Oakley v. Raemisch et al
ORDER Denying 87 Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Granting 89 Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment by Judge Christine M. Arguello on 08/08/2017. (swest) Modified on 8/9/2017 to change the document type to an Opinion (athom, ).
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO
Judge Christine M. Arguello
Civil Action No. 14-cv-03000-CMA-MJW
JACOB DANIEL OAKLEY,
RICK RAEMISCH, Executive Director (Individual and Official Capacities),
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND
GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
This matter is before the Court on two motions for summary judgment — one
filed by Plaintiff Jacob Daniel Oakley, an inmate of the Colorado Department of
Corrections (CDOC), and the other filed by Defendant Rick Raemisch, Executive
Director of the CDOC. (Doc. ## 87, 89.) For the following reasons, the Court grants
summary judgment in Defendant’s favor.
This case concerns the CDOC’s handling of Plaintiff’s inmate bank account. The
following facts are undisputed.
Inmate bank accounts are handled in accordance with CDOC Administrative
Regulations 200–02 and 200-15. (Doc. # 89, p. 3–4; Doc. # 87, p. 4.) If an inmate’s
bank account has a negative balance, fifty percent of each deposit is applied toward
that deficit. (Id.) In addition, automatic garnishments are applied to each deposit in the
event that an inmate owes restitution, child support, medical expenses, court costs, or
payments due to a conviction under the Code of Penal Discipline (COPD). (Id.)
During the applicable timeframe, Plaintiff had a negative bank account balance.
(Doc. # 89, p. 5; Doc. # 94, p. 3.) Thus any deposits he made were subject to a fifty
percent automatic reduction. (Id.) In addition, Plaintiff’s deposits were subject to a
twenty percent withholding for court-ordered costs and another twenty percent for court
filing fees. (Id.)
Between May and June 2014, Plaintiff filed three administrative grievances, each
one alleging that his bank account was being handled differently from the bank
accounts of other inmates and essentially requesting an abeyance. (Doc. # 87-3, p. 7–
10.) Plaintiff specifically mentioned differential treatment being applied to inmates
Thomas Baskerville, Justin Frederickson and Tyler Morland. (Id.) The CDOC’s
response to each grievance was the substantially the same:
Plaintiff’s inmate account is being managed appropriately and correctly per
AR 200-12, AR 100-15, and Colorado Revised Statutes;
the ARs apply equally to all inmate accounts, with no exceptions; and
any reference to the specifics of another inmate’s account is irrelevant and
private and will not be addressed. (Id.)
In September 2014, the CDOC granted an inmate at Fremont Correctional
Facility, Inmate Doe, 1 an abeyance, or temporary suspension, from inmate banking
In their stipulated protective order, the parties agreed to use a pseudonym for Inmate Doe.
(Doc. # 80, ¶ 5).
regulations. 2 According to a letter written by the Fremont Warden, the CDOC granted
the abeyance in response Inmate Doe’s efforts to modify his previously-disruptive
behavior and to “demonstrate to [Inmate Doe] that positive behavior will produce
positive results.” (Doc. # 87-3, p. 43.)
Plaintiff initiated this suit in November 2014. (Doc. # 1.) As pertinent here,
Plaintiff brings a class-of-one equal protection claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging
that Defendant violated his right to equal protection of the laws with respect to the
handling of his inmate bank account as compared to the handling of Inmate Doe’s bank
account. In addition to denying that he violated Plaintiff’s right to equal protection,
Defendant contends that Plaintiff failed to properly exhaust his administrative remedies
or adequately plead his claim with respect to Inmate Doe.
Each party contends that summary judgment is warranted in his favor.
EXHAUSTION OF ADMINISTRATIVE REMEDIES
Defendant first argues that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies
with respect to his argument involving Inmate Doe. The Court disagrees.
The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) provides that “[n]o action shall be
brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 . . . until such
administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). It
follows that if an administrative remedy is not available, then an inmate cannot be
required to exhaust it. Tuckel v. Grover, 660 F.3d 1249, 1252 (10th Cir. 2011). To be
“available,” a remedy must be “capable of use for the accomplishment of a purpose.”
Although granted in September 2014, the abeyance did not go into effect until March
See Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 737 (2001). The United States Supreme Court
has clarified that an administrative remedy is considered unavailable when “it operates
as a simple dead end — with officers unable or consistently unwilling to provide any
relief to aggrieved inmates.” Ross v. Blake, 136 S. Ct. 1850, 1860 (2016).
