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Jackson v. Stoddard

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

March 14, 2017

CURTIS O. JACKSON, #282320, Plaintiff,
v.
CATHY STODDARD, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Paul L. Maloney United States District Judge.

         This is a civil rights action brought pro se by a state prisoner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is an inmate at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility. This lawsuit arises out of conditions of his confinement in between April 2013 and June 2014, when plaintiff was an inmate housed in administrative segregation at the Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility (ICF). Plaintiff named Warden Cathleen Stoddard, [1]Captain Fred Hogle, and Librarian Joe Novak as defendants. Plaintiff alleges that Warden Stoddard provided him with “tooth powder” rather than toothpaste in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause. He alleges that defendants Novak and Hogle “retaliated” against him violated his First Amendment rights by destroying forms requesting unspecified law library books. Plaintiff seeks an award of damages against defendants in their individual capacities.[2]

         On July 27, 2016, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 82). Plaintiff has filed his response. (ECF No. 88). For the reasons set forth herein, defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted and judgment will be entered in favor of defendants on all plaintiff's claims.

         Applicable Standards

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record reveals that there are no genuine issues as to any material fact in dispute and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Griffin v. Hardrick, 604 F.3d 949, 953 (6th Cir. 2010). The standard for determining whether summary judgment is appropriate is “whether ‘the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'” Moses v. Providence Hosp. Med. Centers, Inc., 561 F.3d 573, 578 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986)). The Court must consider all pleadings, depositions, affidavits, and admissions on file, and draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the party opposing the motion. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Pluck v. BP Oil Pipeline Co., 640 F.3d 671, 676 (6th Cir. 2011).

         When the party without the burden of proof seeks summary judgment, that party bears the initial burden of pointing out to the district court an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, but need not support its motion with affidavits or other materials “negating” the opponent's claim. See Morris v. Oldham County Fiscal Court, 201 F.3d 784, 787 (6th Cir. 2000); see also Minadeo v. ICI Paints, 398 F.3d 751, 761 (6th Cir. 2005). Once the movant shows that “there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, ” the nonmoving party has the burden of coming forward with evidence raising a triable issue of fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). To sustain this burden, the nonmoving party may not rest on the mere allegations of his pleadings. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see Everson v. Leis, 556 F.3d 484, 496 (6th Cir. 2009). The motion for summary judgment forces the nonmoving party to present evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue of fact for trial. Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1478 (6th Cir. 1990); see Newell Rubbermaid, Inc. v. Raymond Corp., 676 F.3d 521, 533 (6th Cir. 2012). “A mere scintilla of evidence is insufficient; ‘there must be evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant].'” Dominguez v. Correctional Med. Servs., 555 F.3d 543, 549 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252); see LaQuinta Corp. v. Heartland Properties LLC, 603 F.3d 327, 335 (6th Cir. 2010).

         B. Qualified Immunity

         Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff's claims against them on the basis of qualified immunity. “Once [an] official[ ] raise[s] the qualified immunity defense, the plaintiff bears the burden to ‘demonstrate that the official [is] not entitled to qualified immunity.' ” LeFever v. Ferguson, 645 F. App'x 438, 442 (6th Cir. 2016) (quoting Silberstein v. City of Dayton, 440 F.3d 306, 311 (6th Cir. 2006)); see Hermansen v. Thompson, No. 16-6197, ___ F. App'x ___, 2017 WL 438225, at *3 (6th Cir. Feb. 1, 2017).

         “A government official sued under section 1983 is entitled to qualified immunity unless the official violated a statutory or constitutional right that was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct.” Carroll v. Carman, 135 S.Ct. 348, 350 (2014); see Taylor v. Barkes, 135 S.Ct. 2042, 2044 (2015); Lane v. Franks, 134 S.Ct. 2369, 2381 (2014). The first prong of qualified immunity analysis is whether the plaintiff has alleged facts showing that each defendant's conduct violated a constitutional or statutory right. See Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). The second prong is whether the right was “clearly established” at the time of the defendant's alleged misconduct. Id. Trial courts are permitted to exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first. See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009).

         A qualified immunity defense can be asserted at various stages of the litigation, including the summary judgment stage. See English v. Dyke, 23 F.3d 1086, 1089 (6th Cir. 1994). The qualified immunity inquiry at the summary judgment stage is distinguished from the Rule 12(b)(6) stage in that generalized notice pleading no longer suffices, and the broader summary judgment record provides the framework within which the actions of each individual defendant must be evaluated. At the summary judgment stage, “the plaintiff must, at a minimum, offer sufficient evidence to create a ‘genuine issue of fact, ' that is, ‘evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.' ” Thompson v. City of Lebanon, Tenn., 831 F.3d 366, 370 (6th Cir. 2016); see Holsey v. Wieber, 811 F.3d 844, 846 (6th Cir. 2016); see also Zuhl v. Haskins, 652 F. App'x 358, 361(6th Cir. 2016).

         In Brosseau v. Haugen, the Supreme Court examined the underlying purpose of the requirement that the law be clearly established:

Qualified immunity shields an officer from suit when she makes a decision that, even if constitutionally deficient, misapprehends the law governing the circumstances she confronted....Because the focus is on whether the officer had fair notice that her conduct was unlawful, reasonableness is judged against the backdrop of the law at the time of the conduct. If the law at the time did not clearly establish that the officer's conduct would violate the Constitution, the officer should not be subject to liability or, indeed, even the burdens of litigation.

543 U.S. 194, 198 (2004); see also Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015) (“The dispositive question is whether the violative nature of the particular conduct is clearly established.”) (citation and quotation omitted); City & County of San Francisco, Calif. v. Sheehan, 135 S.Ct. 1765, 1774 (2015) (“An officer cannot be said to have violated a clearly established right unless the right's contours were sufficiently definite that any reasonable official in his shoes would have understood that he was violating it, meaning that existing precedent placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.”) (citations and quotations omitted). Qualified immunity is an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability. Plumhoff v. Rickard, 134 S.Ct. 2012, 2019 (2014).

         The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the second prong of the qualified immunity analysis “ ‘must be undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad general proposition.' ” Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. at 198 (quoting Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. at 201); see White v. Pauly, 137 S.Ct. 548, 552 (2017). Moreover, courts are “not to define clearly established law at a high level of generality, since doing so avoids the crucial question whether the official acted reasonably in the particular circumstances that he or she faced.” Plumhoff v. Rickard, 134 S.Ct. at 2023 (citations and quotations omitted); see White v. Pauly, 137 S.Ct. at 552.

         “The burden of convincing a court that the law was clearly established ‘rests squarely with the plaintiff.' ” Key v. Grayson, 179 F.3d 996, 1000 (6th Cir. 1999) (quoting Cope v. Heltsley, 128 F.3d 452, 459 (6th Cir. 1997)); see Shreve v. Franklin County, Ohio, 743 F.3d 126, 134 (6th Cir. 2014); T. S. v. Doe, 742 F.3d 632, 635 (6th Cir. 2014). The burden applies to each claim that the plaintiff is asserting against a defendant. See Johnson v. Moseley, 790 F.3d 649, 653 (6th Cir. 2015).

         Facts

         The following facts are beyond genuine issue. Plaintiff is an inmate held in the custody of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) on criminal convictions. Plaintiff was an inmate housed in administrative segregation at the Ionia ...


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