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Blac v. Henley

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

February 6, 2018

HALEY HENLEY, Defendant.

          HON. JANET T. NEFF



         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 36), and Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 42). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), the undersigned recommends that both motions be denied.


         The following allegations are contained in Plaintiff's amended complaint. (ECF No. 10). Plaintiff is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). On April 4, 2016, Plaintiff submitted for mailing material addressed to the MDOC Pardons and Commutation Coordinator Unit. The following day, Haley Henley opened Plaintiff's mail, read the contents, and then destroyed the mail in question. Henley thereafter required Plaintiff to submit his outgoing mail unsealed so that it could be reviewed by prison staff. Plaintiff initiated the present action against Henley alleging that she violated his First Amendment rights.[1] Defendant Henley and Plaintiff now both move for summary judgment.


         Summary judgment "shall" be granted "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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A party moving for summary judgment can satisfy its burden by demonstrating "that the respondent, having had sufficient opportunity for discovery, has no evidence to support an essential element of his or her case." Minadeo v. ICI Paints, 398 F.3d 751, 761 (6th Cir. 2005). Once the moving party demonstrates that "there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, " the non-moving party "must identify specific facts that can be established by admissible evidence, which demonstrate a genuine issue for trial." Amini v. Oberlin College, 440 F.3d 350, 357 (6th Cir. 2006).

         While the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the party opposing the summary judgment motion "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Amini, 440 F.3d at 357. The existence of a mere "scintilla of evidence" in support of the non-moving party's position is insufficient. Daniels v. Woodside, 396 F.3d 730, 734-35 (6th Cir. 2005). The non-moving party "may not rest upon [his] mere allegations, " but must instead present "significant probative evidence" establishing that "there is a genuine issue for trial." Pack v. Damon Corp., 434 F.3d 810, 813-14 (6th Cir. 2006).

         Moreover, the non-moving party cannot defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment by "simply arguing that it relies solely or in part upon credibility determinations." Fogerty v. MGM Group Holdings Corp., Inc., 379 F.3d 348, 353 (6th Cir. 2004). Rather, the non-moving party "must be able to point to some facts which may or will entitle him to judgment, or refute the proof of the moving party in some material portion, and. . .may not merely recite the incantation, 'Credibility, ' and have a trial on the hope that a jury may disbelieve factually uncontested proof." Id. at 353-54. In sum, summary judgment is appropriate "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Daniels, 396 F.3d at 735.

         While a moving party without the burden of proof need only show that the opponent cannot sustain his burden at trial, a moving party with the burden of proof faces a "substantially higher hurdle." Arnett v. Myers, 281 F.3d 552, 561 (6th Cir. 2002). Where the moving party has the burden, "his showing must be sufficient for the court to hold that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party." Calderone v. United States, 799 F.2d 254, 259 (6th Cir. 1986). The party with the burden of proof "must show the record contains evidence satisfying the burden of persuasion and that the evidence is so powerful that no reasonable jury would be free to disbelieve it." Arnett, 281 F.3d at 561. Accordingly, summary judgment in favor of the party with the burden of persuasion "is inappropriate when the evidence is susceptible of different interpretations or inferences by the trier of fact." Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 553 (1999).


         Defendant argues that she is entitled to relief on the ground that the mail in question is not properly characterized as “legal mail” and, furthermore, that “even assuming that the envelope was legal mail, [Plaintiff] has failed to state a claim.” Plaintiff argues that he is entitled to summary judgment because Defendant opened his legal mail outside his presence after which she “destroyed the contents” thereof. For the reasons discussed below, disputes of fact preclude granting summary judgment to either party.

         Convicted prisoners “do not forfeit all constitutional protections by reason of their conviction and confinement in prison.” Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 545 (1979); see also, Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 84 (1987) (“[p]rison walls do not form a barrier separating prison inmates from the protections of the Constitution”). For example, inmates retain the right, under the First Amendment, to send and receive mail. See, e.g., Bergey v. Tribley, 2015 WL 2401503 at *4 (W.D. Mich., May 20, 2015) (citations omitted).

         Courts have long recognized a distinction between legal mail and non-legal mail, the former warranting much greater protection from unreasonable intrusion. See, e.g., Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 577 (1974); Kensu v. Haigh, 87 F.3d 172, 174 (6th Cir. 1996). Whether a particular item of mail qualifies as legal mail is a question of law for the Court to resolve. See Sallier v. Brooks, 343 F.3d 868, 873 (6th Cir. 2003). While Plaintiff asserts in conclusory fashion that the mail in question is properly characterized as legal mail, there is nothing in the record to support ...

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