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Epperson v. Crawford

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

June 9, 2017



          Greg N. Stivers, Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (DN 13). No response has been filed, and the motion is ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.


         Plaintiff Dexter Epperson (“Epperson”) is incarcerated at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex. (Compl. 1, DN 1). On May 4, 2016, Steven Crawford (“Crawford”), a correctional officer, allegedly dragged Epperson's prayer rug across the floor. (Compl. 4). Epperson filed a grievance against Crawford over the incident on the same date. (Notice Filing Ex. C, at 2, DN 6-3). Subsequently, Crawford purportedly approached Epperson to discuss the matter, and after Epperson notified Crawford that a grievance had been filed, Crawford allegedly stated that “[y]ou're starting a war you won't win. My pen works as good as yours on paper.” (Compl. 4).

         On May 15, 2016, Epperson was taking a shower when Crawford entered his shower. (Compl. 4). Crawford purportedly asked Epperson why he was in the shower during the inmate “count time.” (Compl. 4-5). According to Epperson, inmates usually receive an announcement warning them of the count and giving them ten minutes to prepare. (Compl. 4). After Epperson protested the lack of any announcement, Crawford asked him “[h]ow does it feel to be put in the position you're in now, Mr. Epperson? See how easy it is s for me to get you, I told you, you're starting a war you can't win. You file paperwork on me, that grievance, and I'll file paperwork on you, you got a disciplinary report coming.” (Compl. 5). Epperson surmises that this incident was in retaliation for the pending grievance. As a result of that incident, Crawford issued a disciplinary report accusing Epperson of “[r]efusing/failing to comply with institutional count/lock-up[.]” (Compl. 5; Notice Filing Ex. A, at 1, DN 6-1).

         On May 18, 2016, the adjustment officer found Epperson guilty of the charge. (Compl. 5; Notice Filing Ex. B, at 1, DN 6-2). As his punishment, Epperson received “10 days [disciplinary] [segregation] (suspended for 180 days), [and] 30 days gym restriction[.]” (Notice Filing Ex. B, at 1). After the determination of Epperson's guilt, Crawford allegedly approached Epperson and told him “I got you.” (Compl. 5). While Epperson told Crawford that he had withdrawn all of his grievances, Crawford stated that he was informed that only one had been withdrawn of the two filed by Epperson filed against him. (Compl. 5-6). Crawford then purportedly stated “[t]o [sic] little to [sic] late. Should have withdrawn all of them.” (Compl. 6). Epperson responded that he would try to withdraw the remaining grievance. (Compl. 6). Epperson requested the withdrawal of his grievances against Crawford. (Notice Filing Ex. C, at 1; Notice Filing Ex. D, at 1, DN 6-4; Notice Filing Ex. E, at 1, DN 6-5).

         Epperson then filed this action against Crawford. The Court has previously construed the Complaint as asserting claims under the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Person Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc to -2000cc-5, and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution relating to alleged violations of Epperson's right to the free exercise of religion and retaliation. (Mem. Op. & Order 3, DN 7). In its initial screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court dismissed Epperson's RLUIPA and free exercise of religion claims, but the Court permitted his retaliation claim to proceed. (Mem. Op. & Order 5-7). Pursuant to the Court's scheduling order, the parties had until February 20, 2017, to conduct discovery. Subsequently, Defendant moved for summary judgment.[1] (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., DN 13).


         This Court has subject-matter jurisdiction of this matter based upon federal question jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331.


         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must determine whether there is any genuine issue of material fact that would preclude entry of judgment for the moving party as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of stating the basis for the motion and identifying evidence in the record that demonstrates an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). If the moving party satisfies its burden, the non-moving party must then produce specific evidence proving the existence of a genuine issue of fact for trial. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

         While the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the non-moving party must do more than merely show the existence of some “metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (citation omitted). Rather, the non-moving party must present specific facts proving that a genuine factual issue exists by “citing to particular parts of the materials in the record” or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence . . . of a genuine dispute.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party].” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.


         The Court has construed Epperson's surviving cause of action as a First Amendment retaliation claim. (Order 6-7, DN 7). To prove a claim of retaliation, Epperson must present ...

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