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Triplett v. Banks

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

September 18, 2019




         Plaintiff Robert Warren Triplett, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 prisoner civil rights complaint alleging unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution (SMCI). Doc. [1]. The Court permitted him to proceed on claims of inadequate lighting, unsanitary conditions, accessibility, improper medical charges, inadequate medical care, and inadequate food. Doc. [11]. Medical personnel at SMCI, who also have been named as defendants, filed a motion for summary judgment. Doc. [109]. By order dated May 13, 2019, the Court granted the medical Defendants’ motion for summary judgment and dismissed Plaintiff’s claims for inadequate medical care and unauthorized medical charges. Doc. [139].

         Before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Jacqueline Banks, Karen Causey, Mark Davis, Roderick Evans, Sheneice Evans, Faytonia Johnson, Joy Ross, Mitcheal Taylor, and Marshall Turner. Doc. [106]. These Defendants are employees of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC Defendants). In the instant motion, Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s claims with respect to conditions of confinement should be dismissed. Because Plaintiff’s claims for inadequate medical care and unauthorized medical charges have been dismissed, the Court addresses Plaintiff’s only remaining claims: inadequate lighting, unsanitary conditions, accessibility, and inadequate food.

         Plaintiff filed a response on July 10, 2019. Doc. [143]. In the first half of his response, he complains primarily about procedural matters, inadequate discovery, and problems with prison mail and the Inmate Legal Assistance Program. Doc. [143] at 1-5. For example, he contends he did not receive his complete medical record. Id. at 1. Plaintiff’s medical claims have been dismissed pursuant to a separate order; therefore, his complaints regarding medical records are irrelevant for purposes of the MDOC Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff also contends he did not receive discovery responses from the MDOC Defendants. At the screening hearing, counsel for the MDOC Defendants provided Plaintiff with 513 pages of documents, which included Plaintiff’s institutional record, medical records, and Administrative Remedy Program (ARP) documentation. Doc. [86] at 30. As will be addressed in this order, Plaintiff’s discovery requests were untimely. As noted in the Court’s order of May 10, 2019, denying Plaintiff’s untimely motion to compel discovery, Plaintiff made a general request for discovery and failed “to explain with any degree of specificity how the requested information would be relevant or discoverable or would aid in the prosecution of his case.” Doc. [137]. The Court finds no reason to deny summary judgment based on Plaintiff’s general, non-specific complaints about inadequate discovery.

         Law and Analysis

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Rule 56 provides that “[t]he 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Sierra Club, Inc. v. Sandy Creek Energy Assocs., L.P., 627 F.3d 134, 138 (5th Cir. 2010). Where the summary judgment evidence establishes that one of the essential elements of the plaintiff’s cause of action does not exist as a matter of law, all other contested issues of fact are rendered immaterial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Topalin v. Ehrman, 954 F.2d 1125, 1138 (5th Cir. 1992). In making its determinations of fact on a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the evidence submitted by the parties in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. McPherson v. Rankin, 736 F.2d 175, 178 (5th Cir. 1984).

         The moving party has the duty to demonstrate the lack of a genuine issue of a material fact and the appropriateness of judgment as a matter of law to prevail on its motion. Union Planters Nat’l Leasing v. Woods, 687 F.2d 117 (5th Cir. 1982). The movant accomplishes this by informing the court of the basis of its motion, and by identifying portions of the record which highlight the absence of genuine factual issues. Topalian, 954 F.2d at 1131. “Rule 56 contemplates a shifting burden: the nonmovant is under no obligation to respond unless the movant discharges [its] initial burden of demonstrating [entitlement to summary judgment].” John v. State of Louisiana, 757 F.3d 698, 708 (5th Cir. 1985). Once a properly supported motion for summary judgment is presented, the nonmoving party must rebut with “significant probative” evidence. Ferguson v. Nat’l Broad. Co., Inc., 584 F.2d 111, 114 (5th Cir. 1978).

         Conditions of Confinement

         Plaintiff alleges unconstitutional conditions of confinement at SMCI. The Constitution does not require that inmates be housed in comfortable prisons; however, the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment does require that prisoners be afforded humane conditions of confinement and prison officials are to ensure that inmates receive adequate food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. Herman v. Holiday, 238 F.3d 660, 664 (5th Cir. 2001); Harper v. Showers, 174 F.3d 716, 719 (5th Cir. 1999); see also Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 36 (1993) (holding that the inmate must show that the risk of which he complains is “so grave that it violates contemporary standards of decency to expose anyone unwillingly to such a risk”).

         In order to establish an Eighth Amendment violation regarding conditions of confinement, an inmate must establish (1) that the deprivation alleged was sufficiently serious, i.e. an official’s act or omission must have resulted in the denial of “the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities”; and (2) that the prison official possessed a sufficiently culpable state of mind. Herman, 238 F.3d at 664. The required state of mind is one of deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety. Id. Deliberate indifference is established by showing that prison officials (1) were aware of facts from which an inference of excessive risk to the prisoner’s health or safety could be drawn; and (2) that they actually drew an inference that such potential for harm existed. Id.

         Title 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) provides that “no Federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail, prison, or other correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury.” The Fifth Circuit, in interpreting this provision, has held that the phrase “physical injury” in § 1997e(e) means an injury that is more than de minimis, but need not be significant. Alexander v. Tippah County, Miss., 351 F.3d 626 (5th Cir. 2003). Plaintiff does not allege any physical injury resulting from the conditions of confinement. Thus, he is limited to declaratory or injunctive relief. See Harper, 174 F.3d at 719; see also Geiger v. Jowers, 404 F.3d 371, 375 (5th Cir. 2005).

         (1) Inadequate Lighting

         Plaintiff argues that there is inadequate lighting in his zone at SMCI. He alleges that the lights are turned on for only 4 or 5 hours a day, if they get turned on at all. On average, he alleges that the main lights are turned on for about 90 minutes per day. He further alleges that when the main lights are turned on, they do not meet the constitutional requirement of 20 lumens. As a result of inadequate lighting, he alleges he suffers from depression and sleepiness. ...

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