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Robinson v. Baggot

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

December 4, 2019

FREDRICO L. ROBINSON, #190306, Plaintiff,
v.
AGGIE BAGGOT, a.k.a. Angie Baggett, and M. HUMPHRY, a.k.a. Melanie Humphrey,[1] Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Susan Russ Walker United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION [2]

         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is pending before the court on a complaint filed by Fredrico L. Robinson, a state inmate, challenging the constitutionality of actions related to his classification as a restricted offender. Doc. 1 at 2-3. Robinson names Angie Baggett, the Assistant Director of Classification for the Alabama Department of Corrections, and Melanie Humphrey, a Classification Supervisor assigned to Draper Correctional Facility at the time relevant to the complaint, as defendants. Robinson seeks a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief and monetary damages for the alleged violations of his constitutional rights. Doc. 1 at 4.

         The defendants filed a special report, supplements thereto and supporting evidentiary materials addressing the claims for relief presented by Robinson. In these documents, the defendants deny violating Robinson's constitutional rights. The court therefore issued orders directing Robinson to file responses to the defendants' reports, to include affidavits, sworn statements or other evidentiary materials. Doc. 18 at 2; Doc. 24 at 2. These orders cautioned Robinson that unless “sufficient legal cause” is shown within fifteen days of entry of this order “why such action should not be undertaken, . . . the court may at any time [after expiration of the time for his 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; Doc. 24 at 3. Robinson filed responses accompanied by supporting evidentiary materials, including affidavits, to the defendants' reports. Doc. 20; Doc. 27.

         Pursuant to the above described orders, the court deems it appropriate to treat the defendants' reports as a motion for summary judgment. Upon consideration of this motion, the evidentiary materials filed in support thereof, the complaint and the responses filed by Robinson, the court concludes that the defendants' motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.

         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 the 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, 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 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); Barker v. Norman, 651 F.2d 1107, 1115 (5th Cir. Unit A 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 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 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, there must be enough of a showing that the [trier of fact] could reasonably find for that party.” 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.

         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 [defendants'] motion for summary judgment, and sworn affidavit attached to that response[.]” Sears v. Roberts, 922 F.3d 1199, 1206 (11th Cir. 2019); United States v. Stein, 881 F.3d 853, 857 (11th Cir. 2018) (holding that a plaintiff's purely self-serving and uncorroborated statements “based on personal knowledge or observation” set forth in a verified complaint or affidavit 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 [the court] 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 . . . 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. Chamption Int'l Corp., 907 F.2d 1077, 1081 (11th Cir. 1990). In addition, conclusory allegations based on purely subjective beliefs of a plaintiff and assertions of which he lacks personal knowledge are likewise insufficient to create a genuine dispute of material fact. See Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1564 n.6 (11th Cir. 1997). In cases where the evidence before the court which is admissible on its face or which 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 Associates, 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 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).

         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, 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 review of all the evidence which would be admissible at trial, the court finds that Robinson 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

         Robinson requests that the court grant any and all relief available to him. Doc. 1 at 4. To the extent this request can be construed to seek monetary damages from the defendants in their official capacities, they are immune from suit. 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). “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, 104 S.Ct. 900, 908, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984), or Congress has abrogated the state's immunity, see Seminole Tribe v. Florida, [517 U.S. 44, 59], 116 S.Ct. 1114, 1125, 134 L.Ed.2d 252 (1996). Alabama has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity, see Carr v. City of Florence, 916 F.2d 1521, 1525 (11th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted), and Congress has not abrogated Alabama's immunity. Therefore, Alabama state officials are immune from claims brought against them in their official capacities.” Lancaster v. Monroe County, 116 F.3d 1419, 1429 (11th Cir. 1997).

         In light of the foregoing, defendants Baggett and Humphrey are entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment for those claims seeking monetary relief from them in their official capacities. Lancaster, 116 F.3d at 1429; Jackson v. Georgia Department of Transportation, 16 F.3d 1573, 1575 (11th Cir. 1994); Parker v. Williams, 862 F.2d 1471 (11th Cir. 1989).

         IV. RELEVANT FACTS[3]

         On December 29, 1993, a male passenger in a vehicle driven by the murder victim in Robinson's case “gestured to two black males, indicating he wished to buy some crack cocaine.” Doc. 12-1 at 7; Doc. 20-1 at 2. Robinson and another black male approached the vehicle, at which time the passenger “asked for a twenty dollar ‘rock'.” Doc. 12-1 at 7; Doc. 20-1 at 2. As these men approached, “Robinson pulled out a large revolver and told [the occupants of the automobile, ] ‘this is a robbery give me your twenty dollars and take your necklace off.'” Doc. 12-1 at 7; Doc. 20-1 at 2. The victim accelerated the vehicle “in an attempt to get away. Robinson fired two shots at the vehicle, one bullet struck the right rear quarter panel of [the] vehicle and the other one went through ...


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