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Davis v. Noel

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

August 5, 2014

RICKY DAVIS, Plaintiff,
FAYE NOEL, ET AL., Defendants.


SHARION AYCOCK, District Judge.

This matter comes before the court on the pro se prisoner complaint of Ricky Davis who challenges the conditions of his confinement under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For the purposes of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the court notes that the plaintiff was incarcerated when he filed this suit. Davis alleges that the defendants were biased against him and drafted false Rule Violation Reports in retaliation for his successful defense of an earlier Rule Violation Report. The defendants have moved for summary judgment, Davis has responded, and the defendants have replied. The matter is ripe for resolution. For the reasons set forth below, the defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted and the instant case dismissed with prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

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 that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). "The moving party must show that if the evidentiary material of record were reduced to admissible evidence in court, it would be insufficient to permit the nonmoving party to carry its burden." Beck v. Texas State Bd. of Dental Examiners, 204 F.3d 629, 633 (5th Cir. 2000) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 1066 (1988)). After a proper motion for summary judgment is made, the burden shifts to the non-movant to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Beck, 204 F.3d at 633; Allen v. Rapides Parish School Bd., 204 F.3d 619, 621 (5th Cir. 2000); Ragas v. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, 136 F.3d 455, 458 (5th Cir. 1998). Substantive law determines what is material. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. "Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted." Id., at 248. If the non-movant sets forth specific facts in support of allegations essential to his claim, a genuine issue is presented. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 327. "Where the record, taken as a whole, could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Federal Savings and Loan, Inc. v. Krajl, 968 F.2d 500, 503 (5th Cir. 1992). The facts are reviewed drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Allen, 204 F.3d at 621; PYCA Industries, Inc. v. Harrison County Waste Water Management Dist., 177 F.3d 351, 161 (5th Cir. 1999); Banc One Capital Partners Corp. v. Kneipper, 67 F.3d 1187, 1198 (5th Cir. 1995). However, this is so only when there is "an actual controversy, that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994); see Edwards v. Your Credit, Inc., 148 F.3d 427, 432 (5th Cir. 1998). In the absence of proof, the court does not "assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts." Little, 37 F.3d at 1075 (emphasis omitted).

Undisputed Material Facts

On October 27, 2012, Officer Roberts issued a Rule Violation Report accusing Ricky Davis of stealing 15 pieces of chicken, a loaf of bread, 7 packs of sugar, and a pack of coffee. This Rule Violation Report preceded the incidents giving rise to this case, but it is relevant to the actions of the defendants in their handling of the later Rule Violation Report involving a tray of peanut butter. On November 24, Kitchen Supervisor Wanda Spearman told Ricky Davis to take a pan of peanut butter and jelly to Unit 26. As Davis was doing so, defendant Nathan Harris saw him with the tray, stopped him, and accused him of stealing the peanut butter and jelly. Harris then ordered Davis to turn over the peanut butter tray. Davis tried to explain the situation, but the conversation quickly devolved into a shouting match, ending when Supervisor Spearman intervened. After this encounter, Harris issued two Rule Violation Reports against Davis: # 01268464 (for refusing Harris' order do turn over a tray of peanut butter and jelly), and # 01268465 (for threatening Officer Harris). Rule Violation Report # 01268464 (regarding the peanut butter) was dismissed on December 8, 2012, for procedural defects and because Wanda Spearman had given Davis permission to transport the tray of peanut butter and jelly. Rule Violation Report # 01268465 (making threats) was dismissed on December 1, 2012, solely because of a procedural defect. Thus, Davis received no punishment as a result of these Rule Violation Reports.

Defendant Nathan Harris also issued Davis a third Rule Violation Report (# 01268466 - for disruptive behavior) arising from an incident occurring one minute after the first shouting match over the peanut butter. At a December 17, 2012, hearing over which defendant Mary Diggs presided, Davis was found guilty of disruptive behavior. Warden Faye Noel upheld the guilty finding on appeal based upon the statements of Kitchen Supervisor Wanda Spearman - not Nathan Harris.

