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Barksdale v. Clarke

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

August 4, 2017

HAROLD CLARKE, et al., Defendants.


          Hon. Jackson L. Kiser Senior United States District Judge

         Julian Barksdale, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, naming staff of the Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC") and Red Onion State Prison ("Red Onion") as defendants.[1] Plaintiff complains that his classification and incarceration in Red Onion at Security Level S between March 17, 2015, and November 27, 2016, violated a settlement agreement and the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Defendants filed motions for summary judgment, and Plaintiff responded, making this matter ripe for disposition.[2] After reviewing the record, I dismiss the claim about a settlement agreement for lack of standing and grant Defendants' motions for summary judgment.


         Plaintiff arrived at Red Onion on April 5, 2011, while serving a total sentence of 78 years and 16 days for statutory burglary, four firearms convictions, two malicious wounding convictions, attempted first-degree murder, and second-degree murder. To date, Plaintiff has been found guilty of at least eighty-nine institutional convictions, including ten for threatening bodily harm, planning to commit aggravated assault upon a non-offender, and possession of a weapon or sharpened instrument.

         Plaintiff has been in segregated housing during the majority of his confinement at Red Onion. Plaintiff complains that he was "arbitrarily" designated as a Level S inmate on March 17, 2015, and that he was designated as a Special Management inmate for approximately twenty months before he commenced this action.[3]

         Red Onion's Level S inmates may be designated in one of two main categories: Intensive Management ("IM") or Special Management ("SM").[4] From the most to least restrictive security classifications, IM inmates are designated as IM-0, IM-1, IM-2, and IM-SL6, and SM inmates are designated as SM-0, SM-1, SM-2, and SM-SL6.[5] SM-SL6 inmates may be reduced to Level 6's Structured Living Phase 1 and then to Phase 2. Graduation from Phase 2 makes the inmate eligible to be assigned to Level 5 and housed in a general population unit.

         When Level S inmates exhibit positive behaviors and successfully complete established goals, they are rewarded with more privileges via a reduction in their security classifications. All Level S inmates are given the opportunity to participate in the "Challenge Series, " a goal-oriented, incentive-based segregation housing plan for inmates to study pro-social goals via seven workbooks. A multi-disciplinary group of staff who work in the housing unit called the Unit Management Team tracks and rates each Level S inmate's weekly performance for things like personal hygiene, respect, and standing for count as achievable progress toward the next lower security level. Counselors also rate each inmate's participation as incomplete, positive effort, or complete. Staff in both groups should communicate the ratings to inmates, acknowledge positive performance, and motivate inmates for improvement.[6] An IM or SM inmate who does not satisfy program criteria at any time can be denied a "step down" to a lower classification or returned to a higher classification level.

         While he did advance through the Step-Down program and was housed in less restrictive Structured Living assignments during 2014, he was returned to SM-0 status after receiving institutional charges in September 2014 and in March 2015. Plaintiff complains that he has already completed the Challenge Series workbooks and yet been told to restart the workbooks and has remained classified as SM-0 since March 17, 2015. However, Plaintiff has violated institutional rules since being designated Level S, and inmates in the Step-Down program are expected to remain free of disciplinary infractions. Because the Challenge Series is a cognitive based program, inmates, like Plaintiff, who incur charges or are considered to still exhibit behavior problems are deemed to have not yet adopted the Challenge Series' improved thought patterns and social skills. Consequently, disruptive inmates may be removed from the Step-Down program or may be required to restart the Challenge Series.

         Plaintiff was placed in pre-hearing administrative segregation at Red Onion after receiving an institutional charge in March 2015. On April 15, 2015, Plaintiff was released from administrative segregation and assigned to SM-0. Plaintiff was moved into disciplinary segregation between September 18 and October 18, 2015, because of another disciplinary conviction, and was then released back to SM-0. Plaintiffs classification was reduced to SM-1 at an undisclosed time, and on December 2, 2016, the ICA determined that SM-1 remained the appropriate housing level.

         During the time relevant to this case, male Level S inmates were permitted numerous personal property: shoes; clothing; bedding; towels; a toothbrush; a calendar; a pen; an address book; approximately forty first-class stamps; reading material; reading glasses; a radio; an audio player; batteries; comb; hairbrush; shaving razor; watch; wedding band; eyeglasses; prescribed medical items; and religious items.[7] Level S inmates are restrained in handcuffs and shackles, are strip searched, and are escorted by several officers whenever they leave their cells.

