Skinner v. King et al
ORDER granting 36 Motion for Summary Judgment; granting 43 Motion for Summary Judgment; granting 45 Partial Joinder in Motion for Summary Judgment for the reasons stated in the Order. Signed by District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III on April 19, 2017. (DI)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
JAMES LEE SKINNER
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:15cv708-DPJ-FKB
RON KING, et al.
This pro se prisoner case is before the Court on two motions for summary judgment, filed
on behalf of four of the nine defendants: Carl Arnold’s Motion for Summary Judgment for
Failure to Exhaust Available Administrative Remedies  and Latasha Brooks, Ron King, and
Brian Ladner’s Motion for Summary Judgment , in which Defendants Carl Arnold, Anthony
Health, Frederick Henderson, Daniel Lonie, and Aaron Spann have joined in part . For the
reasons that follow, both motions are granted, and the partial joinder is sustained.
Facts and Procedural History
Plaintiff James Lee Skinner (“Skinner”) was a state inmate housed at the Central
Mississippi Correctional Facility (“CMCF”) in Pearl, Mississippi, in 2015.1 Skinner claims that
on April 11, 2015, at the behest of Defendant Ron King (“King”), K-9 officers conducted a
shakedown of his housing unit in an effort to confiscate cell phones from inmates. Skinner
claims that he was beaten by several CMCF officers during this shakedown and that he was
transported to Central Mississippi Medical Center (“CMMC”) to treat the injuries he sustained.
Skinner says that on his way back from CMMC, Defendant Carl Arnold (“Arnold”) stopped the
vehicle in which he was being transported, choked him, and tried to break his fingers.
Skinner has since been released from his incarceration. Not. of Change of Address .
The following day, April 12, 2015, Skinner says he received a Rule Violation Report
(“RVR”) on a false claim that he assaulted a corrections officer. He claims that Defendant
Latasha Brooks handled the RVR and should have dismissed the charges against him; instead,
she found him guilty. He also claims that Defendant Brian Ladner improperly denied his appeal
of the guilty finding on the RVR. As a result of that guilty finding, Skinner lost all privileges for
Skinner filed this § 1983 lawsuit against King, Arnold, Brooks, Ladner, and others on
October 5, 2015. Arnold filed his motion for summary judgment on October 5, 2016; Brooks,
King, and Ladner moved for summary judgment on February 8, 2017; and Defendants Arnold,
Anthony Health, Frederick Henderson, Daniel Lonie, and Aaron Spann joined the latter
summary-judgment motion in part on February 8, 2017. Skinner failed to file responses to the
motions, and the time to do so under the local rules has now expired. The Court has personal
and subject-matter jurisdiction and is prepared to rule.
Summary judgment is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) when
evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact and that the moving party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The rule “mandates the entry of summary judgment,
after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing
sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that
party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
The party moving for summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the
district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it
believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 323. The
nonmoving party must then “go beyond the pleadings” and “designate ‘specific facts showing
that there is a genuine issue for trial.’” Id. at 324 (citation omitted). In reviewing the evidence,
factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the nonmovant, “but only when . . . both
parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069,
1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc). When such contradictory facts exist, the court may “not make
credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc.,
530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). Conclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and
legalistic arguments have never constituted an adequate substitute for specific facts showing a
genuine issue for trial. TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir.
2002); Little, 37 F.3d at 1075; SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1993).
Where, as here, the nonmovant fails to respond to a motion for summary judgment,
“summary judgment cannot be granted by default.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, advisory committee notes
to 2010 amendments. Instead, the Court may “consider the fact[s presented by the movant]
undisputed for purposes of the motion” and may “grant summary judgment if the motion and
supporting materials—including the facts considered undisputed—show that the movant is
entitled to it.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). “Usually, where the nonmovant fails to respond to a motion
for summary judgment, he is relegated to his unsworn pleadings, which do not constitute
summary judgment evidence.” Knoop v. Douglas, No. 2:09cv148, 2010 WL 4007752, at *3
(N.D. Tex. Oct. 12, 2010). Here, however, Skinner’s § 1983 complaint was signed and declared
to be true and correct under penalty of perjury. Compl.  at 8. And Skinner gave sworn
testimony at a Spears hearing.2 While the Court is not required to consider materials other than
Spears v. McCotter, 766 F.2d 179 (5th Cir. 1985).
those cited by the parties, “it may consider other materials in the record.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
56(c)(3). The Court has considered the record as a whole in ruling on the pending motions.
