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Sublett v. Green

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

January 18, 2019



          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge

         This matter is before the Court upon a motion by Defendants, Linda Green, Chris Hatton, and Jon Tangerose (“Defendants”), for summary judgment. [DN 33]. Plaintiff, Damien Sublett, has responded to the motion. [DN 37]. The Defendants have filed their reply. [DN 38]. Fully briefed, Defendants' motion is ripe for review, and for the following reasons, it is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.


         The Plaintiff in this case, Damien Sublett, is an inmate at Little Sandy Correctional Complex (“LSCC”). Defendant Linda Green was the Unit Administrator of the Restricted Housing Unit (“RHU”) at Western Kentucky Correctional Complex (“WKCC”) during the period relevant to this action. [DN 33-7]. Defendant Jon Tangerose is a Unit Administrator at WKCC, sometimes serves as a grievance coordinator, and sometimes supervises the inmate legal library. [DN 33-9]. Defendant Chris Hatton is the Deputy Warden of Programs for WKCC. [DN 33-6]. Plaintiff filed this action on August 3, 2017 under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that Defendants violated several of his constitutional rights. [DN 33-1 at 1]. Before being transferred to LSCC, Plaintiff was an inmate at WKCC. Id. During his time at WKCC, Plaintiff spent some time in the RHU where he was in contact with the Defendants in this case. [DN 6 at 2]. Damien Sublett is a prolific filer. Plaintiff had at least six civil actions against prison officials working their way through the courts while he was housed in RHU. [DN 1-1 at 1-2]. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants in this case took adverse action against him in retaliation for these civil actions and grievances against prison officials. [DN 6; DN 18; DN 25]. More specifically, Plaintiff claims that Defendants unlawfully limited his access to legal resources. Id. Plaintiff also claims that one of his grievances against a prison official was wrongfully rejected. Id. Defendants have now filed a motion for summary judgment. [DN 33]. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED IN PART, and DENIED IN PART.


         Summary judgment is appropriate where “the movant shows 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). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).

         “[N]ot 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). The test is whether the party bearing the burden of proof has presented a jury question as to each element in the case. Hartsel v. Keys, 87 F.3d 795, 799 (6th Cir.1996). The plaintiff must present more than a mere scintilla of evidence in support of his position; the plaintiff must present evidence on which the trier of fact could reasonably find for the plaintiff. See Id. (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). Mere speculation will not suffice to defeat a motion for summary judgment: “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.” Moinette v. Elec. Data Sys. Corp., 90 F.3d 1173, 1177 (6th Cir.1996).


         This case involves a series of complaints, supplements to complaints, and amended complaints by Plaintiff where many of the parties have changed, and the claims brought by Plaintiff have also changed. In his Amended Complaint [DN 18], Plaintiff states that: “The only Defendants in the above style action are as follow; Jon Tangerose, Linda S. Green and Chris Hatton; first Amendment retaliation.” [DN 18-1 at 5]. Therefore, Plaintiff has abandoned all other claims.

         In the Supplemental and Amended Complaints, Plaintiff brings five claims. First, Plaintiff claims that his “original grievance” #8479 was not returned to him when he was released from RHU back into the general prison population. Second, Plaintiff claims that Tangerose wrongfully rejected his “original grievance” #8479. Third, Plaintiff claims that Tangerose, Green, and Hatton denied him access to the legal library and use of the LexisNexis computer. Fourth, Plaintiff claims that he gave two affidavits to a prison official to make copies, but the affidavits were never returned to him. Finally, Plaintiff argues that, on July 10, 2017, Green directed prison officials to enter Plaintiff's cell and confiscate all of Plaintiff's legal materials.

         Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment on each claim for two reasons. First, Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to exhaust the administrative remedies available to him and therefore the Court must grant summary judgment to Defendants pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, et seq.. Under Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 85 (2006), a court must dismiss a prisoner's claim if he has failed to properly exhaust the administrative remedies available to him. “[P]roper exhaustion of administrative remedies . . . means using all steps that the agency holds out, and doing so properly (so that the agency addresses the issues on the merits).” Id. at 90. “Proper exhaustion demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedures. . . .” Id.

         In this case, Plaintiff must grieve each of his claims in compliance with Kentucky Corrections Policies and Procedures (“CPP”) 14.6. Most important to this case is the CPP's requirement that the grievant “shall include all aspects of the issue and identify all individuals in the ‘Brief Statement of the Problem' section of the written grievance so that all problems concerning the issue or individuals may be dealt with during step 1.” CPP 14.6(II)(J)(5) (emphasis added). The Sixth Circuit has interpreted this requirement as follows:

[W]e would not require a prisoner's grievance to allege a specific legal theory or facts that correspond to all the required elements of a particular legal theory. Rather, it is sufficient for a court to find that a prisoner's grievance gave prison officials fair notice of the alleged mistreatment or misconduct that forms the basis of the constitutional or statutory claim made against a defendant in a prisoner's complaint.

Bell v. Konteh, 450 F.3d 651, 654 (6th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted) (emphasis added). In other words, “[a] grievance must provide notice of the problem at hand. . . .” Pruitt v. Holland, No. 10-CV-111-HRW, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 621, 2011 WL 13653, at *5 (E.D. Ky. 2011) (citing Griffin v. Arpaio, 557 F.3d 1117, 1120 (9th Cir. 2009)). “Summary judgment is appropriate only if defendants establish the absence of a ‘genuine dispute as to any material fact' regarding non-exhaustion.” Risher v. Lappin 639 F.3d 236, 240 (6th Cir. 2011) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)).

         Second, Defendants argue that even if Plaintiff has exhausted his remedies, he has failed to raise a dispute of material fact regarding each element of his retaliation claims. “In a retaliation claim . . . the harm suffered is the adverse consequences which flow from the inmate's constitutionally protected action. Instead of being denied access to the courts, the prisoner is penalized for actually exercising that right.” Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 174 F.3d 378, 394 (6th Cir. 1999) (en banc) (emphasis in original).

A retaliation claim essentially entails three elements: (1) the plaintiff engaged in protected conduct; (2) an adverse action was taken against the plaintiff that would deter a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in that conduct; and (3) there is a causal connection between elements one and two-that is, the adverse ...

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