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Cooper v. Bower

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah

October 27, 2017

MICHAEL COOPER, PLAINTIFF
v.
SOJNIA BOWER, et. al., DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge

         This matter comes before the Court upon two motions from Plaintiff Michael Cooper (“Plaintiff”). First, Plaintiff has filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. [DN 161.] Defendants have responded, [DN 166], and the time has passed for a reply. Second, Plaintiff has filed a Motion for Leave to Seal Document. [DN 162.] Defendants have responded, [DN 167], and the time has passed for a reply. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motions are DENIED.

         I. Background

         This is a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights action arising out of certain incidents that have allegedly occurred while Plaintiff has been incarcerated at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, Kentucky. Plaintiff initially filed six different claims against a total of nineteen defendants. This Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, [DN 174], leaving nine defendants in the case: Troy Belt, Skyla Grief, Timothy Hawkins, Lucas Fraliex, Jesse Coombs, Cody Edmonds, George Henson, Danny Heggen, and Mitchell McLeod (collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiff's remaining claims are those of retaliation against all nine defendants, and claims of a violation of his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment against Belt, Coombs, and Edmonds. [See DN 174, at 31.]

         II. Motion for Partial Summary Judgment

         a. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is proper where “the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). When examining whether a motion for summary judgment should be granted, the court is required to resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the movant. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). However, “not every issue of fact or conflicting inference presents a genuine issue of material fact.” Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1477 (6th Cir. 1989). Rather, the question is whether the party who bears the burden of proof in the case has presented a jury question as to each element in the case. Hartsel v. Keys, 87 F.3d 795, 799 (6th Cir. 1996). This means that the plaintiff must present to the court more than a mere scintilla of evidence supporting her position. Id. Indeed, the plaintiff must present evidence on which the trier of fact could reasonably find for the plaintiff. Id. It is not enough for a plaintiff to present speculation as to elements of the case, because “the mere existence of a colorable factual dispute will not defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment. A genuine dispute between the parties on an issue of material fact must exist to render summary judgment inappropriate.” Monette v. Elec. Data Sys. Corp., 90 F.3d 1173, 1177 (6th Cir. 1996).

         b. Discussion

         Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment raises numerous claims and the Court will deal with each of them in turn. First, Plaintiff claims that he is entitled to summary judgment on his claim of conversion against former defendant Lisa Gibbs. Plaintiff had alleged that Gibbs converted over one thousand dollars from his inmate account at the Kentucky State Penitentiary. However, before the Court had occasion to rule on Plaintiff's instant Motion, the Court granted summary judgment to Gibbs on this claim. [See DN 174, at 31.] As such, Plaintiff's Motion is moot on this point. Plaintiff next claims that he is entitled to summary judgment on his claim that former defendant Tami Bauer retaliated against him by “trumping up” a disciplinary report against him in which he was found guilty of engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior with another inmate. [DN 161, at 1.] The Court has also granted summary judgment to Bauer on this issue. As such, Plaintiff's Motion is moot on this point. Plaintiff's next claim for summary judgment is against former defendant Marshall Peek for “plundering Plaintiff's legal filing directed to the Courts.” [DN 161, at 4.] However, the Court has already granted summary judgment to Peek on the issue of interference with Plaintiff's legal mail. [See DN 174.] Because of this, Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on this claim is moot.

         Next, Plaintiff argues that he is entitled to summary judgment on his claim that Grief retaliated against him in violation of the First Amendment. [DN 161, at 1-2.] Plaintiff avers in his amended complaint that Grief threatened to transfer him to a more restrictive cell unit if he did not stop filing grievances against prison employees, and that she eventually did just that in order to “teach him a lesson.” Plaintiff further avers that Grief placed a “conflict” on Plaintiff and another inmate, Garfield Evans (“Evans”), because Plaintiff was assisting Evans with legal issues. Finally, Plaintiff avers that Grief told him that if he did not “stop writing letters to Frankfort, ” she would send “[Evans] to Eastern and strip me [Plaintiff] out and let me rot in 3 cell house.” Grief's affidavit depicts a different scene. Grief avers that “[t]here is absolutely no truth to the[] allegations” that she “put a conflict on [Plaintiff] and Garfield Evans because [Plaintiff] was help Evans file grievances….” [DN 137-27, at 1.] Moreover, Grief avers that she made no threats to Plaintiff, and only placed a conflict on Plaintiff and Evans because of the adjustment committee's finding that they had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior. [Id. at 2.] The directly conflicting averments presented by Plaintiff and Grief indicate clearly to the Court that summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff would be inappropriate at this time. Plaintiff's Motion is therefore denied as to this claim.

