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Ward v. Bruton

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

May 23, 2019

MICHAEL WARD, Plaintiff,
v.
MARK BRUTON, Defendant.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          GRAY M. BORDEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is before the court on a complaint filed by Michael Ward, a state inmate at the he filed the complaint on June 28, 2016.[1] In this complaint, Ward alleges that in September of 2000, upon his return to the custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections (“ADOC”) for a probation violation on a 1995 first degree robbery conviction imposed by the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama, Bessemer Division (CC-1995-1205), an unidentified official in the Central Records Division of the ADOC entered an improper amount of jail credit for him. Ward complains that this erroneous entry caused his later incarceration on the robbery sentence after its expiration on March 9, 2012, because he was arrested on August 22, 2013 for a violation of parole granted to him on the 1995 robbery conviction. Ward also challenges the terms of parole he served for the 1995 robbery conviction beyond the expiration of his sentence for this offense on March 9, 2012. Ward names Mark Bruton, the current Director of the Central Records Division for the ADOC, as the sole defendant in this cause of action. He seeks monetary damages from the defendant for the alleged violation of his constitutional rights arising from the erroneous entry of jail credit in September 2000. Doc. 1 at 4.

         The defendant filed a special report, supplemental special reports, and relevant evidentiary materials in support of his reports, including affidavits and certified copies of relevant prison records. In these filings, the defendant denies he had any responsibility for inputting the wrong amount of jail credit in September of 2000, Doc. 17 at 2-3, and maintains that the only evidence before the court establishes that he corrected the error on October 26, 2015 when Ward first brought it to his attention. Doc. 17-1 at 2. The defendant further asserts that the claims presented in the complaint are barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Doc. 17 at 4.

         After receipt of the defendant's special report and supplements to the report, the court issued an order directing Ward to file a response to “the written reports of the defendant[] addressing each of the arguments/defenses raised therein.” Doc. 23 at 1. 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 report[s] 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. 23 at 3. Ward filed unsworn responses to these reports on October 19, 2016 and October 28, 2016, Docs. 24 & 25, and an affidavit in support of the second response. Doc. 25-1.[2] Ward, however, does not address the statute of limitations defense raised by the defendant and merely argues his entitlement to relief on his claims.

         Pursuant to the directives of the order described above, the court deems it appropriate to treat the defendant's special report and supplements as a motion for summary judgment and concludes that summary judgment is due to be granted in favor of the defendant because Ward did not file this case within two years of the entry of the improper amount of jail credit.

         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 the moving party has the 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 defendant meets his evidentiary burden, as he has 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) (“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[.]”); 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 also will 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); Barker v. Norman, 651 F.2d 1107, 1115 (5th Cir. 1981) (stating that a verified complaint serves the same purpose of an affidavit for purposes of summary judgment). 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 factfinder 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 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 supporting 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, and materiality is determined by the substantive law applicable to the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         To 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. At the summary judgment stage, this court should accept as true “statements in [the plaintiff's] verified complaint, [any] sworn response to the officers' motion for summary judgment, and sworn affidavit attached to that response [or other duly submitted affidavit.]” Sears v. Roberts, 2019 WL 1785355, *3 (11th Cir. April 24, 2019). In cases where the evidence before the court that is admissible on its face or that can be reduced to admissible form indicates there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the party moving for summary judgment is entitled to it as a matter of law, summary judgment is proper. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24; Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., Inc., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001) (holding that to establish a genuine dispute of material fact, the nonmoving party must produce evidence such that a reasonable trier of fact could return a verdict in his favor). “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 Ft. 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).

         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. Beard, 548 U.S. at 525. Thus, a plaintiff's pro se status alone does not compel this court to disregard elementary principles of production and proof in a civil case. Here, after a thorough and exhaustive review of all the evidence that would be admissible at trial, the court finds that Ward has failed to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact in order to preclude entry of summary judgment in favor of the defendant because his complaint is barred by the applicable two-year period of limitations.

         III. RELEVANT FACTS

         Ward began service of the sentence imposed for his 1995 robbery conviction on December 12, 1995. Doc. 17-1 at 1. He was released on probation from this sentence on March 17, 1998. Doc. 17-1 at 1. Due to a violation of his probation, Ward returned to the custody of the ADOC to continue serving the robbery sentence on September 14, 2000 “and was mistakenly given only the new jail credit of 184 days and . . . [not] the 3 years of credit for pre-time served.” Doc. 17-1 at 1. This lack of correct jail credit for time served appeared on his timesheet beginning in September 2000. Ward was released to parole on August 25, 2008 but returned to custody on August 22, 2013 for a violation of his parole on the 1995 robbery conviction due to his commission of a new burglary offense, [3] and he ‚Äúremained in ADOC custody until ...


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