material fact) (internal quotations 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 non-moving 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 Educ., 495 F.3d 1306, 1313 (11th Cir. 2007).

         Although factual inferences must be viewed in a light most favorable to the non- moving party and pro se complaints are entitled to liberal interpretation by the courts, a pro se litigant does not escape the burden of establishing by sufficient evidence a genuine dispute of material fact. See Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 525 (2006); Brown v. Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 670 (11th Cir. 1990). Harris's pro se status alone does not compel this court to disregard elementary principles of production and proof in a civil case.


         A. False Information

         Harris claims that Conway is relying on false information to deny him a less restrictive custody status. The allegedly false information on which Conway relies concerns an escape from the Cleburne County Jail between June 29, 1989 and June 30, 1989.[1] Doc. 1.

         The undisputed records reflect that in May of 2009, a classification specialist recommended that Harris be reclassified to medium custody because he had more than two escape convictions. In August of 2009, a member of the Central Review Board approved the recommendation. The decision to approve Harris's reclassification recommendation was made in accordance with ADOC classification criteria which bars inmates with more than two escapes from being classified to less than medium custody. The escape history used to reclassify Harris in August 2009 included an Escape I conviction entered against him by the Circuit Court for Cleburne County on February 23, 1989, for which he received a life sentence; an attempted escape from the Heflin Police Department on December 19, 1981, for which Harris paid fines and costs; and a misdemeanor escape conviction against Harris on October 9, 1985, by the Haralson County, Georgia, Superior Court for which he received twelve months of probation. Harris's classification inmate summary sheet maintained by the ADOC also contains a copy of a warrant recall order dated March 10, 1992. The recall order was entered for a warrant issued on June 30, 1989, against Harris for a charge of Escape I because the state decided not to prosecute Harris for that offense. Defendant Conway states that although Harris was not prosecuted for the 1989 escape, such information remains a part of his inmate classification summary based on evidence that the offense occurred. The evidence does not, however, reflect that prison classification officials relied on any information regarding the June 1989 escape in deciding to reclassify Harris to medium custody. Doc. 13-1; Doc. 13-2. See also Doc. 25-1.

         In Monroe v. Thigpen, 932 F.2d 1437 (11th Cir. 1991), the Court held that reliance on admittedly false information to deny a prisoner consideration for parole was arbitrary and capricious treatment which violated the Constitution. The appellate court, however, carefully distinguished its holding in Monroe from its prior decision in Slocum v. Georgia State Bd. of Pardons and Paroles, 678 F.2d 940 (11th Cir. 1982).

Our holding today does not conflict with our earlier holding in Slocum, supra. In Slocum, the plaintiff, who had been denied parole, made the conclusory allegation that the Board must have relied upon erroneous information because otherwise the Board would surely have granted him parole. Slocum, 678 F.2d at 941. The plaintiff then sought to assert a due process right to examine his prison file for the alleged errors. Unlike the instant case, in Slocum the state did not admit that it had relied upon false information in denying parole nor did the plaintiff present any evidence that his prison file even contained any false information. We held in Slocum that prisoners do not state a due process claim by merely asserting that erroneous information may have been used during their parole consideration. Id. at 942. We also determined that prisoners do not have a due process right to examine their prison files as part of a general fishing expedition in search of false information that could possibly exist in their files. Id. In the case at bar, we are confronted with prison authorities who admit that information contained in Monroe's files is false and that they relied upon such information, at least in part, to deny Monroe parole and to classify him as a sex offender. As we stated, the parole statute does not authorize state officials to rely on knowingly false information in their determinations. Thomas [v. Sellers], 691 F.2d [487] at 489 [(11th Cir. 1982)].

Monroe, 932 F.3d at 1442. Slocum controls the disposition of the instant false information claim. Conway has not admitted that information used in the decision to reclassify Harris to medium custody was false, fabricated, incorrect or erroneous. Harris has failed to offer any evidence which indicates that Conway or any other classification personnel have knowingly used or relied on false or fabricated information to classify him as a medium custody inmate. Harris's conclusory allegation regarding the use of fabricated information does nothing more than raise the possibility that information in his records may be false, and this mere possibility fails to provide a basis for relief. Monroe, 932 F.2d at 1142; Jones v. Ray, 2 ...

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