Peterson v. Richardson et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER directing the Clerk of Court to alter the docket to reflect that Defendant "M. Richardson" is appropriately "Michael Richardson;" GRANTING 23 Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment; and DISMISSING 2 Plaintiff's Complaint with prejudice. Signed by Magistrate Judge Joe J. Volpe on 1/8/2015. (srw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
VICTORIA L. PETERSON,
ADC # 707743
M. RICHARDSON; et al.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Victoria L. Peterson, brought this action alleging that Defendants Michael
Richardson,1 Nazural Faust, Linda Dixon, and Lynda Dykes (“Defendants”)2 failed to protect her
from other inmates who threatened her with violence. (Doc. No. 2.) Plaintiff also alleges that
Defendant Richardson retaliated against her for filing a grievance related to her failure to protect
claims. (Id.) Now, Defendants have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 23) seeking
dismissal of all claims against them. Plaintiff has not submitted a response within the deadline and
the matter is ripe for disposition.3
The Court notes that the docket currently lists Defendant Richardson’s first name as “M.”
The Clerk of Court shall alter the docket to reflect his full first name.
From the content of her Complaint, Plaintiff appears to make allegations against several
other correctional officers who were not listed as Defendants to this action. These include Lieutenant
Ming, Captain Arnold, Sergeant Cox, and Corporal Pruitt. (Doc. No. 2 at 4, 7). Plaintiff did not, at
any point in this litigation, petition to add these individuals as Defendants. Accordingly, the Court
will not consider any claims alleged against them.
Plaintiff asked for an extension of ninety days on December 12, 2014. (Doc. No. 26). The
Court denied that Motion, but afforded her an additional twenty-one days to submit a response to the
current Motion. (Doc. No. 27). Plaintiff failed to submit a response within the twenty-one day
Plaintiff alleges that on June 23, 2013, while incarcerated at the Arkansas Department of
Correction (“ADC”) McPherson Unit, she was transferred from Housing Unit I to Barracks Thirteen.
(Doc. No. 2 at 4.) She claims that upon her arrival, African-American inmates who were part of the
“Bloods” gang began threatening to harm her. (Doc. No. 2 at 4.) She also claims they subjected her
to sexual harassment. (Id.) Plaintiff reported these threats to Defendants, but alleges they refused
her transfer requests until July 23, 2013, when she was transferred to Barracks Nine. (Id. at 5). She
claims the threats and verbal abuse from other inmates only intensified after this placement. (Id.)
Plaintiff admits in her deposition testimony that she was never physically injured in either Barracks
Thirteen or Barracks Nine and the abuses were purely verbal. (Doc. No. 24-1 at 55-56.)
Plaintiff’s retaliation claim stems from a disciplinary charge received on August 25, 2013.
(Id. at 34-36.) On that day, Plaintiff alleges she submitted a grievance against Defendant Richardson
which accused him of failing to protect her. (Doc. No. 2 at 8.) Shortly thereafter, she claims that
Defendant Richardson issued her a retaliatory disciplinary and relocated her to segregation. (Doc.
No. 24-1 at 35-36.)
For their part, Defendants emphasize that despite her claims of repeated abuse by other
inmates, Plaintiff was never involved in a physical altercation during the relevant time period. (Doc.
No. 24 ¶ 8.) They also state that Defendant Richardson issued Plaintiff a disciplinary, not in
retaliation for any filed grievance, but because he determined that she had (1) physically threatened
other inmates; (2) provoked a fight; (3) failed to obey staff orders; and (4) deliberately provided
misinformation. (Id. ¶¶ 13-15.) Plaintiff was found guilty of assault, provocation, and failure to obey
staff orders at the subsequent disciplinary hearing. (Id. ¶¶ 16-18.)
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper “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); Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
321 (1986). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the evidence in
a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Naucke v. City of Park Hills, 284 F.3d 923, 927 (8th
Cir. 2002). The nonmoving party may not rely on allegations or denials, but must demonstrate the
existence of specific facts that create a genuine issue for trial. Mann v. Yarnell, 497 F.3d 822, 825
(8th Cir. 2007). The nonmoving party’s allegations must be supported by sufficient probative
evidence that would permit a finding in his favor on more than mere speculation, conjecture, or
fantasy. Id. (citations omitted). A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that it could cause a
reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party; a fact is material if its resolution affects the
outcome of the case. Othman v. City of Country Club Hills, 671 F.3d 672, 675 (8th Cir. 2012).
Disputes that are not genuine or that are about facts that are not material will not preclude summary
judgment. Sitzes v. City of West Memphis, Ark., 606 F.3d 461, 465 (8th Cir. 2010).
