United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland
DAMIEN A. SUBLETT, Plaintiff,
DAVID GREEN, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
HENRY R. WILHOIT, Jr., District Judge.
This matter is before the Court upon the motion of the defendants for summary judgment. [D. E. No. 15] Plaintiff Damien A. Sublett has filed a response [D. E. No. 16], and the time within which to file a reply has passed. This matter is therefore ripe for decision.
When Sublett filed his complaint in this action on February 27, 2014, he was a prisoner confined at the Little Sandy Correctional Complex in Sandy Hook, Kentucky. Sublett's complaint asserted three distinct claims.
First, Sublett alleged that in late 2013, two Caucasian inmates who were members of a white supremacist gang had been ordered to kill him by their gang leaders at the Kentucky State Penitentiary. [D. E. No. 1, pp. 2-3] Sublett stated that he told LSCC staff members - including "Correctional Treatment Officer" Blanton, Unit Administrator Terry Hall, and Deputy Warden of Security David Green - about the threat on October 24, 2013, and November 15, 2013. Nonetheless, on November 18, 2013, Blanton removed Sublett from the segregation unit, denied his request to be placed in protective custody, and returned him to the general population. Sublett alleges that while he was in the general population from November 18, 2013, to January 14, 2014, members of this white supremacist gang physically and sexually assaulted him on numerous occasions. Sublett further alleged that a "grievance aide" at LSCC told him that "protective custody is a classification status and is non-grievable pursuant to C.P.P. 14.6(c)(5)." Id. at p. 4. Sublett claims that these three defendants violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution by failing to protect him from a known risk of harm at the hands of other inmates. [D. E. No. 1, p. 5]
Second, Sublett alleged that on February 9 and 26, 2014, he asked Chaplain Dan Hittepole to provide him with Kosher foods "to allow plaintiff to practice my religion Judaism..." Chaplain Hittepole advised him that his request could only be accommodated after he was released from the segregation unit and returned to the general population. [D. E. No. 1, p. 7] Sublett indicates that he filed an inmate grievance regarding this issue; however, KDOC's inmate grievance ombudsman has filed an affidavit indicating that there is no record of the Commissioner having made a final decision regarding that grievance prior to Sublett filing suit. [D. E. No. 15-5, p. 2] Sublett indicates that he has subsequently received a final denial of his grievance from the Commissioner. [D. E. No. 22, p. 11; 22-4, p. 1] Sublett claims that Hittepole's actions violated the First Amendment to the United States Constitution by interfering with the free exercise of his religion. [D. E. No. 1, p. 8]
Third, Sublett alleged that on or about February 24, 2014, Postal Technician Adam Bean opened a letter sent by this Court to Sublett outside of his presence. [D. E. No. 1, pp. 8-9] Sublett had no cases pending before this Court at that time. Sublett had mailed a § 1983 complaint to this Court for filing on January 19, 2014; however, because he wrote the wrong mailing address on the envelope, it was returned by the Postal Service as undeliverable on February 26, 2014 [R. 9-1, p. 4], and was marked "Return to Sender." [D. E. No. 1, p. 9] On March 4, 2014 - one week after he filed his complaint in this action - Sublett filed an inmate grievance regarding the opening of his mail. [D. E. No. 22, p. 9; 22-6, pp. 1-3] Sublett claims that Bean's actions violated the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Id. Although Sublett does not explain the legal basis for his First Amendment claim, the Court construes his claim to assert that this conduct interfered with his right to access the courts to seek redress for grievances.
On February 27, 2014, Sublett signed and mailed his complaint in this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. [D. E. No. 1] On the same day Sublett filed his complaint, he also sought a preliminary injunction directing LSCC officials to place him in protective custody for the same reasons set forth in his complaint. [D. E. No. 3] The Court denied that motion one day after it was filed in a March 5, 2014, Order, concluding that Sublett had failed to establish either a substantial likelihood of success on the merits or demonstrated that he would suffer irreparable harm absent the injunction. [D. E. No. 4] Four days later, Sublett filed a motion for a temporary restraining order on the same grounds set forth in his prior motion for injunctive relief. [D. E. No. 9] In his motion, Sublett indicated that he would remain in the segregation unit for another twelve days, until March 21, 2014. Id. at p. 6. Apparently prior to his return to the general population, Sublett was kept in segregation for the last days remaining before his transfer to another institution. [D. E. No. 14, p. 2] A few days later, Sublett was transferred to the Green River Correctional Complex. Id. at p. 1.
A motion for summary judgment under Rule 56 challenges the viability of a plaintiff's claims by asserting that at least one essential element of that claim is not supported by legally-sufficient evidence. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324-25 (1986). If the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that he should prevail as a matter of law, he is entitled to summary judgment. Kand Medical, Inc. v. Freund Medical Products, Inc., 963 F.2d 125, 127 (6th Cir. 1992).
The moving party does not need his own evidence to support this assertion, but need only point to the absence of evidence to support the claim. Turner v. City of Taylor, 412 F.3d 629, 638 (6th Cir. 2005). The responding party cannot rely upon allegations in the pleadings, but must point to evidence of record in affidavits, depositions, and written discovery which demonstrates that a factual question remain for trial. Hunley v. DuPont Auto, 341 F.3d 491, 496 (6th Cir. 2003); United States v. WRW Corp., 986 F.2d 138, 143 (6th Cir. 1993) ("A trial court is not required to speculate on which portion of the record the non-moving party relies, nor is there an obligation to wade through' the record for specific facts.").
The court reviews all of the evidence presented by the parties in a light most favorable to the responding party, with the benefit of any reasonable factual inferences which can be drawn in his favor. Harbin-Bey v. Rutter, 420 F.3d 571, 575 (6th Cir. 2005). The court must grant summary judgment if the evidence would not support a jury verdict for the responding party with respect to at least one essential element of his claim. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251 (1986).
As a threshold matter, the defendants are correct that Sublett's transfer to the Green River Correctional Complex renders his request for an injunction to compel his placement in protective custody at LSCC moot. Kotewa v. Westbrooks, No. 1:12-CV-264, 2013 WL 1249227, at *6 (E.D. Tenn. March 27, 2013); Leonard v. Mohr, No. 2:11-cv-152, 2012 WL ...