Under the circumstances presented here, the Court finds that an administrative
remedy with respect to Plaintiff’s claims involving Inmate Doe was unavailable and
therefore unnecessary. Three primary reasons support this conclusion.
First, for all intents and purposes, Plaintiff already grieved the relief he presently
seeks and his request was denied. The applicable administrative regulation governing
the CDOC’s grievance process provides that a grievance “shall address only one
problem or complaint and include a description of the relief requested.” (Doc. # 89-5, p.
8.) Plaintiff’s 2014 grievances met these requirements; he complained of the CDOC’s
handling of his bank account in comparison to the bank accounts of “other inmates” and
included at least three specific examples. Aside from mentioning Inmate Doe, Plaintiff’s
present complaint is no different. That Plaintiff now includes Inmate Doe, who was
granted an abeyance after Plaintiff filed his 2014 grievances, does not alter that his
previous complaints included “a description of the relief [presently] request[s].” See
Kikumura v. Osagie, 461 F.3d 1269, 1285 (10th Cir. 2006) (“[A] grievance satisfies §
1997e(a)’s exhaustion requirement so long as it provides prison officials with enough
information to investigate and address the inmate’s complaint internally.”).
Second, even if Plaintiff had filed an additional grievance specifically mentioning
Inmate Doe, the CDOC would not have indulged in the comparison. Each time Plaintiff
mentioned an inmate’s name, the CDOC responded that the specifics of another
inmate’s account was “irrelevant” and “priva[te]” and would “not be addressed.” Filing
another round of complaints that included Inmate Doe’s name would have operated as
nothing more than a dead end.
Third, had Plaintiff filed an additional grievance comparing the handling of his
bank account to Inmate Doe’s, it would have been denied as duplicative. In addition to
Plaintiff’s 2014 grievances, Plaintiff filed at least three additional grievances in 2016. In
the 2016 grievances, Plaintiff complained that the CDOC was not a proper collection
agency and disputed all debts owed to them. (Doc. # 89-4, p. 22, Doc. # 89-5, p. 1–3.)
In response, the CDOC denied Plaintiff’s request as (1) addressing too many issues,
and (2) duplicative of Plaintiff’s grievances from 2014. (Doc. # 89-4, p. 21; Doc. # 89-5,
p. 4.) The CDOC’s final denial letter stated “Duplicate grievances that reiterate issues
which have previously been grieved will not be addressed again. . . . In this instance the
underlying issue is the same: management of your inmate banking account per
regulation and CRS.” (Doc. # 89-4, p. 21.) Considering that these grievances were
only tangentially related to the 2014 grievances and were still denied as duplicative, it
can hardly be said that a grievance addressing the same issues as those raised in 2014
would not be denied on the same grounds.
For these reasons, the Court concludes that Plaintiff’s efforts to exhaust his
administrative remedies were sufficient. Any further grievance mentioning Inmate Doe
would certainly have operated as a dead end — with the CDOC “unable or consistently
unwilling to provide [the] relief [requested.]” Ross, 136 S. Ct. at 1860. Defendant’s
request for summary judgment based on administrative exhaustion is denied.
SUFFICIENCY OF THE COMPLAINT
Defendant next contends that “there is no currently postured claim with respect to
the abeyance given to [I]nmate Doe.” (Doc. # 89, p. 14.) Defendant argues that
because Plaintiff’s Complaint does not include an “equal protection claim regarding
[I]nmate Doe” this Court should “disallow any claim” regarding Inmate Doe as
procedurally deficient. Although not entirely clear, Defendant appears to be
complaining about the sufficiency of Plaintiff’s Complaint. Defendant cites no
procedural rules, case law, or statutory basis to support this contention, and the Court
finds it meritless.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint contain “a short
and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Specific
facts are not necessary; the statement need only “give the defendant fair notice of what
the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007); see also Capra
v. Cook Cty. Bd. of Review, 733 F.3d 705, 717 (7th Cir. 2013) (“Plaintiffs alleging classof-one equal protection claims do not need to identify specific examples of similarly
situated persons in their complaints.”). Moreover, a document filed pro se is “to be
liberally construed,” Estelle, 429 U.S., at 106, and “a pro se complaint, however
inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings
drafted by lawyers,” Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94; cf. Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(f) (“All
pleadings shall be so construed as to do substantial justice”).
