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Walker v. Smokes

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Statesboro Division

August 19, 2019




         Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Telfair State Prison in Helena, Georgia, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 cause of action, as amended, contesting events allegedly occurring during his incarceration at Smith State Prison in Glennville, Georgia. Doc. 13. Defendants have moved for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff has failed to put forward a dispute of material fact. Doc. 77. Plaintiff filed a Response, Defendants filed a Reply, and Plaintiff filed a Surreply. Docs. 80, 81, 82. For the following reasons, I RECOMMEND the Court GRANT Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and DISMISS Plaintiff's Complaint, as amended, for his failure to establish a genuine dispute of material fact. I also RECOMMEND the Court DIRECT the Clerk of Court to CLOSE this case and enter the appropriate judgment of dismissal and DENY Plaintiff in forma pauperis status on appeal.

         BACKGROUND [1]

         Plaintiff filed his initial Complaint in this case on May 26, 2015, doc. 1, and amended as a matter of right on August 26, 2015, doc. 13. In his pleadings, Plaintiff asserts that, upon his arrival at Smith State Prison, he was placed in Tier II confinement with members of the Goodfellas gang. Doc. 13 at 3-4. Plaintiff asserts that he previously severed all his ties with that gang and, moreover, that certain gang members put out a contract ordering gang members to kill Plaintiff. Id. at 4-5. Plaintiff further claims he was denied the opportunity to contest his Tier II placement because prison records reflected that he was a member of the Goodfellas. Id. at 6-7. Plaintiff requested placement in protective custody due to the threats that Goodfellas members pose to him but was denied placement in protective custody based upon his status as a purported member of the Goodfellas.[2] However, Plaintiff was placed in a single-man cell and was told that he would remain in that cell and have a two-man escort at all times when he was outside of his cell. Doc. 1-7 at 2.

         On June 15, 2015, the Court granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis in this action and, on December 31, 2015 the Magistrate Judge issued a Report recommending that Plaintiff's claims for monetary damages against Defendants in their official capacities be dismissed, as well as Plaintiff's claims for compensatory and punitive damages in their entirety. Doc. 19. The Magistrate Judge also recommended that Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Bryson be dismissed in their entirety, as Plaintiff failed to state a claim against that Defendant. Id. at 7-8.[3] The Court ordered service on Defendants Williams, Smokes, and Foust, finding that Plaintiff stated non-frivolous claims against them for deliberate indifference to his safety and that Plaintiff could pursue prospective relief and nominal damages against them on that basis. Id. at 12.

         After Plaintiff clarified the correct name of one of the Defendants and the Court directed service on that Defendant, Plaintiff notified the Court that he had been transferred to Telfair State Prison, where he remains incarcerated. Doc. 57. Defendants then filed a Motion to Dismiss. Doc. 41. Plaintiff opposed this motion, doc. 45, and on July 3, 2018, the Magistrate Judge recommended that Plaintiff's claims relating to his placement in Tier II without adequate process be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Doc. 60 at 10-14. However, the Magistrate Judge recommended Plaintiff be allowed to proceed on his deliberate indifference claim. Id. at 16-20. The Court adopted that recommendation on August 3, 2018 without objection. Doc. 63.

         Defendants have now filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, which Plaintiff opposes. Docs. 77, 80, 81, 82. In support of their Motion, Defendants each submitted a sworn declaration, as well as Plaintiff's deposition. These documents, taken together and construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the non-moving party, demonstrate the following facts: Plaintiff was never a member of the Goodfellas gang but did know some gang members and associate with them. Doc. 77-3 at 6. Plaintiff was validated as a member of the Goodfellas by the Georgia Department of Corrections prior to his arrival at Smith State Prison. Doc. 77-5 at 2. Plaintiff has not had any contact with individuals that he knew to be gang members since 2013. Doc. 77-3 at 7. Plaintiff heard, via “gossip, ” that the Goodfellas had placed a hit out on him following a disagreement he had with gang members in October 2013 while attempting to buy a phone from gang members at Georgia State Prison, where he was previously incarcerated. Id. Plaintiff arrived at Smith State Prison in August 2014, and Defendant Smokes, the unit manager of the T-2 dorm, told him that he was going to be placed on Tier II with other Goodfellas members. Id. at 8. Defendant Smokes further stated that this policy was set by the then Warden, Defendant Williams. Id. Because Plaintiff had previously been validated as a Goodfellas member, he retained this status upon his transfer to Smith State Prison. Doc. 77-4 at 3. Plaintiff attempted to renounce his affiliation on November 10, 2014, but Defendant Foust determined that his renunciation was not genuine. Id. at 4.

         Shortly after his arrival, Plaintiff asked to be placed in protective custody because of the threat posed to him by the Goodfellas organization in general. Id. at 9. Defendants investigated Plaintiff's request but “were unable to substantiate any viable threat against him based on the information he provided.” Doc. 77-5 at 3. Plaintiff was not placed in protective custody but was placed in a single-man cell and was always escorted outside his cell by at least one officer. Doc. 77-3 at 10. Correctional officers also patrolled Plaintiff's dormitory 24 hours a day and conducted security checks roughly every 30 minutes. Doc. 77-4 at 4. Defendant Smokes states that the “security protection received by inmate Walker and those in protective custody would be virtually identical.” Id. at 5.

         When asked during his deposition if he was ever “actually physically attack[ed]” while at Smith State Prison, Plaintiff refused to answer that question, invoking his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. Doc. 77-3 at 10. Plaintiff also invoked his Fifth Amendment right when asked why he wrote a document stating he received a “blessing from Jonathan McClendon, ” one of the “head members” of the Goodfellas gang.[4] Id. at 7, 9.

         Plaintiff filed a Response and Surreply to Defendants' Motion. Docs. 80, 82. In these filings, Plaintiff does not identify any specific individual who told him he was under threat from the Goodfellas or any Goodfellas members who threatened him. Plaintiff argues that the difference between Tier II confinement and protective custody is that in Tier II he “could have been housed with a Goodfellas Member at any given time[, ]” but in protective custody there was no possibility he would be housed with a Goodfellas member. Doc. 82 at 3-4. He further argues that Tier II is an “illegal program” and that the very existence of protective custody means that there is a meaningful difference between Tier II confinement and protective custody. Id. at 4.


         Defendants move for summary judgment. Plaintiff's sole remaining claim is one for deliberate indifference against Defendants Foust, Smokes, and Williams for nominal damages and injunctive relief. Because Plaintiff has failed to identify a genuine dispute of material fact, I RECOMMEND the Court GRANT Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and DISMISS Plaintiff's Complaint. Because other grounds mandate summary judgment for Defendants, I do not address Defendants' arguments concerning qualified immunity or the possible mootness of Plaintiff's claim to equitable relief.

         I. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment “shall” be granted if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A dispute about a material fact is genuine and summary judgment is inappropriate if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. However, there must exist a conflict in substantial evidence to pose a jury question.” Hall v. Sunjoy Indus. Grp., Inc., 764 F.Supp.2d 1297, 1301 (M.D. Fla. ...

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