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Cooper v. Belt

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

September 25, 2018


          Michael Cooper, Pro Se


          Thomas B. Russell Senior Judge United States district Court

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Michael Cooper and Defendants Troy Belt, Terry Peede, James Beeler, Neil Gardner, and Michael Pillion's (“the Defendants”) competing motions for summary judgment. [R. 39; R. 36.] Cooper responded, [R. 38], and the deadline for Defendants to respond has passed. This matter is now ripe for adjudication. For the reasons discussed below, the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, [R. 36], is GRANTED, and Plaintiff Cooper's Motion for Summary Judgment, [R. 39], is DENIED. An appropriate order shall issue separately from this Memorandum Opinion.


         Plaintiff Michael Cooper, pro se, is an inmate at the Kentucky State Penitentiary (“KSP”). The facts of his complaint were previously summarized in the Memorandum Opinion and Order filed on June 7, 2016. [R. 10.] In short, Cooper claims that the following employees of KSP retaliated against him, mostly for filing grievances: Unit Administrator Troy Belt; Lt. Terry Peede; Lt. James Beeler; and correctional officers Neil Gardner and Michael Pillion. [R. 10 at 1; R. 1-1 at 7 (Complaint).] On March 15, 2018, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, [R. 36], and on March 26, 2018, Cooper filed a competing Motion for Summary Judgment, [R. 39].


         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, reveals “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute of material fact exists where “there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The Court “may not make credibility determinations nor weigh the evidence when determining whether an issue of fact remains for trial.” Laster v. City of Kalamazoo, 746 F.3d 714, 726 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Logan v. Denny's, Inc., 259 F.3d 558, 566 (6th Cir. 2001); Ahlers v. Schebil, 188 F.3d 365, 369 (6th Cir. 1999)). “The ultimate question 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.'” Back v. Nestlé USA, Inc., 694 F.3d 571, 575 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52).

         When the parties have filed competing motions for summary judgment, as is the case here, the Court “must evaluate each motion on its own merits and view all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Hensley v. Grassman, 693 F.3d 681, 686 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Wiley v. United States, 20 F.3d 222, 224 (6th Cir. 1994)). The moving party must shoulder the burden of showing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact as to at least one essential element of the nonmovant's claim or defense. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Laster, 746 F.3d at 726 (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). Assuming the moving party satisfies its burden of production, the nonmovant “must-by deposition, answers to interrogatories, affidavits, and admissions on file-show specific facts that reveal a genuine issue for trial.” Laster, 746 F.3d at 726 (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324).

         Additionally, the Court acknowledges that pro se pleadings are to be held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by attorneys. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972). The duty to be less stringent with pro se complainants, however, “does not require [the Court] to conjure up unpled allegations, ” McDonald v. Hall, 610 F.2d 16, 19 (1st Cir.1979) (citation omitted), nor to create a claim for a pro se plaintiff, Clark v. Nat'l Travelers Life Ins. Co., 518 F.2d 1167, 1169 (6th Cir.1975).

         Finally, it should be noted that “‘a verified complaint . . . satisfies the burden of the nonmovant to respond' to a motion for summary judgment, unlike ‘mere allegations or denials' in unverified pleadings.” King v. Harwood, 852 F.3d 568, 578 (6th Cir. 2017) (quoting Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378, 385 (6th Cir. 1999)) (en banc).


         A. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

         The Defendants argue that the Court should grant their Motion for Summary Judgment on three separate grounds: (1) Cooper did not exhaust administrative remedies, (2) Cooper did not establish the required elements of a retaliation claim, and (3) the Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. [R. 36 at 4.] The Court agrees that Cooper failed to exhaust administrative remedies. Thus, in the interest of efficiency and judicial economy, the Court does not find it necessary to analyze the Defendants' latter two arguments at this time.

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) bars a civil rights action challenging prison conditions until the prisoner exhausts “such administrative remedies as are available.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); see also Jones v. Bock,549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007) (“There is no question that exhaustion is mandatory under the PLRA and that unexhausted claims cannot be brought in court”). In order to exhaust administrative remedies, prisoners must complete the administrative review process in accordance with the deadlines and other applicable procedural rules established by state law. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. at 218-19.“Proper exhaustion demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules.” Woodford v. Ngo,548 U.S. 81, 90 (2006). However, “failure to ...

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