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Bobbitt v. Scott

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

May 3, 2019

WILLIE T. BOBBITT, Plaintiff,
v.
FNU SCOTT, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Frank D. Whitney, Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Miranda Mims, (Doc. No. 61). Also pending are Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Discovery, (Doc. No. 60), and “Declaration for Entry of Default, ” (Doc. No. 65), which is construed as Motion for Default Judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The pro se incarcerated Plaintiff's Complaint passed initial review on claims of excessive force and failure to intervene against Lanesboro Correctional Institution Officers Vincent Scott and Norvell Gaddy, and against Security Risk Group (“SRG”) Captain Miranda Mims for retaliation. Defendant Mims has now filed a Motion for Summary Judgment.

         (1) Complaint (Doc. No. 1)

         Plaintiff, who claims to have a history of mental health problems, alleges that and was in a cell on suicide watch in Lanesboro C.I.'s main medical unit on March 16, 2016, and he was released from suicide watch the following day. Defendant Scott came to Plaintiff's cell asking him to stop knocking on the door. Plaintiff repeatedly stated that he was no longer on suicide watch and needed clothes and was ready to go back to his cell. Scott assaulted Plaintiff by saying “don't make me come in there.” (Doc. No. 1 at 3).

         A short time later, around 11:00 or 11:30 AM, Defendant Scott opened the food trap and sprayed Plaintiff and Plaintiff's cell with MK-9 pepper spray. (Doc. No. 1 at 4). Scott then told Gaddy to open Plaintiff's cell and he entered, which caused Plaintiff to fear for his safety. Scott continued to spray the entire can of MK-9 on Plaintiff as well as his personal mace, then punched Plaintiff's left eye twice. Plaintiff tried to cover himself with the suicide smock as Scott sprayed him. Plaintiff was never aggressive toward Scott or himself and did nothing to provoke the type of force that Scott used. During the assault Scott was yelling “I should kill you.” (Doc. No. 1 at 4). Defendant Gaddy watched the assault and did nothing to stop it. Plaintiff received a red swollen left eye, loss of vision and bruises, and received no medical treatment. As a result of the incident, Plaintiff fears for his life, has problems sleeping, and experiences stress, depression and anxiety. Plaintiff sent numerous mental health requests yet received no help.

         Plaintiff told Defendant Gaddy that he was going to write to his mother and newspapers about being assaulted, and Gaddy said he would report it to Mims. Mims retaliated by rejecting Plaintiff's outgoing mail that was sealed for no justifiable reason, which caused Plaintiff to become depressed and stressed. Mims had never rejected Plaintiff's outgoing mail until Plaintiff said that he was going to write to his mother and newspapers about the assault. Plaintiff is not a threat to the prison and is not a Security Threat Group (“STG”) member so rejecting his sealed outgoing mail is unjustifiable and retaliatory. Plaintiff has serious family issues and he is not sure if his loved ones are getting his mail, this is causing him stress and worry.

         Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages, and such other relief to which he is entitled.

         (2) Defendant Mims' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 61)

         Defendant Miranda Mims argues that she should be granted summary judgment because she did not violate Plaintiff's constitutional rights, about which there is no genuine dispute of material fact, and that she is entitled to qualified immunity and sovereign immunity.

         Plaintiff's allegation that Mims unjustifiably blocked his outgoing mail in retaliation for his excessive force claims against Scott and Gaddy, and intent to write to a newspaper and his mother about the incident, is refuted by the record. Department policy that prohibits sealed outgoing mail by inmates who are either validated as SRG members or associates, which is reasonably related to the penological interest of maintaining the safety and security of the prison. Mims first blocked Plaintiff's sealed outgoing mail months before the alleged use of force incident, and Plaintiff's mail was only blocked because it was sealed and he was designated as a suspected associate of an SRG. Plaintiff's contention that the blocking only happened after the use of force incident is blatantly contradicted by the record and should not be adopted. Plaintiff can present no credible evidence upon which any reasonable juror could return a verdict in his favor. There are no genuine issues as to any material fact and Mims is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         Mims' conduct was objectively reasonable in light of the circumstances so, even if Plaintiff could establish a constitutional violation, which he cannot, she is entitled to qualified immunity. Mims acted in accordance with Department policy and rejected Plaintiff's mail because he was identified as a suspected SRG associate and attempted to send sealed mail. On this evidence, no reasonable jury could find that Mims' conduct violated a clearly established constitutional right.

         Any claims against Mims in her official capacity are barred by the Eleventh Amendment so they should be dismissed with prejudice.

         (3) Plaintiff's Response (Doc. No. 66)[1]

         Plaintiff argues that the Motion for Summary Judgement should be denied because genuine disputes of material fact exist with regards to Mims' actions. Mims unjustifiably blocked Plaintiff's outgoing mail in retaliation to keep him from letting his family and newspaper know that he was assaulted.

         Plaintiff has been in and out of prison since 1999 and never had any problems with outgoing mail; he “always sealed [his] outgoing mail and continue[s] to seal [his] outgoing mail.” (Doc. No. 66-2 at 2). Plaintiff denies being an SRG member as alleged by Mims. When Plaintiff asked Mims to prove that he was a SRG offender, “defendants stated they have no knowledge of the document and do not possess it.” (Id.).