On November 29, 2012, five days after the confrontation in the kitchen, Nathan Harris spoke to Deputy Warden Turner regarding Davis' behavior during the kitchen incident. Turner then instructed Harris to accompany him to speak with Davis and terminate him from his kitchen job. After speaking with Davis, Turner and Harris conducted a strip-search, discovered tobacco on Davis' person and, nearby, found what appeared to be marijuana.[1] Harris then issued two Rule Violation Reports against Ricky Davis: one for possession of marijuana (# 01255183) - and another for possession of tobacco (# 01255184). Mary Diggs also presided over the hearings on these two Rule Violation Reports and found Davis guilty of both infractions. The guilty findings were upheld by Warden Faye Noel on appeal - based upon the statement of Deputy Warden Turner (who ordered the search and was present for it) - not upon the statement of Nathan Harris. As a result of these events, Davis was removed from his kitchen job and reduced from B-Custody to C-Custody.

Warden Faye Noel: Respondeat Superior

Warden Noel had neither direct involvement in the events giving rise to the Rule Violation Reports nor the issuance of the reports. She merely decided the appeal of the guilty findings. Section 1983 liability cannot be predicated upon a respondeat superior theory. Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). For a plaintiff to state a viable cause of action pursuant to § 1983, he must "identify defendants who are either personally involved in the constitutional violation or whose acts are causally connected to the constitutional violation alleged." Woods v. Edwards, 51 F.3d 577, 583 (5th Cir. 1995) (citing Lozano v. Smith, 718 F.2d 756, 768 (5th Cir. 1983)). In this case, Davis does not allege that Warden Noel had any personal involvement or was causally connected to the incident giving rise to the Rule Violation Reports. In addition, as an inmate has no constitutional right to a prison grievance procedure, he has no due process right to have a grievance resolved to his satisfaction. Geiger v. Jowers, 404 F.3d 371, 374-375 (5th Cir. 2005). Thus, Davis' claims against Faye Noel must be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

Hearing Officer Mary Diggs: Conclusory Allegations

Ricky Davis alleges that Hearing Officer Mary Diggs found him guilty of the three rule violations at issue because she is biased against him. Davis has not, however, explained why Diggs might harbor such bias. As such, these allegations are conclusory in nature - and thus fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Mallard v. Cain, 515 F.3d 379 (5th Cir. 2008), Richardson v. Oldham, 12 F.3d 1373 (5th Cir. 1994).

Officer Nathan Harris: No Retaliation

Davis alleges that Harris issued the Rule Violation Reports in question out of a desire to retaliate against him. Davis believes the retaliatory motive arose when he successfully defended the Rule Violation Report (issued by Harris) alleging that Davis had stolen a tray of peanut butter. Prison officials may not retaliate against prisoners for exercising their constitutional rights. Morris v. Powell, 449 F.3d 682, 684 (5th Cir. 2006). On the other hand, courts must view such claims with skepticism to keep from getting bogged down in every act of discipline prison officials impose. Id. The elements of a claim under a retaliation theory are the plaintiff's invocation of "a specific constitutional right, " the defendant's intent to retaliate against the plaintiff for his or her exercise of that right, a retaliatory adverse act, and causation, i.e., "but for the retaliatory motive the complained of incident... would not have occurred." Woods v. Smith, 60 F.3d 1161, 1166 (5th Cir.1995) (citations omitted), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1084 , 116 S.Ct. 800, 133 L.Ed.2d 747 (1996). A prisoner seeking to establish a retaliation claim must also show that the prison official's conduct was sufficiently adverse so that it would be capable of deterring a person of ordinary firmness from exercising his constitutional rights in the future. Winding v. Grimes, 4:08CV99-FKB, 2010 WL 706515 at 3 (S.D.Miss. Feb. 22, 2010); citing Morris v. Powell, 449 F.3d 682, 684-85 (5th ...

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