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Hutchins v. Myers

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

April 24, 2019

TRAVIS HUTCHINS, AIS #254969, Plaintiff,
v.
WALTER MYERS, et al., Defendants.

          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 Travis Hutchins, an indigent state inmate, challenging actions which occurred during his incarceration at the Easterling Correctional Facility. Specifically, Hutchins complains the defendants acted with deliberate indifference to his safety when they failed to protect him from attack by inmate Corderis Thomas on March 6, 2016. Doc. 1 at 3-5. He also alleges this attack occurred because the defendants disregarded prison policies. Doc. 1 at 4-5. Next, Hutchins complains “a proper investigation [was not] done.” Doc. 1 at 3. Finally, Hutchins asserts the defendants acted with deliberate indifference to his medical needs after the attack by inmate Thomas. Doc. 1 at 4.

         Hutchins names Warden Walter Myers, Assistant Warden Patrice Richie, Capt. Camelia Cargill and Capt. Nathaniel Lawson, all correctional officials employed at Easterling when the challenged actions transpired, as defendants in both their individual and official capacities.[2] Hutchins seeks a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief and monetary damages for the alleged violations of his constitutional rights. Doc. 1 at 1 & 6.

         The defendants filed a special report, supplemental special report and relevant evidentiary materials in support of their reports - including affidavits, prison reports and medical records - addressing the claims presented by Hutchins. In these filings, the defendants deny they acted with deliberate indifference to Hutchins' safety or medical needs and also assert they did not violate any of his constitutional rights.

         The court issued an order directing Hutchins to file a response to the arguments set forth by the defendants in their special report and supplement thereto and advising him that his response should be supported by affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury and other appropriate evidentiary materials. Doc. 19 at 2. This order specifically cautioned the parties that “unless within fifteen (15) days from the date of this order a party files a response in opposition which 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 the order] and without further notice to the parties (1) treat the special report [- as supplemented -] 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. 19 at 3. Hutchins filed an unsworn response and supporting affidavit in response to this order. Docs. 26 & 26-1.[3]

         Pursuant to the directives of the above described order, the court deems it appropriate to treat the defendants' special report and the supplemental special report as a motion for summary judgment. Upon consideration of the defendants' motion for summary judgment, the evidentiary materials filed in support thereof, the sworn complaint and the plaintiff's affidavit in opposition, to the extent it does not expand on his claims or present a new basis for a pending claim, the court 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) (internal quotation marks 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.”). 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); 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 the record lacks evidence to support the nonmoving party's case or the nonmoving party would be unable to prove his case at trial).

         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); 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). 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). 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). However, “mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005).

         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 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) (citation omitted). “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); Feliciano v. City of Miami Beach, 707 F.3d 1244, 1253-54 (11th Cir. 2013) (same).

         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. Thus, the plaintiff's pro se status alone does not compel this court to disregard 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 this review, the court finds that Hutchins has failed to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact in order to preclude entry of summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

         III. ABSOLUTE IMMUNITY

         To the extent Hutchins requests monetary damages from the defendants in their official capacities, he is not entitled to this relief. 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/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.

Selensky, 619 Fed.Appx. at 849 (citing Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978) (holding 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, the defendants 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). The defendants are therefore entitled to absolute immunity insofar as Hutchins seeks monetary damages from them in their official capacities.

         IV. DISCUSSION OF CLAIMS FOR RELIEF [4]

         A. ...


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