         In 2013, some “religious writing” was taken from Plaintiff as Alexander C.I. (Id.). Plaintiff was placed on a “watch list” but the religious writing “was not gang related.” (Id.). Plaintiff has “never pose[d] a threat to no prison [he has] been too, never tried to escape or get drugs into the prison.” (Id.). Plaintiff has been on the watch list since 2013 “and it's yet to be verified [that Plaintiff] is a gang member or not.” (Id.). Plaintiff denies being a gang member. He claims that the only people who cannot seal their mail in prison are the people who have been “violated and are level 1, 2, or 3.” (Id.). Plaintiff is not any of those, was never written up for violating a prison rule, and does not fall under that policy.

         Plaintiff clains that “[t]here is nothing in the prison policy or SOP stating that [Plaintiff] cannot seal [his] outgoing mail.” (Id. at 3). “Out of all the years [Plaintiff has] been in prison soon as [he got] assaulted [he got] denied the right to reach out to people for help.” (Id.). Because of Mims' actions, Plaintiff “was stressed and feared for [his] safety.” (Id.). If Plaintiff “would have never been assaulted and told the defendant Gaddy that [he] was going to write the news and family [his] mail would have never been rejected.” (Doc. No. 66 at 4).

         (4)Evidence[2]

         (A) Affidavit of Miranda Mims (Doc. No. 62-1)

         At the relevant times Defendant Mims was the Security Risk Captain at Lanesboro C.I. (Doc. No. 62-1 at 1). As Security Risk Captain, Mims monitored SRGs and their suspected and confirmed members or associates “in an effort to protect the safety of the inmates and staff at Lanesboro Correctional Institution.” (Doc. No. 62-1 at 1).

         The Department's use of mail policy “allows certain limitations on incoming and outgoing mail where there is a reasonable belief that such limitation is necessary to protect public safety or institutional order and security.” (Doc. No. 62-1 at 2). “The use of mail policy provides for the inspection of incoming and outgoing mail in order to prevent the receiving or sending of material that threatens to undermine the security and order of the facility or mail that contains contraband or other unlawful materials.” (Doc. No. 62-1 at 2). In an effort to protect the safety of the inmates and staff at Lanesboro C.I.:

[T]he outgoing mail of inmates that are either validated or suspected of being a SRG member of associate is screened, and therefore must be unsealed. Therefore, inmates that are either validated or suspected of being a SRG member or associate are not permitted to send outgoing mail that is sealed. If an inmate that is either validated or suspected of being a SRG member or associate attempts to send outgoing mail that is sealed, that mail is rejected and archived at the facility. In the event outgoing mail is rejected because it was sealed and sent by an inmate that is either validated or suspected of being a SRG member or associate, that inmate is notified of the rejection by written memorandum.

(Doc. No. 62-1 at 2).

         Upon admission at Lanesboro, if an inmate has already been designated in the Offender Population Unified System (“OPUS”) as either validated or suspected member or associate of an SRG, the inmate is verbally informed of the prohibition on sealed outgoing mail. (Doc. No. 62-1 at 3). After the initial notification of the prohibition on sealed outgoing mail, if an inmate attempts to send sealed mail, he is notified via written memorandum that his outgoing mail has been rejected. All rejected mail is then archived at the facility.

         Plaintiff was housed at Lanesboro twice, most recently from May 20, 2015 through February 8, 2017. (Doc. No. 62-1 at 3). In late May 2016, when Plaintiff was most recently admitted to Lanesboro, “his OPUS records indicate that since 2013, after being found to be in possession of certain written materials which are consistent with the teachings and belief of a particular SRG, he was identified as a suspected associate of a particular SRG. Accordingly, on or about May 20, 2016, because [Plaintiff] was already identified as a suspected SRG associate, during processing into Lanesboro, he was informed of the prohibition on sending sealed mail. Thereafter, on five separate occasions, [Plaintiff] attempted to send out sealed mail…. Each time [Plaintiff] attempted to send out sealed mail, the mail was intercepted, rejected, and archived. Each time [Plaintiff] attempted to send out sealed mail, he was advised, by written memorandum, that his outgoing mail had been rejected.” (Doc. No. 62-1 at 3).

         While Mims was the Security Risk Captain at Lanesboro, she “did not reject any of [Plaintiff's] outgoing mail in retaliation for any reason, including, claims of excessive force and failure to intervene, or his desire to write to a newspaper or his mother about the incident claim he made, including his claims of excessive force and failure to intervene against Correctional Officers Scott and Gaddy.” (Doc. No. 62-1 at 3-4).

         While Mims was Security Risk Captain at Lanesboro, “[Plaintiff's] mail was only rejected because it was sealed and [Plaintiff] had been identified as a suspected SRG associate.” (Doc. No. 62-1 at 4).

         While Mims was Security Risk Captain at Lanesboro, she “acted in accordance with the Department's policy regarding inmates' use of mail.” (Doc. No. 62-1 at 4).

         Mims had no involvement in the use of force incident alleged in the Complaint and was not the direct supervisor of, and had no control over, ...


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