Arnold argues he is entitled to summary judgment on Skinner’s claims against him
because Skinner failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit. Under the
Prison Litigation Reform Act, prisoners must exhaust any available administrative remedies prior
to filing suit under § 1983. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 85 (2006). Skinner’s available
remedies are found in section 47-5-801 of the Mississippi Code, which
grants the Mississippi Department of Corrections (“MDOC”) the authority to
adopt an administrative review procedure at each of its correctional facilities.
Pursuant to this statutory authority, the MDOC has set up an Administrative
Remedy Program (“ARP”) “through which an offender may seek formal review
of a complaint relating to any aspect of their incarceration.”
Threadgill v. Moore, No. 3:10cv378-TSL-MTP, 2011 WL 4388832, at *3 (S.D. Miss. July 25,
2011) (quoting MDOC Inmate Handbook, Ch. VIII, ¶ 3); see also Wilson v. Epps, 776 F.3d 296,
300 (5th Cir. 2015) (describing MDOC grievance process). In order to exhaust his
administrative remedies, a Mississippi inmate must “pursue the [ARP process] to conclusion.”
Wright v. Hollingsworth, 260 F.3d 357, 358 (5th Cir. 2001).
Arnold produced the only ARP grievance Skinner filed related to the incidents forming
the basis of this lawsuit. ARP Records [36-1]. At the Spears hearing, Skinner confirmed that he
filed no other grievances. The ARP discusses the April 11, 2015 shakedown at which Skinner
says he was beaten, as well as the subsequent handling of the RVR. But the allegations against
Arnold—that he assaulted Skinner while he was being transported back to CMCF from CMMC
on April 11, 2015—are not included in the grievance. So Skinner did not exhaust his
administrative remedies with respect to his claims against Arnold. Arnold’s motion for summary
judgment is granted, and the claims against Arnold are dismissed without prejudice.
King, Ladner, and Brooks’s Motion (and the other Defendants’ Partial Joinder)
Defendants Health, Henderson, Lonie, and Spann join in King, Ladner, and Brooks’s
motion to the extent it seeks summary judgment on any official-capacity claims asserted against
them. Any official-capacity claims asserted against these MDOC employees are effectively
claims against the State of Mississippi. Will v. Mich. Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71
(1989). Defendants therefore argue that they are entitled to sovereign immunity on the officialcapacity claims. The Court agrees.
Because MDOC is an arm of the state, its employees are generally entitled to sovereign
immunity, assuming the state has not waived it. See Kermode v. Univ. of Miss. Med. Ctr., 496 F.
App’x 483, 487 (5th Cir. 2012) (“[T]he official-capacity . . . defendants are state entities entitled
to invoke sovereign immunity against suits by individuals in federal court.”); Williams v. Miss.
Dep’t of Corrections, No. 3:12cv259-CWR-FKB, 2012 WL 2052101, at *1 (S.D. Miss. June 6,
2012) (“MDOC is considered an arm of the State of Mississippi.”). The State of Mississippi has
not waived its sovereign immunity. Jones v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 971 F. Supp. 2d 671, 679 (N.D.
Miss. 2013) (“The Mississippi Tort Claims Act expressly preserves the State’s Eleventh
Amendment immunity on claims brought in federal court.” (citing Miss. Code Ann. §§ 11-463(1), 11-46-5(4))). And Ex parte Young does not apply because Skinner does not “allege an
ongoing violation of federal law [or] seek relief properly characterized as prospective.” Cantu
Servs., Inc. v. Roberie, 535 F. App’x 342, 344–45 (5th Cir. 2013) (citations and internal
quotation marks omitted). Defendants are entitled to sovereign immunity on the official-capacity
claims against them.
King, Ladner, and Brooks assert that qualified immunity bars the individual-capacity
claims against them. As the Fifth Circuit recently summarized:
[T]he doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from civil
damages liability when their actions could reasonably have been believed to be
legal. This immunity protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who
knowingly violate the law. Accordingly, we do not deny immunity unless
existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question
beyond debate. The basic steps of this court’s qualified-immunity inquiry are
well-known: a plaintiff seeking to defeat qualified immunity must show: (1) that
the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was
clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct.