Defendants raise several arguments in support of their Motion. They are, in the order they
appear, that: (1) Plaintiff’s official capacity claims for monetary damages are barred by sovereign
immunity; (2) Plaintiff’s retaliation claim against Defendant Richardson fails to establish a
constitutional violation; (3) no Eighth Amendment claim for failure to protect claim can be
established against any Defendant; and (4) qualified immunity bars all individual capacity claims
against Defendants. The Court will address each argument in turn.
Official Capacity Claims
It is well established that an official capacity claim for damages against a state official is akin
to a claim against the state itself. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985). Accordingly, a
suable “person” under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 does not include a state official sued in their official
capacity for damages. Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, 491 U.S. 58 (1989). It is
undisputed that Defendants were, at all times relevant to this action, state employees. Plaintiff’s
official capacity claims for monetary damages are, therefore, barred by sovereign immunity.
Courts have previously held that “a defendant may successfully defend a retaliatory discipline
claim by showing ‘some evidence’ the inmate actually committed a rule violation.” Hartsfield v.
Nichols, 511 F.3d 826, 829 (8th Cir. 2008). If the disciplinary is supported by ‘some evidence’, the
charge cannot support a retaliatory-discipline claim. Sanders v. Hobbs, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS
22785, at *6 (8th Cir. Dec. 4, 2014). For the purposes of the ‘some evidence’ standard, a
disciplinary decision affirming the charge against the inmate is sufficient. See Henderson v. Baird,
29 F.3d 464, 469 (8th Cir. 1994).
Here, Defendant Richardson’s disciplinary charges against Plaintiff were confirmed at a
subsequent disciplinary hearing. (Doc. No. 24-3 at 20-21.) Accordingly, there is ‘some evidence’
that Plaintiff committed the rules violations she was charged with. It also bears noting that Plaintiff,
by failing to respond to the current Motion, has not offered any specific or corroborating evidence
which would support her retaliation claim. The Court therefore finds this claim appropriate for
Failure to Protect Claims
As noted above, Plaintiff alleges that each of the named Defendants failed to protect her from
other inmates’ verbal abuse and threats. To succeed on an unconstitutional failure to protect claim,
Plaintiff is required to demonstrate (1) she was incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial
risk of serious harm, and (2) that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to that risk. Farmer v.
Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (U.S. 1994). In other words, Plaintiff must demonstrate that
Defendants’ alleged failure to protect resulted in the infliction of an objectively serious harm. See
Irving v. Dormire, 519 F.3d 441, 448 (8th Cir. 2008).
Here, Plaintiff admitted that she never suffered any physical injury as a result of the alleged
failure to protect. (Doc. No. 24-1 at 55-56.) She has also failed to established the infliction of any
serious mental injury stemming from the incidents which underlie this action. Absent the required
showing of harm, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s failure to protect claims should be dismissed.
Qualified immunity protects officials who acted in an objectively reasonable manner and
shields a government official from liability when his or her conduct does not violate “clearly
established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”
Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Qualified immunity is a question of law, not a
question of fact. McClendon v. Story County Sheriff's Office, 403 F.3d 510, 515 (8th Cir. 2005).
Thus, issues concerning qualified immunity are appropriately resolved on summary judgment. See
Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985) (the privilege is “an immunity from suit rather than
a mere defense to liability; and like an absolute immunity, it is effectively lost if a case is erroneously
permitted to go to trial.”).
To determine whether defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, courts generally
consider two questions: (1) whether the facts alleged or shown, construed in the light most favorable
to the plaintiff, establish a violation of a constitutional or statutory right; and (2) whether that right
was so clearly established that a reasonable official would have known that his or her actions were
unlawful. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009); see also Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194,
201 (2001).4 Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity only if no reasonable fact finder could
answer both questions in the affirmative. Nelson v. Correctional Medical Services, 583 F.3d 522,
528 (8th Cir. 2009).
Based on the preceding analysis, the Court has already determined that the facts as alleged
do not support the violation of any constitutional or statutory right. Accordingly, all named
Defendants are also entitled to qualified immunity.
IT IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED that:
The Clerk of Court shall alter the docket to reflect that Defendant “M. Richardson”
is appropriately “Michael Richardson”;
Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 23) is GRANTED and
Plaintiff’s Complaint (Doc. No. 2) is DISMISSED with prejudice.
An appropriate Judgment shall accompany this Memorandum and Order.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 8th day of January, 2015.
JOE J. VOLPE
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Courts are “permitted to exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs
of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the
particular case at hand.” Nelson v. Correctional Medical Services, 583 F.3d 522, 528 (8th Cir. 2009)
(quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. at 236).
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