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Harris v. Scott

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

September 25, 2017

WILLIE J. HARRIS, # 292201, Plaintiff,
v.
AMY SCOTT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Paul L. Maloney, United States District Judge

         This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff's complaint arises out of conditions of his confinement in 2015 at the Ionia Correctional Facility (ICF). The defendants are Corrections Officer Amy Scott and Counselor Nakita Haynes.[1]

         Plaintiff alleges that Counselor Haynes violated his First Amendment rights by filing a false Class II misconduct charge against him on May 7, 2015, and transferring him from ICF's housing unit 5 to housing unit 3 in retaliation for his activities as a unit 5 representative to the Warden's Forum. Plaintiff alleges that Officer Scott retaliated against him in violation of his First Amendment rights. He believes that Ms. Scott played some role in the issuance of the Class II misconduct and plaintiff's loss of his position as a housing unit 5 representative stemming from his transfer to unit 3 because Ms. Scott had allegedly threatened to transfer plaintiff two months earlier.[2] Plaintiff sues defendants in their individual capacities and he seeks an award of damages.

         The matter is before the Court on defendants' motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 73). Plaintiff opposes the motion (ECF No. 75-76). For the reasons set forth herein, defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted and judgment will be entered in defendants' favor 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 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 Estate of Hill v. Miracle, 853 F.3d 306, 312 (6th Cir. 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 ...

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