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Watson v. Graves

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

October 6, 2017

Audrel Jack Watson, Plaintiff,
v.
Neal Graves, et al.. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Leonie M. Brinkema United States District Judge

         Audrel Jack Watson, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, has filed a civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that he was subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement during his former detention at Lawrenceville Correctional Center ("LVCC").[1] The matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by remaining defendants Warden Ed Wright, Unit Manager Neal Graves, and Unit Manager R. E. Clarke. [Dkt. No. 30][2]Defendants submitted a memorandum of law with supporting exhibits, and provided plaintiff with the notice required by Local Rule 7(K) and Roseboro v. Garrison. 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975). [Dkt. No. 31] After receiving an extension of time, Watson submitted his Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 37], defendants filed a reply [Dkt. No. 38], and plaintiff filed a sur-reply. [Dkt. No. 39] Accordingly, this matter is ripe for disposition. After careful consideration of these submissions, defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted.

         I. Background

         In the amended complaint, which is the operative complaint in the lawsuit [Dkt. No. 15], Watson contends that lack of access to toilet facilities during exercise periods at LVCC amounted to an Eighth Amendment violation. He alleges that during his incarceration at LVCC he was "forced to choose between exercise (inside or outside) or staying in [his] cell[] 24/7/365, where toilet facilities are present." Id. at Att. p. 3. According to plaintiff, during inside pod exercise periods officers in the booth would not let an inmate back into his cell to use the toilet facilities, "no matter how much he beg[ged] and plead[ed]...." Id. As for outdoor exercise periods, plaintiff states that no "gate breaks" were provided from Monday through Friday, and even when they were made available plaintiff and other inmates often were deprived of access to toilet facilities for up to two hours. Id. at Att. p. 4. Plaintiff alleges that his inability to relieve himself for these "long periods of time" caused him to suffer "extreme and excruciating pain, " and that the resulting necessity of urinating in the showers made him feel "untold amounts of humiliation, embarrassment, and emotional trauma." Id. at Att. p. 5. Plaintiff suggests that the situation could have been alleviated by the installation of Port-a-Johns on the outside recreation yard, but defendants refused to do so. Watson claims that as a result he and other LVCC inmates were "forced to choose between sanitation or exercise." Id. at Att. p. 15. As relief, plaintiff seeks an award of compensatory and punitive damages. Id. at Att. pp. 24-25.

         Defendants have submitted exhibits which demonstrate the following material facts. Inmates at LVCC are offered time in the outdoor recreation yard twice a day, typically from approximately 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and again from approximately 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Decl. of Graves, Def. Ex. A ¶ 5; Decl. of Wright, Def. Ex. B ¶ 4. During these periods correctional officers patrol the perimeter fencing of the yard and observe the inmates inside. Def. Ex. A ¶ 7; Def. Ex. B ¶ 5. About 30 to 45 minutes after a recreation period begins, an officer provides a "gate break" during which inmates may leave the yard for any reason, including use of a restroom; however, an inmate who does so may not return to the yard during that session. Additionally, an inmate who wishes to leave the yard at another time may ask the officers patrolling the perimeter to let him out, and the officers may or may not accommodate such a request at their discretion. Def. Ex. A ¶ 8; Def, Ex. B ¶ 8.

         There are no restrooms in the LVCC recreation yard. Port-a-Johns would constitute a security threat because they would hinder correctional officers' ability to observe the inmates. Urination and defecation are not permitted in the yard, and an inmate who does so generally is given a disciplinary charge. Def. Ex. A ¶ 9; Def, Ex. B ¶ 6-7.

