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Parks v. Clarke

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

December 9, 2017

DOLLY Y. PARKS, Plaintiff,
v.
HAROLD CLARKE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Michael F. Urbanski Chief United States District Judge

         Dolly Y. Parks, a Virginia inmate proceeding with counsel, commenced this action pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The remaining defendants are current and former officials of the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. Plaintiff complains that a disciplinary penalty was imposed in violation of due process guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, and Plaintiff responded, making the matter ripe for disposition. After reviewing the record, the court grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment because Plaintiff fails to establish the violation of a constitutional right.

         I.

         On June 19, 2015, Plaintiff received an institutional charge for code 201, "Disobeying an Order." Correctional Officer ("C/O") Foster reported that she saw napkins on top of the light fixture inside Plaintiffs cell and "have asked both [inmates] that reside in this cell to keep any items from on top of their lights.... [because] [i]]t is a fire hazard."

         The next day, Plaintiff received a copy of the charge and chose the procedures and discovery she wanted. Plaintiff refused a penalty offer, declined a staff advisor, and waived a twenty-four hour preparation time. However, she wanted to be present during the hearing, to have one inmate and one staff testify on her behalf, and to submit nine cross-examination questions to C/O Foster.[1] Plaintiff proffered that her cellmate would testify that C/O Foster had "never opened the cell 204 the night she was the flood officer in D-wing." Plaintiff proffered that the staff would testify about the same and that C/O Foster never spoke to Plaintiff "while doing ... rounds in D-wing." In response to the questions, C/O Foster explained in pertinent part that she first instructed the cell occupants to remove the napkins during count on June 18 and that she believed she was in the control room "on June 18 when Ramadan was called out." C/O Foster also explained that she and other officers are supposed to look in a cell during count to address "anything ... out of place."

         Defendant Marie Jones was assigned as the Institutional Hearing Officer ("IHO") and conducted the disciplinary hearing on June 25. Jones denied the two witness requests and excluded five of the nine written questions as irrelevant. Jones considered Plaintiffs testimony and reviewed C/O Foster's answers to the written questions before deeming Plaintiff guilty and recommending a $12.00 fine.

         Defendant Sylvia Wilson, a Unit Manager, approved the disposition and imposed the $ 12.00 fine. j Plaintiffs administrative appeal of the conviction was unsuccessful. Plaintiff argued in pertinent part that the confidential building log book indicated that C/O Foster was in the control room during count on June 18.[2] On August 24, defendant Tammy Brown, who was the Warden at the time, upheld the institutional conviction and fine on appeal. Brown noted, inter alia:

You claim you have information specific to the charge that you did not have at the time of the hearing.... [A]ny information you may have obtained after the completion of the disciplinary hearing will not be entertained, as the decision of the Hearings Officer was made based on the evidence presented at the time of the hearing. Also, the information you are presenting is not information that offenders have ready access to and is contradictory to your recorded testimony.

         This lawsuit followed, wherein Plaintiff believes Defendants failed to ensure the process guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. First, Plaintiff contends that the log book establishes that C/O Foster was in the control room and not around her cell when the offense occurred. Second, Plaintiff disputes Jones' evidentiary rulings to exclude the witnesses and five questions as irrelevant. Third, Plaintiff challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the conviction. Fourth, Plaintiff complains that the conviction impacted her Earned Sentence Credit ("ESC") classification calculation more than eight months later during a routine classification decision.[3] Plaintiff seeks damages and declaratory and equitable relief.

         II.

         Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment arguing qualified immunity. A party is entitled to summary judgment if the pleadings, the disclosed materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Material facts are those 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 fact-finder could return a verdict for the non-movant. Id. 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 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. Williams v. Griffin. 952 F.2d 820, 823 (4th Cir. 1991). "Mere unsupported speculation ... is not enough to defeat a summary judgment motion." Ennis v. Nat'l Ass'n of Bus. & Educ. Radio. Inc.. 53 F.3d 55, 62 (4th Cir. 1995). 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).

         A government official sued under § 1983 is entitled to invoke qualified immunity, which is an immunity from suit and pretrial burdens like discovery.[4] Cooper v. Sheehan, 735 F.3d 153, 158 (4th Cir. 2013) (citing Mitchell v. Forsyth. 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985)). "The doctrine of qualified immunity 'balances two important interests-the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.'" Smith v. Ray. 781 F.3d 95, 100 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Pearson v. Callahan. 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009)).

         The "qualified immunity analysis typically involves two inquiries: (1) whether the plaintiff has established the violation of a constitutional right, and (2) whether that right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation." Raub v. Campbell, 785 F.3d 876, 881 (4th Cir. 2015). A "court may address these two questions in the order ... that will best facilitate the fair and efficient disposition of each case." Estate of Armstrong v. Vill. of Pinehurst. 810 F.3d 892, 898 (4th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks omitted). A ...


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