Considering these legal principles, Plaintiff’s Complaint appears sufficient to
provide Defendant “fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it
rests.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Plaintiff’s Complaint, which he filed pro se,
specifically references the CDOC’s handling of similarly-situated inmates and details
precisely how Plaintiff believed their bank accounts were being handled differently from
his account. (Doc. # 1, p. 6–7, 10–12.) When discussing inmates whose “situation[s]
are the same as [his] in every material respect,” Plaintiff stated that “there are more
[inmates], of course but [he] only mentioned a few to keep things short and simple.” (Id.
at 6.) To require Plaintiff to allege every single example of similarly-situated inmates
when Defendant previously refused to discuss any inmate accounts with Plaintiff based
on privacy policies would place Plaintiff, as a pro se prisoner, in a nearly impossible
Accordingly, to do substantial justice to Plaintiff’s pro se allegations, the Court
denies Defendant’s unsupported request that it dismiss Plaintiff’s claim as insufficiently
EQUAL PROTECTION CLAIM
Defendant further contends that “there is no evidence supporting an equal
protection claim with respect to . . . [I]nmate Doe” and that summary judgment should
therefore be granted in his favor. (Doc. # 89, p. 16.) Plaintiff counters that he is
“entitled to summary judgment on his equal protection claim” because the undisputed
facts show that Defendant deprived him of a constitutional right under color of law.
(Doc. # 87, p. 8.) Having thoroughly considered the issues, the Court concludes that
summary judgment in Defendant’s favor is warranted.
Plaintiff's allegations regarding the CDOC’s unfair handling of his inmate bank
account do not implicate either a suspect class or a fundamental right. As such, his
claim falls under the rubric of a “class-of-one” equal protection claim, explicitly
recognized in Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 564 (2000). See, e.g.,
Jennings v. City of Stillwater, 383 F.3d 1199, 1210, 1215 (10th Cir. 2004) (analyzing
victim’s “reverse-selective enforcement claim” for inadequate investigation of crime
under “class of one” principles).
Courts approach class-of-one claims with caution, wary of “turning even
quotidian exercises of government discretion into constitutional causes.” Engquist v.
Or. Dep’t. of Agric., 553 U.S. 591 (2008). In Jennings, 383 F.3d at 1210–11, for
example, the Tenth Circuit discussed the risks such a claim could pose to ordinary
[T]he concept of a class-of-one equal protection claim could
effectively provide a federal cause of action for review of
almost every executive and administrative decision made by
state actors. It is always possible for persons aggrieved by
government action to allege, and almost always possible to
produce evidence, that they were treated differently from
others, with regard to everything from zoning to licensing to
speeding to tax evaluation. It would become the task of
federal courts and juries, then, to inquire into the grounds for
differential treatment and to decide whether those grounds
were sufficiently reasonable to satisfy equal protection
review. This would constitute the federal courts as general8
purpose second-guessers of the reasonableness of broad
areas of state and local decision-making: a role that is both
ill-suited to the federal courts and offensive to state and local
autonomy in our federal system.
In Kansas Penn Gaming, LLC v. Collins, the Tenth Circuit explained further:
These concerns are magnified with challenges to low-level
government decision-making, which often involves a great
deal of discretion. The latitude afforded police officers,
[prison officials,] . . . and other, similar government actors
necessarily results in a sizeable amount of random variation
in outcome. If even innocuous inconsistencies gave rise to
equal protection litigation, government action would be
Considering this legal backdrop, class-of-one claims are rarely successful and
plaintiffs must meet exacting standards to prevail. Franklin v. City of Merriam, No. 062421-CM, 2008 WL 1884189, at *4 (D. Kan. Apr. 25, 2008).
First, a plaintiff must establish that the others treated differently were “similarly
situated in every material respect.” Jicarilla Apache Nation v. Rio Arriba County, 440
F.3d 1202, 1210 (10th Cir. 2006); Kansas Penn Gaming, 656 F.3d at 1220 (finding it
insufficient to simply allege that others have “comparable” or “similar” conditions — the
claim must be supported by specific facts plausibly suggesting the they are similar in all
material respects). The plaintiff must “provide compelling evidence of other similarly
situated persons who were in fact treated differently,” because “the multiplicity of
relevant (nondiscriminatory) variables” involved in law enforcement decisions “are not
readily susceptible to the kind of analysis the courts are competent to undertake” in
assessing equal protection claims. Grubbs v. Bailes, 445 F.3d 1275, 1282 (10th Cir.
2006) (citing Jennings, 383 F.3d at 1214–15 (quotation omitted)).