         An inmate also has the option of remaining in the day room of his housing unit for recreation. Every hour, on the hour, inmates in each housing unit receive a "door break" during which all cells are unlocked for five minutes and inmates are permitted free access to enter and leave their cells. This provides an opportunity for inmates to use the toilets. Def. Ex. A ¶ 13; Def, Ex. B ¶ 10. At all other times an inmate may obtain access to his cell by pushing an intercom button and requesting the Booth Officer stationed in the housing unit's control room to open his cell door remotely. Def. Ex. A ¶ 10; Def, Ex. B ¶ 9-10. An inmate who does so must remain in his cell until the next door break occurs. Def. Ex. A ¶ 14. Additionally, for security reasons he must wait to be let into his cell until a Floor Officer or a Sergeant can be present, which at times can take up to 20 minutes. Def. Ex. A ¶ 15; Def, Ex. B ¶ 11.

         In response to defendants' summary judgment motion, plaintiff filed an Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment which he signed under penalty of perjury. [Dkt. No. 37 at p. 48] Plaintiff takes issue with many of defendant's factual assertions by declaring them to be untrue and false, and he supports his position by pointing to his statements in the amended complaint. Id. at 1. It is settled that the nonmoving party may not defeat a properly-supported summary judgment motion by simply substituting the "conclusory allegations of the complaint or answer with conclusory allegations of an affidavit." Luian v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n. 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). This is true even where the nonmoving party in such a situation is a pro se prisoner entitled to liberal construction of his pleadings; a "declaration under oath... is not enough to defeat a motion for summary judgment. He has to provide a basis for his statement. To hold otherwise would render motions for summary judgment a nullity." Campbell-El v. Dist. of Columbia. 874 F.Supp. 403, 406 - 07 (D.C. 1994). Here, the factual allegations in plaintiffs Opposition amount to nothing more than a conclusory recapitulation of the amended complaint, without additional supporting evidence. Thus, plaintiffs pleading is insufficient to defeat defendants' summary judgment motion. Doyle v. Sentry Ins.. 877 F.Supp. 1002, 1005 (E.D. Va. 1995) (Merhige, J.) (to defeat a motion for summary judgment, a nonmoving party cannot rely on "mere belief or conjecture, or the allegations or denials contained in the pleadings.")

         Similarly, plaintiff in his sur-reply [Dkt. No. 39] asserts that much of what defendants state in their summary judgment motion and supporting affidavits is false, but his assertions are unsupported by any evidence.

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of proving that judgment on the pleadings is appropriate. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett. 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once a moving party has met its burden to show that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to point out the specific facts which create disputed factual issues. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.. 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.. 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, a district court should consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of that party. United States v. Diebold. Inc.. 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962). An issue of material fact is genuine when "the evidence... create[s] [a] fair doubt; wholly speculative assertions will not suffice." Ross v. Communications Satellite Corp.. 759 F.2d 355, 364 (4th Cir. 1985).

         III. Analysis

         Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment on several grounds, all of which are meritorious. The threshold and dispositive consideration is that Watson admittedly failed to exhaust his administrative remedies for his present claim. Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); Woodford v. Ngo. 548 U.S. 81, 85 (2006) ("Exhaustion is no longer left to the discretion of the district court, but is mandatory."). As has been recognized previously in this district, "the PLRA amendment made [it] clear that exhaustion is now mandatory." Langford v. Couch. 50 F.Supp.2d 544, 548 (E.D. Va. 1999). A prisoner now must exhaust all available administrative remedies, whether or not they meet federal standards or are plain, speedy or effective, Porter v. Nussle. 534 U.S. 516, 524 (2002), and even if exhaustion would be futile because it would not provide the relief the inmate seeks. Davis v. Stanford. 382 F.Supp.2d 814, 818 (E.D. Va.), affd, 127 Fed.App'x 680 (4th Cir. 2005).

         The PLRA requires "proper" exhaustion, which demands "compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules." Woodford. 548 U.S. at 90-91, 93. Proper administrative exhaustion requires that "a prisoner must submit inmate complaints and appeals in the place, and at the time, the prison's administrative rules require." Dale v. Lappin. 376 F.3d 652, 655 (7th Cir. 2004). The benefits of proper exhaustion are realized only if the prison grievance system is given a "fair opportunity to consider the grievance" which will not occur "unless the grievant complies with the ...


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