United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
RONNIE WILLIAMS / RONALD VINCENT WILLIAMS, #239 426, Plaintiff,
WALTER MYERS, et al., Defendants. RONALD VINCENT WILLIAMS / RONNIE WILLIAMS, #239 426, Plaintiff,
WALTER MYERS, et al., Defendants.
RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE
STEPHEN M. DOYLE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Ronald Vincent Williams [“Williams”], an inmate
incarcerated at the Loxley Work Release Center in Loxely,
Alabama, brings 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against Warden
Walter Myers, Patrice Richie, Patrick Hampton, Sherry
Lightner, and Larry Anglin. Williams seeks to challenge the
constitutionality of matters arising during his incarceration
at the Easterling Correctional Facility including a denial of
access to the courts, Defendants' improper use of false
or incorrect information related to his “true
identity” to engage in improper conduct or activities,
and being subject to retaliation for filing complaints.
Williams seeks his release from prison or a grant of early
parole, that he be given his true and correct identity, and
that he be awarded $8.3 million in damages.
filed an answer, special report, and supporting evidentiary
materials addressing Williams' claims for relief. Docs.
78, 79, 81. In these filings, Defendants deny they acted in
violation of Williams' constitutional rights. Upon
receipt of Defendants' special report, the court issued
an order directing Williams to file a response, including
sworn affidavits and other evidentiary materials, and
specifically cautioning Williams “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. 93 at 2.
Williams responded to Defendants' special report,
see Docs. 383, 87, 95, 96, 108, 111, but his
responses do not demonstrate there is any genuine issue of
material fact. See Doc. 93. The court will treat
Defendants' report as a motion for summary judgment and
resolve this motion in their favor.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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.
have met their evidentiary burden and demonstrated the
absence of any genuine dispute of material fact. Thus, the
burden shifts to Williams 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) (holding that the court should consider
facts pled in a plaintiff's sworn complaint when
considering summary judgment). A genuine dispute of material
fact exists when the nonmoving party produces evidence that
would allow a reasonable factfinder 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). Only
disputes involving material facts are relevant, materiality
is determined by the substantive law applicable to the case.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
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; see also United States v. Stein, 881
F.3d 853 (11th Cir. 2018) (holding that a plaintiff's
self-serving and uncorroborated, but not conclusory,
statements in an affidavit or deposition may create an issue
of material fact which precludes summary judgment);
Feliciano v. City of Miami Beach, 707 F.3d 1244,
1253 (11th Cir. 2013) (citations omitted) (“To be sure,
[plaintiff's] sworn statements are self-serving, but that
alone does not permit us to disregard them at the summary
judgment stage. . . . ‘Courts routinely and properly
deny summary judgment on the basis of a party's sworn
testimony even though it is self-serving.'”).
“Conclusory, uncorroborated allegations by a plaintiff
in an affidavit or deposition will not create an issue of
fact for trial sufficient to defeat a well-supported summary
judgment motion.” Solliday v. Fed. Officers,
413 Fed. App'x 206, 207 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing
Earley v. Champion Int'l Corp., 907 F.2d 1077, 1081
(11th Cir. 1990)); see also Holifield v. Reno, 115
F.3d 1555, 1564 n.6 (11th Cir. 1997) (holding that conclusory
allegations based on subjective beliefs are likewise
insufficient to create a genuine dispute of material fact).
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. See
Beard v. 9Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 525 (2006); Brown v.
Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 670 (11th Cir. 1990). Thus, a
plaintiff's pro se status alone does not mandate
this court disregard elementary principles of production and
proof in a civil case. Here, Williams fails to demonstrate
the requisite genuine dispute of material fact to preclude
summary judgment on his claims. See Matsushita, 475
U.S. at 587.
seeks release from prison or early parole. When the effect of
granting equitable relief under the civil rights statute
would be to substitute a § 1983 action for a federal
writ of habeas corpus challenging the basis for ongoing
detention or for a petition under § 2254 attacking a
state court conviction and/or sentence, a prisoner fails to
state a claim under § 1983. See Eutzy v. Tesar,
880 F.2d 1010, 1011 (8th Cir. 1989); Preiser, 411
U.S. 475, 500 (1973). A plaintiff, therefore, cannot seek
declaratory or injunctive relief relating to his confinement
and/or conviction in a § 1983 action. See Edwards v.
Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 648 (1997); Heck v.
Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 483-89 (1994); Preiser,
411 U.S. at 500 (“when a state prisoner is challenging
the very fact or duration of his physical imprisonment, and
the relief he seeks is a determination that he is entitled to
immediate release or a speedier release from that
imprisonment, his sole federal remedy is a writ of habeas
corpus”). Williams' request for injunctive relief
is, therefore, due to be dismissed.
Absolute Immunity - Official Capacity Claims
extent Williams requests monetary damages from Defendants in
their official capacities, they are 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). As the Eleventh Circuit has held,
the Eleventh Amendment prohibits federal courts from
entertaining suits by private parties against States and
their agencies [or employees]. There are two exceptions to
this prohibition: where the state has waived its immunity or
where Congress has abrogated that immunity. A State's
consent to suit must be unequivocally expressed in the text
of [a] relevant statute. Waiver may not be implied. Likewise,
Congress' intent to abrogate the States' immunity
from suit must be obvious from a clear legislative statement.
Selensky v. Alabama, 619 Fed.Appx. 846, 848-49 (11th
Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
Thus, a state official may not be sued in his 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.
Selensky, 619 Fed.Appx. at 849 (citing Alabama
v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978) (consent is prohibited
by the Alabama Constitution). “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, Defendants, as employees
of the Alabama Department of Corrections or acting as state
agents, are entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh
Amendment for claims seeking monetary damages from them in
their official capacities. 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 under the
Eleventh Amendment from suit for damages); Edwards v.
Wallace Community College, 49 F.3d 1517, 1524 (11th Cir.
1995) (holding that damages are unavailable from state
official sued in his official capacity).
Qualified Immunity - Individual Capacity Claims
immunity offers complete protection from civil damages for
government officials sued in their individual capacities if
their conduct does not violate “clearly established
statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable
person would have known.” Hope v. Pelzer, 536
U.S. 730, 739 (2002) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald,
457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). Qualified immunity is not merely a
defense against liability but immunity from suit, and the
Supreme Court “repeatedly [has] stressed the importance
of resolving immunity questions at the earliest possible
stage in litigation.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555
U.S. 223, 231-32 (2009) (quotation marks and citations
omitted). To receive qualified immunity, the public official
must first prove he was acting within the scope of his
discretionary authority when the allegedly wrongful acts
occurred. Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1194 (11th
Cir. 2002). There is no dispute the correctional defendants
here were acting within the course and scope of their
discretionary authority when the incidents occurred. Williams
must, therefore, allege facts that, when read in a light most
favorable to him, show that the correctional defendants are
not entitled to qualified immunity. Cottone v.
Jenne, 326 F.3d 1352, 1358 (11th Cir. 2003).
satisfy his burden, a plaintiff must show two things: (1)
that a defendant committed a constitutional violation and (2)
that the constitutional right a defendant violated was
“clearly established.” Crosby v. Monroe
Cnty., 394 F.3d 1328, 1332 (11th Cir. 2004).
“To be clearly established, a right must be
sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would [have
understood] that what he is doing violates that right. In
other words, existing precedent must have placed the
statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.”
Reichle v. Howards, 566 U.S. 658, 664 (2012)
(quotation marks and citations omitted). “Clearly
established law” means (1) “a materially similar
case has already been decided”; (2) “a broader,
clearly established principle that should control the novel
facts of the situation”; or (3) “the conduct
involved in the case may so obviously violate the
constitution that prior case law is unnecessary.”
Gaines v. Wardynski, 871 F.3d 1203, 1208-09 (11th
Cir. 2017) (quotation marks and citations omitted). The
controlling authority is from “the United States
Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit, or the highest court in
the relevant state.” See id. at 1209.
“Qualified immunity gives government officials
breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments, and
protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who
knowingly violate the law.” Messerschmidt v.
Millender, 565 U.S. 535, 546 (2012) (quotation marks and
citations omitted). The Eleventh Circuit “has stated
many times that if case law, in factual terms, has not staked
out a bright line, qualified immunity almost always protects
the defendant.” Gaines, 871 F.3d at 1210.
“Exact factual identity with the previously decided
case is not required, but the unlawfulness of the conduct
must be apparent from pre-existing law.” Coffin v.
Brandau, 642 F.3d 999, 1013 (11th Cir. 2011). If a
plaintiff cannot establish both elements to satisfy his
burden, the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity,
and the court may analyze the elements “in whatever
order is deemed most appropriate for the case.”
Rehberg v. Paulk, 611 F.3d 828, 839 (11th Cir. 2010)
(citing Pearson, 555 U.S. at 241-42).