Evans v. Jame et al
OPINION AND ORDER denying 29 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Magistrate Judge Michael T. Parker on July 20, 2012. (KM)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
OLLIE LEE EVANS
CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:11cv87-MTP
OPINION AND ORDER
THIS MATTER is before the court on the Motion for Summary Judgment  filed by
Defendant Sarah James. Having reviewed the submissions of the parties and the applicable law,
the court finds that Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment  should be denied.
Plaintiff Ollie Lee Evans, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed his Complaint
 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on April 12, 2011. Through his complaint, and as clarified
during his Spears1 hearing, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Sarah James, Director of the GED
program at South Mississippi Correctional Institution (“SMCI”), denied his admission to the
GED program based on his race and age. See Omnibus Order . Plaintiff’s claims occurred
while he was incarcerated SMCI, where he is currently incarcerated. Plaintiff seeks monetary
damages and unspecified injunctive relief, presumably admission into the GED program.
STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
This court may grant summary judgment only if, viewing the facts in a light most
favorable to the Plaintiff, the Defendant demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material
Spears v. McCotter, 766 F.2d 179 (5th Cir. 1985). Plaintiff’s Spears hearing took place
on December 1, 2011.
fact and that she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Woods v. Smith, 60 F.3d 1161, 1164
(5th Cir. 1995). If the Defendant fails to discharge the burden of showing the absence of a
genuine issue concerning any material fact, summary judgment must be denied. John v.
Louisiana, 757 F.2d 698, 708 (5th Cir. 1985). The existence of an issue of material fact is a
question of law that this court must decide, and in making that decision, it must “draw inferences
most favorable to the party opposing the motion, and take care that no party will be improperly
deprived of a trial of disputed factual issues.” John, 757 F.2d at 708, 712.
There must, however, be adequate proof in the record showing a real controversy
regarding material facts. “Conclusory allegations,” Lujan v. Nat’l Wildlife Fed’n, 497 U.S. 871,
902 (1990), the presence of a “scintilla of evidence,” Davis v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., 14 F.3d
1082, 1086 (5th Cir. 1994), or unsubstantiated assertions, Hopper v. Frank, 16 F.3d 92, 96-97
(5th Cir. 1994), are not enough to create a real controversy regarding material facts. In the
absence of proof, the court does not “assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the
necessary facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (emphasis
Plaintiff’s claims are before the court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. However, Section
1983 “neither provides a general remedy for the alleged torts of state officials nor opens the
federal courthouse doors to relieve the complaints of all who suffer injury at the hands of the
state or its officers.” White v. Thomas, 660 F.2d 680, 683 (5th Cir.1981). Rather, "[i]t affords a
remedy only to those who suffer, as a result of state action, deprivation of ‘rights, privileges, or
immunities secured by the Constitution and laws’ of the United States." White, 660 F.2d at 683
(quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983).
Moreover, “[f]or purposes of liability, a suit against a public official in his official
capacity is in effect a suit against the local government entity he represents.” Mairena v. Foti,
816 F.2d 1061, 1064 (5th Cir. 1987) (citations omitted). The Supreme Court has held that in
order for a local governmental entity to have liability under Section 1983, a plaintiff must prove
that a policy, custom or practice of that local government entity was the “moving force” behind
the constitutional violation. Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978).
The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment demands that persons
similarly situated be treated equally. Williams v. Bramer, 180 F.3d 699, 705 (5th Cir. 1999). In
order to state a claim under the Equal Protection Clause, Plaintiff must show that a state actor
intentionally discriminated against him because of his membership in a protected class.
Williams, 180 F.3d at 699.
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Sarah James, Director of the GED program at SMCI,
denied his admission to the GED program based on his race and age. He testified during his
omnibus hearing that he has been trying to gain admission into the program since 2007. He
claims that Ms. James told him she normally likes the participants to be under twenty-five years
old, but that she seldom lets older participants in. He testified that on another occasion, Ms.
James talked to “everyone” that was trying to get into the program except for him. He further
testified that most GED participants are either Caucasian or members of the Aryan Brotherhood,
but there are a few African Americans.
Plaintiff is African American, and thus is a member of a protected class. The court finds
that genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether Ms. James intentionally discriminated
against Plaintiff due to his race. In her affidavit, Ms. James affirmatively states that she never
denied Plaintiff access to the GED program due to his race or his age, and states that from
January 23, 2011 to January 23, 2012, approximately 68% of the participants in the GED
program were African American. See Ex. A to Motion [29-1]. However, she fails to articulate
any reason why Plaintiff was denied admission into the GED program. Id.