Anderson v. Valdez, 845 F.3d 580, 599–600 (5th Cir. 2016) (citation and quotation marks
omitted, punctuation altered).
“If the defendant’s conduct did not violate [the] plaintiff’s constitutional rights under the
first prong, . . . he is entitled to qualified immunity.” Blackwell v. Laque, No. 07-30184, 2008
WL 1848119, at *2 (5th Cir. Apr. 24, 2008). If the defendant did violate the plaintiff’s
constitutional rights, “the court then asks whether qualified immunity is still appropriate because
the defendant’s actions were ‘objectively reasonable’ in light of ‘law which was clearly
established at the time of the disputed action.’” Brown v. Callahan, 623 F.3d 249, 253 (5th Cir.
2010) (quoting Collins v. Ainsworth, 382 F.3d 529, 537 (5th Cir. 2004)). With this framework in
mind, the Court considers whether Skinner has met his burden with respect to the claims against
King, Ladner, and Brooks.
Skinner says that King ordered the April 11, 2015 shakedown during which he was
beaten. In particular, he says that King ordered the shakedown as a means of confiscating cell
phones in inmates’ possession. At the Spears hearing, Skinner clarified that he was not
contending that King ordered anything else with respect to the shakedown; Skinner does not
claim that King ordered anyone to assault him.
The Court agrees with King that merely ordering a shakedown of Skinner’s housing unit,
in order to confiscate contraband, does not constitute a violation of Skinner’s constitutional
rights. The Supreme Court has upheld shakedowns in the face of Fourth Amendment claims,
noting that “routine shakedowns of prison cells are essential to the effective administration of
prisons.” Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 529 (1984). And Skinner presents no evidence
suggesting that, under the circumstances, King’s mere ordering of a shakedown violated
Skinner’s rights under the Eighth Amendment. See id. (explaining that, where a shakedown is
undertaken “for calculated harassment unrelated to prison needs,” an inmate may have a claim
under the Eighth Amendment). Because Skinner has not established that King violated his
constitutional rights, King is entitled to qualified immunity and summary judgment.
Ladner and Brooks
Skinner’s claims against Ladner and Brooks relate to their handling of the RVR against
him. In particular, Skinner alleges that Brooks improperly found him guilty of the RVR and that
Ladner improperly denied his appeal from that guilty finding. Claims based on false RVRs,
“standing alone . . . , do not state a deprivation of due process. ‘The constitution demands due
process, not error-free decision-making . . . .’” Collins v. King, 743 F.2d 248, 253–54 (5th Cir.
1984) (quoting McRae v. Hankins, 720 F.2d 863, 868 (5th Cir. 1983)). Moreover, to establish a
due-process claim, Skinner has to show a “protected liberty . . . interest” requiring due process.
Jordan v. Fisher, 823 F.3d 805, 810 (5th Cir. 2016). Skinner’s loss of privileges for 60 days did
not deprive him “of a cognizable liberty interest.” See Madison v. Parker, 104 F.3d 765, 768
(5th Cir. 1997) (explaining that “30 day commissary and cell restrictions as punishment are in
fact merely changes in the conditions of [inmate’s] confinement and do not implicate due process
concerns”). Nor does a loss of privileges give rise to a claim under the Eighth Amendment. See
Hamilton v. Lyons, 74 F.3d 99, 106 n.8 (5th Cir. 1996) (concluding the “denial of visitation,
telephone, recreation, mail, legal materials, sheets, and showers for a three-day period . . . do not
constitute cruel and unusual punishment”). Skinner has not shown that Ladner or Brooks
violated his constitutional rights, so those Defendants are likewise entitled to qualified immunity
and summary judgment.
The Court has considered all arguments. Those not specifically addressed would not
have changed the outcome. For the foregoing reasons, Carl Arnold’s Motion for Summary
Judgment for Failure to Exhaust Available Administrative Remedies  is granted, and the
claims against him are dismissed without prejudice. Latasha Brooks, Ron King, and Brian
Ladner’s Motion for Summary Judgment  is granted, and the claims against them are
dismissed with prejudice. Defendants Carl Arnold, Anthony Health, Frederick Henderson,
Daniel Lonie, and Aaron Spann’s Joinder  in Defendants’ Motion is also granted. The
official-capacity claims against those defendants are dismissed with prejudice.
SO ORDERED AND ADJUDGED this the 19th day of April, 2017.
s/ Daniel P. Jordan III
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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