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Figuereo-Mejia v. Lokey

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

September 30, 2019

BENJAMIN LOKEY, et al., Defendants.


          Joel C. Hoppe United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Sucre G. Figuereo-Mejia, a Virginia prisoner appearing pro se, filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that six correctional officials violated his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Compl., ECF No. 1. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on all claims, ECF No. 21, which has been fully briefed, ECF Nos. 22, 26. The motion will be granted in part and judgment entered in the individual Defendants’ favor. Figuereo-Mejia’s claim for retrospective injunctive relief will be dismissed without prejudice.

         I. Standard of Review

         “[T]he relevant inquiry” at summary judgment “is ‘whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.’” Gordon v. Schilling, __F.3d __, ___ (4th Cir. 2019) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251–52 (1986)). “The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, ” Appalachian Power Co. v. Arthur, 39 F.Supp.3d 790, 796 (W.D. Va. 2014), by “pointing out to the district court . . . an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case, ” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). If the party makes that showing, the nonmoving party must then produce admissible evidence showing a specific material fact genuinely in dispute.[1]Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c), (e); see Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003). Facts are “material” when they “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, ” and a “genuine” dispute exists when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A court making this determination does not weigh evidence, consider credibility, or resolve disputed issues-it decides only whether the facts and reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, reveal a genuine dispute of material fact for trial. See Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 656–57 (2014); JKC Holding Co. v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001).

         II. Background

         This is a prison discipline case. It started on August 1, 2016, when Defendants M. Slagle and T. Gideos searched Figuereo-Mejia’s cell at Augusta Correctional Center (“ACC”). Compl. 2–3.[2] Slagle “found an oatmeal box with 11 individually wrapped and 2 unwrapped unknown sticky substances.” Id. at 3. Figuereo-Mejia explained they were “coffee shots . . . from [a] yellow bag of coffee sitting on the desk” in his cell. Compl. Ex. 26, Aff. of S. Figuereo-Mejia ¶ 2 (June 12, 2018), ECF No. 1-1, at 41. When Slagle asked why “‘it look[ed] like that, ’” Figuereo-Mejia said he thought “the moisture in the cell ma[de] the coffee stick together.” Id. Slagle confiscated the box’s contents. Id. ¶ 3; see Compl. Ex. 2, ECF No. 1-1, at 3–4.

         Two hours later, Figuereo-Mejia was escorted to a meeting with Defendant Benjamin Lokey, an ACC’s Institutional Investigator. Figuereo-Mejia Aff. ¶ 4; see Compl. 3; Defs.’ Br. in Supp. Ex. 1, Aff. of B. Lokey ¶ 1 (Feb. 25, 2019), ECF No. 22-1. Lokey read Figuereo-Mejia his Miranda rights before asking him about the suspicious substance. Figuereo-Mejia Aff. ¶ 4. He “told him that it was just coffee.” Id. Figuereo-Mejia recalled Lokey saying that he

conducted a [f]ield [t]est on the coffee and it showed positive for amphetamines. He also told [Figuereo-Mejia] that [he] better tell him what it was and where [he] got it from because [Lokey] was going to find out anyways by sending it to the lab. . . . Lokey insisted that the coffee was a drug even though [Figuereo-Mejia] told him that it was just coffee.

Id. ¶¶ 6, 8. Figuereo-Mejia was immediately moved to administrative segregation. Id. ¶ 8; Compl. 3–4; Compl. Ex. 1, ECF No. 1-1, at 3. On August 2, he received a Disciplinary Offense Report charging him with “Possession of Unauthorized or Un-prescribed Drugs” in violation of prison policy. Figuereo-Mejia Aff. ¶ 8; see Compl. Ex. 2, at 4–5. The charge was based on Slagle’s report that “Lokey arrived and field tested the substance, ” which “tested positive for amphetamines.” Compl. Ex. 2, at 4–5.

