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Edwards v. Debord

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

August 12, 2019

A. DEBORD, Defendant.


          Hon. Glen E. Conrad Senior United States District Judge

         Michael Derrick Edwards, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, [1] alleging that defendant A. DeBord violated his First Amendment rights by retaliating against him for filing grievances. DeBord filed a motion for summary judgment, and Edwards has responded, making this matter ripe for disposition. After review of the record, the court concludes that the defendant's motion for summary judgment must be denied.

         I. Background.

         The record indicates that Edwards, at all times pertinent, was confined at River North Correctional Center ("River North") and DeBord was the Assistant Food Service Director at River North. Edwards worked in the kitchen at River North, under the supervision of DeBord. Edwards was fired from his job on July 12, 2018.

         According to Edwards, on July 12, 2018, he submitted three emergency grievances complaining that he had been forced to wear a jumpsuit due to a prior incident. After the third emergency grievance, Edwards went to the supervisor's office to talk with DeBord. DeBord allegedly told Edwards that "if [he] had time to file grievances, [he] must not be working." Resp. D. Mot. Summ. J. 2, ECF No. 19-1. Following this conversation, a correctional officer in the kitchen told Edwards that he would not be returning to the kitchen, and another correctional officer told him that he "was going to be fired over a jumpsuit." Id. Edwards then wrote a fourth emergency grievance. The unit manager told Edwards that he "didn't have to worry about working in the kitchen anymore over the grievances and shredded the [fourth] grievance." Id. Later that day, the unit manager and institutional ombudsman told Edwards that he had lost his job in the kitchen.

         DeBord's evidence recounts a different version of events. When Edwards arrived for work on July 11, 2018 "to change into his kitchen clothes, he was wearing a prison jumpsuit. On this day, Edwards had an attitude about an issue that had occurred in his housing unit. Due to his poor attitude and behavior, he was removed from the kitchen at 3 p.m. to return to his housing unit." DeBord Aff. ¶ 6, ECF No. 14-1. On July 12, 2018, when Edwards returned to work, he "continued to demonstrate a poor attitude and behavior that day and was removed from the kitchen at 8:30 a.m. to return to his housing unit." Id. DeBord arrived to work at 8:00 a.m. on July 12, 2018, thirty minutes before Edwards was removed from the kitchen. As of 8:30 a.m., DeBord was not aware that Edwards had filed or was writing any emergency grievances. DeBord also "did not tell Edwards that if he has time to file grievances than he must not have been working." Id. at ¶ 7.

         DeBord did not have the authority to fire Edwards from his kitchen job. On July 12, 2018, she completed an Offender Work Program Job Suspension and Termination form, whereby she recommended that Edwards be terminated from his kitchen job due to poor job performance. DeBord submitted the form to L. Morgan-Bowman, Senior Counselor at River North, who conducted an administrative review, and approved Edward's termination from his kitchen job. Morgan-Bowman "based [her] termination approval on Ms. DeBord's statement that termination request was due to Edwards' poor job performance." Morgan-Bowman Aff. ¶ 7, ECF No. 14-2.

         Edwards filed an informal complaint on July 12, 2018, complaining that he was fired in retaliation for filing grievances. DeBord responded, stating that Edwards was released from the kitchen for poor job performance - "due to Mr. Edwards on Thurs 7/12/18 wanting his ID and walking out and then his attitude carrying over to Friday 7/13/18."[2] See V.S. 2, ECF No. 2. Edwards states that he never asked for his ID nor did he have an attitude about work; he claims that he worked throughout the day, "even while on break." Edwards Aff. 1, ECF No. 19-2.

         On July 18, 2018, Edwards filed a regular grievance. The responding officer informed him that he had to attach his termination paperwork before the grievance would be accepted. On July 20, 2018, Edwards submitted a second regular grievance. On July 25, 2018, after investigation, the warden responded that Edwards was "terminated from the kitchen due to [his] behavior which led to poor job performance." See V.S. 9. Edwards appealed. On August 13, 2018, the regional ombudsman upheld the decision.

         Edwards then filed the present action. Edwards' sole claim is that DeBord fired him in retaliation for his filing of emergency grievances, in violation of his First Amendment rights.[3]

         II. Discussion

         A. Standards of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that a court should grant summary judgment "if 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." "As to materiality, . . . [o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc.. 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The dispute over a material fact must be genuine, "such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id; see also JKC Holding Co. v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc.. 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001). As such, the moving party is entitled to summary judgment if the evidence supporting a genuine issue of material fact "is merely colorable or is not significantly probative." Anderson. 477 U.S. at 249.

         The moving party bears the burden of proving that judgment on the pleadings is appropriate. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett. 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). If the moving party meets this burden, then the nonmoving party must set forth specific, admissible facts to demonstrate a genuine issue of fact for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the record as a whole and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Celotex. 477 U.S. at 322-24; Shaw v. Stroud.13 F.3d 791, 798 (4th Cir. 1994). However, the nonmoving party may not rely on beliefs, conjecture, speculation, or conclusory allegations to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Baber v. Hosp. Corp. of Am.,977 F.2d 872, 874-75 (4th Cir. 1992). Instead, the nonmoving party must ...

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