         Plaintiff also seeks entry of summary judgment against Belt, stemming from Plaintiff's averments that Belt paid another inmate, Kasey Kazee, to assault Plaintiff. Specifically, Plaintiff avers that Belt placed a “contracted hit” on Plaintiff, wherein Belt put money into Kazee's inmate account in exchange for Kazee viciously assaulting Plaintiff. According to Plaintiff, this was done in retaliation for Plaintiff filing grievances against Kentucky State Penitentiary employees. By contrast, Belt avers that “[t]here is absolutely no truth to these allegations.” [DN 137-7, at 1-2.] Belt further avers that he “was not [even] present on December 22, 2013 when Kazee attacked [Plaintiff]. I have no knowledge regarding Kazee's job assignments or commissary account balance during this time.” [Id.] Plaintiff's averments and Belt's averments directly contradict each other, thereby presenting this Court with a genuine dispute as to a material fact and precluding summary judgment at this time.

         Plaintiff also seeks entry of summary judgment on his Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment claim for “depriving Plaintiff of the bare necessities…[such as] bed linen; clothing; water and stationery/hygiene items for seven (7) consecutive days.” [DN 161, at 4.] Plaintiff does not point out to the Court, though, against whom he seeks summary judgment on this claim. Plaintiff has remaining in this case an Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment claim against Belt, Coombs, and Edmonds. [See DN 174, at 31.] However, Plaintiff's claim for summary judgment here only refers to the incident where he was placed in a strip cell. This excludes Coombs and Edmonds, as Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims against them stem from cell “shakedowns” in which Coombs and Edmonds allegedly participated, and not from Plaintiff's placement in the strip cell. As such, the Court will construe Plaintiff's claim here as only against Belt. Even so, Plaintiff is not entitled to summary judgment here. For while Plaintiff avers that he was denied ben linens, clothing, water, and personal hygiene items for seven days, Belt's account of this incident directly contradicts Plaintiff's one. Specifically, Belt avers that Plaintiff was transferred to a new cell on August 15, 2014 “after Inmate Cooper refused to return to his cell following several direct orders…He was hit with pepper balls several times. He was tazzed to bring him under…control.” [DN 137-7, at 2.]

         Further, former defendant Larry Cranor avers that “[t]here is absolutely no truth to the[] allegations” that Cranor or Belt took “Plaintiff's clothes, mattress, and property and [left] him in a cell with cold air blowing dressed only in his boxers.” [DN 137-8, at 1.] Rather, according to Cranor's affidavit, “A use of force team had to enter the walk to restrain Inmate Cooper. He was then taken to 7 cellhouse, where he was placed in a strip cell, which does not have a mattress as it is a short-term holding cell, according to Kentucky Department of Corrections policy and procedure. At that point, the supervisor of 7 cellhouse took custody of Inmate Cooper.” [Id. at 1-2.] The direct contradiction between Plaintiff's account of these events as unlawful retaliation and Belt and Cranor's account that whatever actions taken were necessary to subdue Plaintiff indicates to the Court that the entry of summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff would be inappropriate at this time, as numerous issues remain in dispute.

         At the conclusion of Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, he makes a list of Permanent Injunctions he wishes the Court to grant. It is unclear whether these merely are additional claims for summary judgment, or whether Plaintiff actually seeks injunctions on these issues. Irrespective of this, the Court declines to grant Plaintiff's requests. Plaintiff asks the Court to order the Kentucky State Penitentiary to form an outgoing legal mail logging system for accountability purposes; to order the prison to “cease the practice and custom of housing inmates in cells without clothing and bed linen;” to “remove the conflict between Evans and Plaintiff immediately;” to “transfer Plaintiff away from the Kentucky State Penitentiary;” to “place ...


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