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Cook-Bey v. Luckie

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

June 11, 2019

KENDRICK COOK-BEY, #174 046, Plaintiff,
v.
CAMILLE LUCKIE, et al., Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          GRAY M. BORDEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Kendrick Cook-Bey, an inmate incarcerated at the Bullock Correctional Facility when he filed this pro se 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, alleges prison officials at the Staton Correctional Facility (“Staton”) are liable for constitutional claims arising from Defendants' processing and handling of his mail in June 2015. Cook-Bey sues Lieutenant Camille Luckie, Warden Leeposey Daniels, and Commissioner Jefferson Dunn. He seeks damages, costs, and injunctive relief. Doc. 1.

         Defendants filed an answer, special report, and supporting evidentiary materials addressing Cook-Bey's claims for relief. Docs. 29 & 30. In these filings, Defendants deny they acted in violation of Cook-Bey's constitutional rights. Docs. 29 & 30. Upon receipt of Defendants' special report, the court issued an order directing Cook-Bey to file a response, including sworn affidavits and other evidentiary materials, and specifically cautioning Cook-Bey that “the court may at any time thereafter and without notice to the parties . . . treat the special report and any supporting evidentiary materials as a motion for summary judgment.” Doc. 31.

         Cook-Bey responded to Defendants' special report. Doc. 34. He has not sworn to the truthfulness of the statements in his response, however, and it does not meet the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e)(1) that an affidavit “be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant is competent to testify on the matters stated.” This failure on Cook-Bey's part means that his response is not evidence that could create a genuine issue of material fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(1); Holloman v. Jacksonville Housing Auth., 2007 WL 245555, *2 (11th Cir. Jan. 30, 2007) (holding that “unsworn statements, even from pro se parties, should not be considered in determining the propriety of summary judgment”); Pfeil v. Rogers, 757 F.2d 850, 859 (7th Cir. 1986); Dickinson v. Wainwright, 626 F.2d 1184, 1185 (5th Cir. 1980). The court will treat Defendants' report as a motion for summary judgment, and recommends this motion be resolved in favor of Defendants.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “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 322-24; 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 could not prove his case at trial).

         When Defendants meet their evidentiary burden, as they have here, the burden shifts to Cook-Bey to establish, with appropriate evidence beyond the pleadings, that a genuine dispute material to his claims 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 . . . .”); 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). But 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. 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).

         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 [Plaintiff's] verified complaint, [any] sworn response to the [Defendants'] motion for summary judgment, and sworn affidavit attached to that response[.]” Sears v. Roberts, 2019 WL 1785355, *3 (11th Cir. April 24, 2019); 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.'”). However, general, blatantly contradicted, and merely “[c]onclusory, uncorroborated allegations by a plaintiff in [his verified complaint or] 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.Appx. 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).

         Although 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. Banks, 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, Cook-Bey fails to demonstrate a requisite genuine dispute of material fact to preclude summary judgment on his claims against Defendants. See Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. The Complaint

         On June 4, 2015, Luckie summoned Cook-Bey to Hall One at Staton to pick up his mail. The mail consisted of religious material and was addressed to the Moorish Science Temple “c/o Chaplain Stephen Smith.” When Cook-Bey arrived at Hall One, a trainee told him he had to be handcuffed. Cook-Bey responded that he did not consent to being handcuffed behind his back to pick up mail. Cook-Bey also mentioned that Administration Regulation 448 sets forth the procedure for mail. The trainee left the area and returned with Luckie, who told Cook-Bey that if he wanted his mail he first would have to be handcuffed. Cook-Bey reiterated to Luckie that he did not “consent” to that policy. Luckie then directed another correctional officer to handcuff Cook-Bey, who said he had no choice and complained that he should not have to be in handcuffs since the mail was of a religious nature addressed to the Moorish Science Temple in the care of the chaplain. Cook-Bey asked Luckie how he could sign for his mail with his hands cuffed behind his back, but Luckie only said that if he did not wish to be handcuffed then he would not get his mail. Doc. 1-1 at 1-2.

         Cook-Bey notified Dunn and Daniels in writing on June 10, 2015 of the “federal mail violation” by Luckie. On June 15, 2015, Cook-Bey told Chaplain Smith that Luckie withheld his mail addressed to the Moorish Science Temple in care of the Chaplain. After Chaplain Smith spoke with Luckie by phone, he told Cook-Bey to speak with her. After refreshing Luckie's memory regarding their June 4, 2015 encounter, Luckie told Cook-Bey that the mail had been destroyed because he did not want it. Doc. 1-1 at 2-3.

         Cook-Bey maintains that Luckie's conduct violated his First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of religion because her actions resulted in the restriction of his mail for no reason, and that her destruction of his mail violated prison regulations. Cook-Bey further complains that Defendants failed to provide him with due process mandated by the prison regulation regarding inmate mail, and that Dunn and Daniels refused to remedy the matter with his mail after being notified of his complaints. Doc. 1 at 4-5.

         B. Absolute Immunity

         To the extent Cook-Bey 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. App'x 846, 848-49 (11th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Thus, a state official may not be sued in his or her official capacity unless the state has waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity, see Pennhurst St. Sch. & Hosp. 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 ...

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