Plaintiff also alleges he was denied admission to the GED program based on his age;
Plaintiff is fifty-three years old. Plaintiff’s age does not constitute membership into a protected
class, thus, in order to have an equal protection claim based on his age, Plaintiff must “[show]
that [he] has been intentionally treated differently from others similarly situated and that there is
no rational basis for the difference in treatment.” Nance v. New Orleans & Baton Rouge
Steamship Pilots’ Ass’n, 174 Fed. App’x 849, 854 (5th Cir. Apr. 10, 2006) (citations omitted)
(brackets in original); Wishon v. Gammon, 978 F.2d 446, 450 (8th Cir. 1992) (internal citations
omitted) (“Prisoners have no constitutional right to educational or vocational opportunities
during incarceration . . . ; however, if the state provides educational or vocational opportunities
to its prisoners, it cannot deny equal access to such services to all prisoners absent a rational
basis.”); Joseph v. U.S. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 232 F.3d 901 (Table), 3 (10th Cir. 2000).
Alternatively, Plaintiff may show that a government policy or procedure was selectively
enforced against him, by showing that “the government official’s acts were motivated by
improper considerations, such as race, religion, or the desire to prevent the exercise of a
constitutional right.” Nance, 174 Fed. App’x at 854.
For the same reasons set forth above under Plaintiff’s race allegations, the court finds that
genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether he was intentionally treated differently than
other inmates similarly situated due to his age, and as to whether there was a rational basis for
the difference in treatment. Id. While Ms. James states that from January 23, 2011 to January
23, 2012, approximately 30% of the participants in the GED program were over the age of forty,
she fails to articulate the reason that Plaintiff was denied access to the program. See Ex. A to
Motion [29-1]. Moreover, the statistics for the make-up of the GED program provided by
Defendant only covers one year. Plaintiff alleges he has been trying to enroll in the program
from 2007 through the present.
Ms. James also claims she is entitled to qualified immunity for Plaintiff’s claims against
her in her individual capacity. “The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government
officials ‘from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly
established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.’"
Pearson v. Callahan, 129 S. Ct. 808, 815 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800,
818 (1982)). Courts evaluating the issue of qualified immunity should conduct the following
two-prong test: 1) “whether a constitutional right would have been violated on the facts
alleged[;]" and 2) “whether the right was clearly established." McClendon v. City of Columbia,
305 F.3d 314, 322–23 (5th Cir. 2002) (en banc) (quoting Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200
(2001)). In the recent decision of Pearson, the Supreme Court receded from its holding in
Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001), holding that “while the sequence [of the two-prong test]
set forth [in Saucier] is often appropriate, it should no longer be regarded as mandatory.”
Pearson, 129 S. Ct. at 818. “Ultimately, a state actor is entitled to qualified immunity if his or
her conduct was objectively reasonable in light of the legal rules that were clearly established at
the time of his or her actions.” McClendon, 305 F.3d at 323.
At the time the Plaintiff’s allegations occurred, it was clearly established by law that
racial discrimination and irrational age discrimination were prohibited. See Brown v. Cochran,
171 F.3d 1329, 1333 (11th Cir. 1999); Felton v. Polles, No. Civ.A. 3:99CV200LN, 2000 WL
33968259, at *2 (S.D. Miss. Jan. 14, 2000); Kimel v. Fla. Bd. of Regents, 528 U.S. 62, 83 (2000).
Based on the Plaintiff’s sworn allegations in his complaint, his sworn Spears testimony, and his
response in opposition to the motion, Plaintiff has sufficiently raised genuine issues of material
fact as to whether Ms. James’ conduct was objectively unreasonable in light of the legal rules
that were clearly established at the time of her actions. Indeed, as stated above, the court is
unaware of what actions Ms. James took in denying Plaintiff’s admission to the GED program or
why he was denied admission.
For the reasons stated above, the court finds that Defendant’s Motion for Summary
Judgment  should be denied. In reaching this conclusion, the court makes no finding that
Plaintiff’s claims will ultimately be meritorious. Accordingly,
IT IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED:
That Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment  is DENIED. This matter will be
set for trial by separate order.
SO ORDERED this the 20th day of July, 2012.
s/ Michael T. Parker
United States Magistrate Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?