         IM and SM inmates are afforded similar privileges. All IM inmates had the following minimum privileges: two library books per week; religious and legal materials in the cell; commissary; educational and religious television programs displayed on a pod wall; a radio; an audio player; individual in-cell correctional programs; two hours of outside[8] recreation per week; two twenty-minute phone calls per month; three showers per week; and a non-contact visit for one hour per week.[9] Inmates in IM levels less restrictive than IM-0 receive greater content or frequency of the privileges like more library books per week and more access and variety of in-cell television programs. IM-2 and IM-SL6 inmates may have jobs, and notably, IM-2 and SM-2 inmates may receive correctional programming in groups of up to five inmates. Per policy, IM and SM inmates receive the same types of meals as served to the general population, but IM and SM inmates eat their meals alone in their cells.[10]

         Plaintiff complains about the conditions of confinement as an SM inmate at Red Onion. He allegedly "has been subjected to (and/or will be subjected to in the future)": mental illness and nightmares; the "denial, restriction of good time credits"; "unavailability of activities, environment which is/or conclusive to pro-social interactions in furtherance of Plaintiffs rehabilitation, well being, etc."; "anxiety, headaches, loss of sleep and (to Plaintiffs belief) PTSD"; "physical deterioration/loss of weight, etc"; "deterioration of eye sight (due to constant . exposure to extremely bright fluorescence lights in cells)"; one hour of recreation five times per week; showers three times a week; cavity searches whenever leaving the cell; virtually no person to person contact; commissary privileges up to $40 per month; limited selection of commissary goods; wearing state-issued shoes with less padding than sneakers, which causes knee pain; no education or vocational opportunities besides adult basic education for a GED; and being compelled to shave his beard in violation of his religious beliefs.

         Plaintiff complains that he was not given prior notice, the opportunity to participate in a hearing, or a written explanation for his assignment to SM. Plaintiff wrote defendant Unit Manager Duncan on March 31, 2016, to ask about his status level, and she, along with defendant Lt. C. Gilbert, replied that Plaintiff could not step down due to having a "poor rating." Plaintiff complains that he cannot see the weekly reports that allegedly document the reasons for his "poor rating" because he alleges that "he has never had any serious or major incidents (to Plaintiffs recollection)." Plaintiff further argues that he was never supposed to be put in a "phase program or similar program per the settlement agreement and court order per Brown v. Sieleff[, ] CA #81 -00853-R[, ] [a]nd that's for all the DOC that Virginia Department of Corrections agreed to."


         Defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity and summary judgment. Qualified immunity permits "government officials performing discretionary functions ... [to be] shielded 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." Harlow v.Fitzgerald. 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982); In re Allen. 106 F.3d 582, 593 (4th Cir. 1997) ("[A]n official may claim qualified immunity as long as his actions are not clearly established to be beyond the boundaries of his discretionary authority."). Once a defendant raises the qualified immunity defense, a plaintiff bears the burden to show that a defendant's conduct violated the plaintiffs right. Bryant v. Muth, 994 F.2d 1082, 1086 (4th Cir. 1993).

         A party is entitled to summary judgment if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a): see Williams v. Griffin, 952 F.2d 820, 823 (4th Cir. 1991) (recognizing a party is entitled to summary judgment if the record as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find in favor of the non-movant). "Material facts" are those facts necessary to establish the elements of a party's cause of action. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine dispute of material fact exists if, in viewing the record and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, a reasonable factfinder could return a verdict for the non-movant. IcL The moving party has the burden of showing - "that is, pointing out to the district court - that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). If the movant satisfies this burden, then the non-movant must set forth specific facts that demonstrate the existence of a genuine dispute of fact for trial. Id. at 322-24. A court may not resolve disputed facts, weigh the evidence, or make determinations of credibility. Russell v. Microdyne Corp.. 65 F.3d 1229, 1239 (4th Cir. 1995); Sosebee v. Murphy, 797 F.2d 179, 182 (4th Cir. 1986). Instead, a court accepts as true the evidence of the non-moving party and resolves all internal conflicts and inferences in the non-moving party's favor. Charbonnages de France v. Smith, 597 F.2d 406, 414 (4th Cir. 1979). A plaintiff cannot use a response to a motion for summary judgment to amend or correct a complaint challenged by the motion for summary judgment. Cloaninger v. McDevitt, 555 F.3d 324, 336 (4th Cir. 2009).


         To the extent Plaintiff fails to identify individual defendant's personal acts or omissions, Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity and summary judgment. See, e.g., Shaw v. Stroud,13 F.3d 791, 799 (4th Cir. 1994). Acknowledging this deficiency, Plaintiff argues, "In the event that any ... defendant(s) did not directly violate any stated right(s), Plaintiff asserts ... defendant(s) contributed to said violations via within their individual and official capacit[ie]s via deliberate indifference when they approved of and or upheld said violations via policy, complaints, grievances, etc...." However, Plaintiff cannot succeed on a basis of respondeat. superior, and a "superior's after-the-fact denial of a grievance falls far short of establishing § 1983 liability."[11]DePaola v. Ray, No. 7:12cv00139, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117182, at *23, 2013 WL 4451236, at *8 (W.D. Va. July 22, 2013) (Sargent, M.J.) (citing Brooks v. Beard, 167 F.App'x 923, 925 (3rd Cir. 2006)); see also Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs.. 436 U.S. 658, 663 n.7, 691-94 (1978). Furthermore, a claim that prison officials have not followed their own independent policies ...

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