Second, a plaintiff must show this difference in treatment was without rational
basis — that is, the government action was “irrational and abusive,” Jennings, 383 F.3d
at 1211, and “wholly unrelated to any legitimate state activity,” Mimics, Inc. v. Vill. of
Angel Fire, 394 F.3d 836, 849 (10th Cir. 2005) (emphasis added). This standard is
objective — if there is a reasonable justification for the challenged action, the Court will
not inquire into the government actor’s actual motivations. Jicarilla Apache Nation, 440
F.3d at 1211.
Under these exacting standards required to succeed on a class-of-one claim,
Plaintiff cannot prevail.
First, he does not adequately allege that he was similarly-situated to Inmate Doe
in all material respects. Although Plaintiff describes some similarities between them,
such as their negative account balances, disruptive behavioral history, and recent spout
of good behavior, he does not provide the level of specificity required to succeed on a
class-of-one challenge, nor does he adequately demonstrate how those similarities are
material with respect to the CDOC’s abeyance decision. See Jennings, 383 F.3d at
1213–14 (“Looking only at one individual . . . there is no way to know whether the
difference in treatment was occasioned by legitimate or illegitimate considerations
without a comprehensive and largely subjective canvassing of all possible relevant
factors. It is therefore imperative for the class-of-one plaintiff to provide a specific and
detailed account of the nature of the preferred treatment of the favored class.”). If
permitted to proceed to trial, Plaintiff’s case could apply to a whole slew of inmates who
have also demonstrated disruptive behavior, had a negative bank account balance, and
showed some improvement from time to time — a ripple effect that class-of-one
jurisprudence cautions against. See Jennings, 383 F.3d at 1214 (quoting Lakeside
Builders, Inc. v. Planning Bd. of the Town of Franklin, 2002 WL 31655250, at *3 (D.
Mass. Mar. 21, 2002)) (A “broad” definition of similarly situated is “not useful for equal
protection analysis [because] it could be applied to any group of applicants where,
looking back, one could see that there had been some who succeeded and some who
failed. For example, high school students whose applications to a particular college
were rejected could allege that they were being treated differently from the ‘similarly
situated’ fellow students whose applications were accepted.”).
A second, and more important, shortcoming in Plaintiff’s case is that he has
failed to identify how the different treatment provided to Inmate Doe was wholly arbitrary
and completely lacking in any legitimate justification. Indeed, Plaintiff states that “he
does not contend that the decision to grant Inmate Doe a waiver is inherently irrational
or unrelated to a legitimate state interest.” (Doc. # 87, p. 14.) Plaintiff instead argues
that it was irrational and arbitrary only to the extent that Plaintiff was not also granted an
abeyance. Under these circumstances, Plaintiff presents a distinction without a
difference. It is undisputed that the CDOC’s abeyance decision was individualized and
specific, with the ultimate goal of improving Inmate Doe’s behavior and promoting order
in the prison. The CDOC’s differential treatment of other inmate’s, including Plaintiff’s,
bank accounts rests on these same legitimate interests. Contrary to Plaintiff’s
assertions, the CDOC’s abeyance decision was not a simple, one-dimensional inquiry,
governed by any specific AR; indeed, the CDOC considered a multiplicity of relevant
variables, including Inmate Doe’s behavioral, social, medical, and work history. See
Jennings, 383 F. 3d at 1214–15 (discussing the high bar for complaints addressing
“inherently subjective and individualized enforcement . . . that implicates a multiplicity of
relevant . . . variables, from the relative culpability of the defendants to the optimal
deployment of prosecutorial resources”) (internal quotation marks omitted).
The Court is likewise not persuaded by Plaintiff’s contention that the CDOC acted
irrationally and arbitrarily by violating the stated goals and requirements of the AR
banking provisions. The applicable ARs do not plainly prohibit the CDOC from granting
abeyances to inmates. Moreover, even to the extent that the CDOC’s decision fell
outside the standard banking protocol, prison administrators have historically been
accorded wide-ranging deference in making decisions that “are needed to preserve
internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security,” Bell v. Wolfish, 441
U.S. 520, 547 (1979) — it can hardly be said that one stray banking decision, made for
disciplinary and rehabilitative reasons, presents a sufficient basis to support an equal
protection claim of constitutional dimensions.
“[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment . . .
against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an
element essential to that party’s case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322
(1986). For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff has failed to sufficiently establish the
required elements of his class-of-one equal protection claim. Accordingly, Plaintiff
cannot overcome summary judgment.
For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 87)
IS DENIED and Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED. (Doc. # 89.)
FURTHER ORDERED that this case be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
DATED: August 8, 2017
BY THE COURT:
CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO
United States District Judge
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