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Bennett v. Morris

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

January 6, 2020




         This matter comes before the court on the pro se prisoner complaint of Devin Bennett, 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. The plaintiff has brought the instant case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a federal cause of action against “[e]very person” who under color of state authority causes the “deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiff alleges that the general conditions of his confinement while incarcerated at the Mississippi State Penitentiary were unconstitutionally harsh. The defendants have moved for summary judgment; the plaintiff has responded, and the parties have submitted additional briefing. The matter is ripe for resolution. For the reasons set forth below, the defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted, and judgement will be entered for the defendants.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the “materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials” show 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) and (c)(1). “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).

         The very purpose of summary judgment is to “pierce the pleadings and assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Advisory Committee Note to the 1963 Amendments to Rule 56. Indeed, “[t]he amendment is not intended to derogate from the solemnity of the pleadings[;] [r]ather, it recognizes that despite the best efforts of counsel to make his pleadings accurate, they may be overwhelmingly contradicted by the proof available to his adversary.” Id. The non-moving party (the plaintiff in this case), must come forward with proof to support each element of his claim. The plaintiff cannot meet this burden with “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356 (1986), “conclusory allegations, ” Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871, 871-73, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 3180 (1990), “unsubstantiated assertions, ” Hopper v. Frank, 16 F.3d 92 (5th Cir. 1994), or by a mere “scintilla” of evidence, Davis v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., 14 F.3d 1082 (5th Cir. 1994). It would undermine the purposes of summary judgment if a party could defeat such a motion simply by “replac[ing] conclusory allegations of the complaint or answer with conclusory allegations of an affidavit.” Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871, 888, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 3188 (1990). In considering a motion for summary judgment, a court must determine whether the non-moving party's allegations are plausible. Matsushita, supra. (emphasis added). “[D]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim is context-specific, requiring the reviewing court to draw on its experience and common sense.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) (discussing plausibility of claim as a requirement to survive a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, once the court “has determined the relevant set of facts and drawn all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party to the extent supportable by the record, [the ultimate decision becomes] purely a question of law.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 381 (2007) (emphasis in original). “When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on the motion for summary judgment.” Id. at 380.

         Undisputed Material Facts

         Mr. Bennett alleged facts to support various constitutional violations in his original complaint and via several amendments to that complaint. The allegations in his original complaint involved a claim of unconstitutionally harsh general conditions of confinement, while those in his amendments involve problems with preparation and service of food (which is also a general conditions of confinement claim), retaliation (in the form of declining to repair a television antenna), and bare allegations of denial of adequate medical care and “security.”

         Original Claims (Unconstitutional general conditions of confinement) Leaking cell (No. 1)

         Mr. Bennett alleges that “several” cells leak when it rains on A-Zone. [81] at 2. He concedes, however, that the defendants attempted to repair the leaks, but the repairs are not completely watertight when it rains. Mr. Bennett has not alleged that he faced a substantial risk of harm resulting from an occasional leak during a rain storm.

         Lack of Cleaning supplies (No. 2)

         Bennett also claims that inmates are not receiving adequate cleaning supplies. [81] at 2. He does not claim a total deprivation of cleaning supplies, but instead that inmates only receive “one or two out of the four chemical agents we are supposed to receive” and that “sometimes those are watered down.” Id. He does not allege he is completely deprived of cleaning products nor that the cleaning supplies he receives are totally inadequate. Rather, he alleges that he would like additional choice regarding his cleaning supplies and he would like them to have a stronger concentration.

         Window screens and pest control (No. 4)

         Mr. Bennett claims that there are still gaps in “several” of the windows in Unit 29-J and that “several” of the screens that have been placed over the windows do not fit properly. [81] at 2. This claim relates to pest control. While Mr. Bennett concedes that MDOC's efforts at pest control are consistent, he feels they are nonetheless inadequate. Id. He believes that MDOC uses weak pesticides and does not spray in all the areas that should be sprayed, though the pest control personnel consistently spray once a month. Id.

         Inadequate lighting (No. 5)

         Bennett claims the lighting in his cell is inadequate. [81] at 2. However, he also alleges that MCOC later installed substantially brighter bulbs.

         Housing of Mentally Ill. Offenders (Nos. 6 & 7)

         Mr. Bennett complains that mentally ill inmates sentenced to death who are housed with him in Unit 29 disrupt his quality of life. [81] at 3. MDOC does not, however, have discretion in housing inmates sentenced to death. Male inmates convicted of a capital offense where the death sentence has been imposed must, by statute, be committed to the custody of MDOC and transported to the maximum-security cell block at Parchman. Miss. Code Ann. § 99-19-55(1). The exclusive remedy for removing such an inmate that may become mentally ill after his criminal judgment is through an application seeking post-conviction relief with the Mississippi Supreme Court. Miss. Code Ann. § 99-19-57(2)(a). Further, the legislature has defined a mentally ill inmate in this context to be an inmate the Mississippi Supreme Court finds does “not [to] have sufficient intelligence to understand the nature of the proceedings against him, what he was tried for, the purpose of his punishment, the impending fate that awaits him, and a sufficient understanding to know any fact that might exist that would make his punishment unjust or unlawful and the intelligence requisite to convey that information to his attorneys or the court.” Miss. Code Ann. § 99-19-57(2)(b).

         Rotation of Close Custody Offenders (No. 8)

         Mr. Bennett alleges that close custody offenders, who are not part of the High Risk Incentive Program, are not being rotated out of Unit 29-J every thirty days. [81] at 3. MDOC currently houses Close Custody-High Risk offenders in the death row building. Aff. of J. Williams, ΒΆ 4. However, these inmates are not housed in cells with death row ...

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