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Clegg v. Carlton

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

October 23, 2018

JEFFREY SCOTT CLEGG, #276457, Plaintiff,
v.
CASSANDRA CARLTON, Defendant.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          CHARLES S. COODY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION [1]

         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is pending before the court on a complaint filed by Jeffrey Scott Clegg, a former state inmate, challenging the constitutionality of a disciplinary imposed upon him during a prior term of incarceration at the Bullock Correctional Facility. Specifically, Clegg alleges defendant Carlton, the disciplinary hearing officer, denied him due process in a disciplinary hearing conducted on a charge for failure to obey a direct order. Doc. 1 at 4. Clegg also asserts Carlton relied on false information in finding him guilty of the aforementioned charge. Doc. 1 at 4. Clegg seeks a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief and monetary damages for the alleged violations of his constitutional rights. Doc. 1 at 5; Doc. 30 at 1.

         The defendant filed a special report, supplemental special report and relevant evidentiary materials in support of these reports addressing the claims presented by Clegg. In these reports, the defendant denies acting in violation of Clegg's constitutional rights.

         After reviewing the special reports filed by the defendant, the court issued an order on March 7, 2016 directing Clegg to file a response, supported by affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury and other evidentiary materials, to each of the arguments set forth by the defendant in her reports, . Doc. 18 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. 18 at 3 (emphasis in original). In compliance with this order, Clegg filed a response (Doc. 22) and affidavit (Doc. 23) in opposition to the defendants' special reports.

         Pursuant to the directives of the order entered on March 7, 2016, the court now treats the defendant's reports as a motion for summary judgment and concludes that summary judgment is due to be granted in favor of the defendant.

         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); 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.”). 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 issue [dispute] of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 529 (2006) (holding that a court “must examine the record to see whether the [party moving for summary judgment], in depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, affidavits and the like, has demonstrated the absence of a genuine [dispute] of material fact, and his entitlement to judgment as a matter of law.”) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted); Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 64 F.3d 590, 593 (11th Cir. 1995) (holding that moving party has initial burden of showing there is no genuine dispute of material fact for trial). 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 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; Moton v. Cowart, 631 F.3d 1337, 1341 (11th Cir. 2011) (holding that 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).

         When the moving party meets its evidentiary burden, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to establish, with appropriate evidence beyond the pleadings, that a genuine dispute material to his case exists. At this juncture, the court “must determine whether [the plaintiff], who bears the burden of persuasion, has by affidavits or as otherwise provided in Rule 56 . . . set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine [dispute of material fact] for trial.” Beard, 521 U.S. at 529 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted); Jeffery, 64 F.3d at 593-94 (holding that, once a moving party meets its burden, “the non-moving party must then go beyond the pleadings, and by its own affidavits [or statements made under penalty of perjury], or by depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ” demonstrate that there is a genuine dispute of material fact.). 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 a party produces evidence that would allow a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict in its favor such that summary judgment is not warranted. Greenberg, 498 F.3d at 1263; Allen v. Bd. of Pub. Educ. for Bibb Cnty., 495 F.3d 1306, 1313 (11th Cir. 2007). “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).

[This court] recognize[s] that at this stage [it] must draw “all justifiable inferences in [the plaintiff's] “favor.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). In doing so, however, we 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. Overton [v. Bazetta, 539 U.S. 126, 132 (2003)]. 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, 548 U.S. at 530.

         Although factual inferences must be viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff 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. See Beard, 548 U.S. at 525; McKeithen v. Jackson, 606 Fed.Appx. 937, 938 (11th Cir. 2015); Ivory v. Warden, 600 Fed.Appx. 670, 675 (2015). Thus, Clegg's pro se status alone does not compel this court to disregard elementary principles of production and proof in a civil case.

         III. ABSOLUTE IMMUNITY

         To the extent Clegg lodges claims against defendant Carlton in her official capacity and seeks monetary damages, Carlton is entitled to absolute immunity. Official capacity lawsuits are “in all respects other than name, . . . treated as a suit against the entity.” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985).

“[T]he Eleventh Amendment prohibits federal courts from entertaining suits by private parties against States and their agencies [or employees].” Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 781, 98 S.Ct. 3057, 57 L.Ed.2d 1114 (1978). There are two exceptions to this prohibition: where the state has waived its immunity or where Congress has abrogated that immunity. Virginia Office for Prot. & Advocacy v. Stewart, 563 U.S. 247, 131 S.Ct. 1632, 1637-38, 179 L.Ed.2d 675 (2011). “A State's consent to suit must be ‘unequivocally expressed' in the text of [a] relevant statute.” Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277, 131 S.Ct. 1651, 1658, 179 L.Ed.2d 700 (2011) (quoting Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98, 104 S.Ct. 900, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984)). “Waiver may not be implied.” Id. Likewise, “Congress' intent to abrogate the States' immunity from suit must be obvious from ‘a clear legislative statement.'” Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 55, 116 S.Ct. 1114, 134 L.Ed.2d 252 (1996) (quoting Blatchford v. Native Vill. of Noatak, 501 U.S. 775, 786, 111 S.Ct. 2578, 115 L.Ed.2d 686 (1991)).

Selensky v. Alabama, 619 Fed.Appx. 846, 848-49 (11th Cir. 2015). Thus, a state official may not be sued in her official capacity unless the state has waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity, see Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984), or Congress has abrogated the State's immunity, see Seminole Tribe v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 59 (1996).

Neither waiver nor abrogation applies here. The Alabama Constitution states that “the State of Alabama shall never be made a defendant in any court of law or equity.” Ala. Const. art. I, § 14. The Supreme Court has recognized that this prohibits Alabama from waiving its immunity from suit. Pugh, 438 U.S. at 782, 98 S.Ct. 3057 (citing Ala. Const. art. I, § 14.)

Selensky, 619 Fed.Appx. at 849. “Alabama has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity in § 1983 cases, nor has Congress abated it.” Holmes v. Hale, 701 Fed.Appx. 751, 753 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Carr v. City of Florence, Ala., 916 F.2d 1521, 1525 (11th Cir. 1990)).

         In light of the foregoing, the defendant is entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment for claims seeking monetary damages from her in her official capacity. Selensky, 619 Fed.Appx. at 849; Harbert Int'l, Inc. v. James, 157 F.3d 1271, 1277 (11th Cir. 1998) (holding that state officials sued in their official capacities are protected from suit for damages under the Eleventh Amendment); Edwards v. Wallace Community College, 49 ...


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