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Williams v. Anderson

United States District Court, D. Utah

March 29, 2018

REGINALD WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
M. ANDERSON et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING REMAINING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          DAVID NUFFER CHIEF JUDGE United States District Court

         Orders of June 19, 2017, (Docket No. 58), and September 29, 2017, (Docket No. 61), disposed of all other claims and defendants in this case except State of Utah defendants M. Anderson (Assistant Attorney General (AAG)), Turley (Department of Corrections (UDOC)), Deputy Warden Bussio (UDOC), Captain Gardner (UDOC), and Grievance Coordinator Casper (UDOC). The two remaining civil-rights claims are conspiracy to retaliate and retaliation. See 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 (2018). These claims allege that because Defendants knew that Plaintiff was gathering materials for this lawsuit, they conspired to retaliate and retaliated by confiscating his legal materials, recommending a three-year rehearing date to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole (BOP), and refusing a grievance about the latter.

         Defendants filed a Martinez report, (Docket No. 67), including evidentiary documentation: (1) declarations of Defendants Anderson, Bussio, Casper, and Gardner, amongst other relevant Utah State Prison (USP) staff; (2) UDOC grievance and inmate-property policies; (3) relevant letters; (4) Plaintiff's April 2011 Rehearing Report and March 2011 Initial Contact Report. Based upon their Martinez report, Defendants move for summary judgment, asserting qualified immunity. (Docket No. 71.) Plaintiff responds, attaching one item of evidence, Plaintiff's declaration. (Docket No. 72.) Plaintiff's response also asks for discovery to seek more evidence to support his claims. This order grants summary judgment for Defendants.

         SUMMARY-JUDGMENT STANDARD

         A court shall grant summary judgment when “the movant shows 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). A party may support factual assertions by “citing to particular parts of 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.” Id. at 56(c)(1). Summary judgment's purpose “is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986).

         The movant has the “initial burden to demonstrate an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the non-movant's case.” Johnson v. City of Bountiful, 996 F.Supp. 1100, 1102 (D. Utah 1998). Once movant meets this burden, “the burden then shifts to the non-movant to make a showing sufficient to establish that there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding the existence of that element.” Id. To do so, the non-movant must “go beyond the pleadings and ‘set forth specific facts' that would be admissible in evidence in the event of a trial from which a rational trier of fact could find for the nonmovant.” Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, 144 F.3d 664, 671 (10th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). In ruling on a summary-judgment motion, this Court must “examine the factual record and reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.” Sealock v. Colorado, 218 F.3d 1205, 1209 (10th Cir. 2000).

         Plaintiff was notified that, in response to a summary-judgment motion, “Plaintiff cannot rest upon the mere allegations in the complaint. Instead . . . Plaintiff must allege specific facts, admissible in evidence, showing that there is a genuine issue remaining for trial.” (Docket No. 13, at 5-6.)

         QUALIFIED IMMUNITY

         Defendants' assertion of qualified immunity modifies the summary-judgment review. Asserting qualified immunity, a state employee creates a rebuttable presumption that she is immune from the plaintiff's § 1983 claims. See Medina v. Cram, 252 F.3d 1124, 1129 (10th Cir. 2001). And rather than “focus[ing] on the existence of genuine disputes of material fact, ” the court must “'determine whether plaintiff's factual allegations are sufficiently grounded in the record such that they may permissibly comprise the universe of facts that will serve as the foundation for answering the legal questions before the court.'” Spencer v. Abbott, No. 16-4009, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 24668, at *10 n.6 (10th Cir. Dec. 5, 2017) (unpublished) (emphasis in original) (quoting Cox v. Glanz, 800 F.3d 1231, 1243 (10th Cir. 2015)).

         The qualified immunity analysis has two parts: first, whether, under the facts alleged by the plaintiff, the government officials violated a constitutional right; and second, “whether the right at issue was ‘clearly established' at the time of the defendant's alleged misconduct.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001)). If the plaintiff fails to satisfy either element of his burden, the court must grant the defendant qualified immunity. See Medina, 252 F.3d at 1128.

         If the material facts are not disputed, the question of immunity “is a legal one for the court to decide.” Gomes v. Wood, 451 F.3d 1122, 1136 (10th Cir. 2006). Such is the case here.

         UNDISPUTED MATERIAL FACTS

         • Plaintiff's crimes for which he was incarcerated at the relevant time (and remains incarcerated) are Aggravated Sexual Assault, three counts, with a ten-to-life sentence; Aggravated Robbery, with a five-to-life sentence; and Habitual Criminal, with a five-to-life sentence. (Docket No. 74-2 BOP Rehearing Order, dated September 30, 2011.)

         • During the relevant time period, Plaintiff was a USP inmate. (Docket No. 6, at 3 Complaint.) USP is operated by UDOC. (Id. at 2-3.)

         • For at least seven years, Plaintiff has been researching the propriety of UDOC's operation of the Inmate Trust Fund Account (ITFA). His efforts have entailed requests and appeals under Utah's open records law (GRAMA), complaining to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency about ITFA's establishment and management, and filing this action. (Docket No. 72, at 4 Plaintiff's Opp. to Defendants' summary-judgment motion (specifying “Not disputed”).)

         • In January 2011, Defendant Anderson, an AAG representing UDOC, provided GRAMA-requested documents to Plaintiff. (Id. (specifying “Not disputed).)

         • A few weeks later, Defendant Anderson determined that certain documents that he had given to Plaintiff should have been classified, “PROTECTED, ” under GRAMA. (Id. (specifying “Not disputed”); Docket No. 67-9 (April 5, 2011 Defendant Anderson letter to Plaintiff).)

         • Defendant Anderson talked about this with UDOC administrators Williams and Defendant Turley. Because GRAMA protected records were classified as contraband under USP policy, the decision was made to retrieve the documents from Plaintiff by taking his “legal pouch.” (Docket No. 72, at 4-5 Plaintiff's Opp. To Defendants' summary-judgment motion (specifying “Not disputed”); Docket No. 67-9 April 5, 2011 Defendant Anderson letter to Plaintiff.)

         • An inmate's legal pouches may contain (1) “Legal - Public” materials--e.g., “case copies, court rules, discovery responses (but not books) which are necessary to process the case”: and (2) “Legal - Privileged” materials--e.g., “attorney-client correspondence and other non-public material which could compromise the inmate's legal position if disclosed.” (Docket No. 67-10, at 6 UDOC Policy Inmate Property.)

         • Legal - Privileged “pouches may be inspected, but contents shall not be read [by UDOC employees]”; Legal - Public “pouches shall be subject to normal inspection rules and have no privilege against reading.” (Id. at 6.)

         • “Specific justification for confiscating the legal pouch shall be evidence or suspicious items that may be considered contraband . . . .” (Id. at 7.)

         • The UDOC policy about handling a confiscated pouch is as follows:

1. If the legal pouch is confiscated it shall be listed on a Confiscation Form by the staff member completing the search and/or property inventory.
2. The legal pouch and its contents shall be immediately sealed in an evidence bag by the staff member completing the search.
3. The staff member who confiscated the legal pouch shall complete an Incident Report outlining reasons for confiscation.
4. The report and legal pouch shall be secured in an area designated by the Deputy Warden.
5. The following working day the Deputy Warden/designee shall pick up the legal pouch and reports at a designated area.
6. The Deputy Warden/designee shall forward the evidence bag, incident reports, and other pertinent information identifying the reason for the ...

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