         The next day, Figuereo-Mejia submitted a Witness Request Form asking Lokey, Gideos, and three inmates to provide statements about the incident. Compl. Ex. 3, ECF No. 1-1, at 8. Defendant T. Hostetter granted Figuereo-Mejia’s request for the two staff witnesses, but she denied his request for inmate statements attesting that the “found substance is just coffee.” Id. Gideos recalled the substance “smelled like coffee and was sticky.” Compl. Ex. 4, ECF No. 1-1, at 9. Lokey stated that on August 1, 2016, he “tested the [b]lack tar substance” and the “[f]ield test showed positive for [a]mphetamine.” Compl. Ex. 5, ECF No. 1-1, at 10. Lokey had asked Figuereo-Mejia “why it was packaged like it was, ” to which Figuereo-Mejia responded, “that’s just [his] routine.” Id. (spelling and punctuation corrected). According to Lokey, Figuereo-Mejia was “unable to tell [Lokey] anything about the substance or where [he] got it.” Id.

         Hostetter held a formal disciplinary hearing on August 15, 2016. See Defs.’ Br. in Supp. Ex. 2, Aff. of T. Hostetter ¶ 8 (Feb. 25, 2019), ECF No. 22-2, at 3. Figuereo-Mejia, Lokey, and Slagle testified at the hearing. Id. Lokey provided a photograph of the confiscated packets, Figuereo-Mejia Aff. ¶ 13; see Defs.’ Br. in Supp. Ex. 2, at 49, but “no pictures [were] taken of the field test” or its results. Hostetter Aff. ¶ 8. Hostetter denied Figuereo-Mejia’s request that Lokey produce “a copy of the [f]ield [t]est . . . show[ing] that the substance found tested positive for amphetamines, ” Figuereo-Mejia Aff. ¶ 13, because that information “was restricted for offender access, ” Hostetter Aff. ¶ 8. See Compl. Ex. 6, ECF No. 1-1, at 11.

         Hostetter found Figuereo-Mejia guilty of possessing unauthorized drugs based on Slagle’s and Lokey’s “eye witness testimony” that the substance “field tested . . . positive for amphetamine, ” along with Figuereo-Mejia’s admission that the substance belonged to him. Compl. Ex. 2, at 6. She rejected Figuereo-Mejia’s testimony that it “was coffee[, ] not amphetamine, ” because he “produced no evidence” that either corroborated this alternative explanation or contradicted “the positive field test or the reporting officer’s testimony.” Id. Hostetter sentenced Figuereo-Mejia to thirty days in segregation plus “[n]on-contact visits with immediate family only for six months.” Id. Figuereo-Mejia returned to ACC’s general population on September 8, 2016. See Compl. 11 (citing Compl. Ex. 19, ECF No. 1-1, at 26). Defendants John Woodson and Marcus Elam later upheld the disciplinary conviction on appeal. Compl. Exs. 11 to 14, ECF No. 1-1, at 17–21.

         In late August, ACC’s Institutional Classification Authority (“ICA”) increased Figuereo-Mejia’s security level and recommended that he be transferred to a more secure facility. See Compl. 7. The ICA also reduced Figuereo-Mejia’s “Good Time Level, ” which extended his “projected release date from 09/08/2026 . . . to 01/24/2028.” Id.; see Id . at 21. Both adjustments were based on the drug conviction. See Id . at 7. Around the same time, Figuereo-Mejia filed an informal complaint asking whether “the coffee that was found in [his] cell . . . [was] sent to the lab for an analysis, ” and, if so, “what [was] going on with it.” Compl. Ex. 15, ECF No. 1-1, at 22 (emphasis omitted). An ACC officer responded that “[it] takes 6 to 9 months for the results to come back.” Id. at 22–23. Woodson provided the same estimate in response to Figuereo-Mejia’s regular grievance. Compl. Ex. 17, ECF No. 1-1, at 24.

         Someone sent the field test’s results to Virginia’s State Consolidated Laboratory “to be validated, ” as is required before the Commonwealth can file criminal charges against a prisoner. Lokey Aff. ¶ 4. The “verified” results showed that the substance “was coffee, and not amphetamines.” Id. ¶ 5. Lokey “immediately notified” ACC’s Operations Manager, id., who relayed the news to Figuereo-Mejia on June 9, 2017, see Compl. Ex. 23, ECF No. 1-1, at 37. On June 29, Woodson overturned the conviction “based on information received from . . . Lokey that the substance was not unauthorized or unprescribed.” Compl. Ex. 24, ECF No. 1-1, at 38. A few weeks later, Figuereo-Mejia’s “good time earning level was adjusted from Class Level IV to Class Level I (the highest earning level) for the period of August 3, 2016, through his next annual review of May 31, 2017.” Defs.’ Br. in Supp. Ex. 3, Aff. of T. Lawhorn ...

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