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Beasley v. Westbrooks

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

January 15, 2018


          TO: Honorable Laurie J. Michelson, District Judge


          BARBARA D. HOLMES United States Magistrate Judge

         By Order entered December 20, 2016 (Docket Entry No. 5), this prisoner civil rights action was referred to the Magistrate Judge for pretrial proceedings under 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(A) and (B), Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the Local Rules of Court.

         Pending before the Court are a motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by Defendant Bruce Westbrooks (Docket Entry No. 32) and a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Brandi McClure (Docket Entry No. 42). For the reasons set out below, the undersigned respectfully recommends that the motions be granted and this action be dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Demance Beasley (“Plaintiff') is an inmate of the Tennessee Department of Correction (“TDOC”) currently confined at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution (“RMSI”) in Nashville, Tennessee. He filed this lawsuit pro se and in forma pauperis on November 21, 2016, against several prison officials. He seeks relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his constitutional rights alleged to have been committed at the RMSI. Upon initial review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A, the Court dismissed all claims and defendants except for claims of unconstitutional retaliation brought against former RMSI Warden Bruce Westbrooks (“Westbrooks”) and RMSI Correctional Corporal Brandi McClure (“McClure”). See Memorandum and Order entered December 20, 2016 (Docket Entry Nos. 5 & 6).[1] After Defendants filed a joint answer, a scheduling order was entered setting out deadlines for pretrial activity in the action. See Docket Entry Nos. 27 and 28. A jury trial is demanded.

         The underlying factual allegations against Defendants Westbrooks and McClure are summarized as follows. Plaintiff alleges that, on July 13, 2016, Westbrooks was passing Plaintiff's cell during cell inspections and commented on something that had been written on Plaintiff's cell door. See Complaint (Docket Entry No. 1) at 6. After Plaintiff explained that the writing was there before he moved into the cell, Westbrooks told RMSI Correctional Officer De'Niece Bah to give Plaintiff some paint so he could re-paint the door. Id. Plaintiff alleges that Officer Bah falsely told Westbrooks that Plaintiff was a gang member and had written on the door, and that Westbrooks and Bah subsequently came back to Plaintiff's cell to take pictures of the writing on the door. Id. Two days later, Plaintiff received a disciplinary write-up for possession of gang-related material based upon the writing on the door. Id. at 8.[2] Plaintiff alleges that although there were five letters written on the door, Officer Bah had taken pictures of only two of the letters and sent the pictures to RMSI Security Threat Group (“STG”) Coordinator Cpl. Dish, who deemed the letters to be gang related. Id.

         Plaintiff asserts that, on July 15, 2016, Westbrooks noticed that the writing was still on the cell door and became irate. Id. Plaintiff alleges that Westbrooks stated how much disdain he had for “Black Gang Members” and proceeded to take out his ink pen and write a derogatory statement on the door. Id. Plaintiff asserts that after he told Westbrooks that his behavior was very unprofessional, Westbrooks became even more irate and told Plaintiff to clean the door. Id. Plaintiff contends that he told Westbrooks that he would not clean the writing off because Westbrooks' behavior was “disrespectful, racist and unethical.” Id. Plaintiff alleges that Westbrooks then retaliated against him by ordering that he be taken to segregation. Id. Plaintiff alleges that prison officials tried to wrongfully increase his custody-level points during a reclassification hearing on July 18, 2016, in order to justify his transfer to segregation, and that he was then found guilty of the infraction after a disciplinary hearing on July 21, 2016, a hearing in which he asserts that his due process rights and his rights under TDOC's Uniform Disciplinary Procedures Policy were violated. Id. He contends that he was thereafter not permitted to appeal the disciplinary conviction. Id. at 7.

         Plaintiff asserts that he attempted to object to these events and other events through prison grievances but that his grievances were either lost, sent back, or not processed correctly. Id. He alleges that he asked McClure, who was the RMSI Grievance Chairperson, about his grievances, prompting her to state that she “didn't care” and to issue a disciplinary infraction against him for the charge of defiance. Id. Plaintiff alleges that he was convicted of the disciplinary charge despite not receiving a copy of the infraction and not being present at the hearing. Id.

         Plaintiff was apparently reclassified to maximum security as a result of the disciplinary convictions, and he complains about the restrictive living conditions that accompany the increased custody level. He requests that his classification points be recalculated and his custody level reduced, that the two disciplinary convictions be expunged from his prison record, and that he be awarded $75, 000.00 in damages. Id. at 10.


         Defendant Westbrooks seeks judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. He contends that the allegations made by Plaintiff are not sufficient to support a claim that Westbrooks retaliated against Plaintiff in violation of his constitutional rights. Specifically, Westbrooks argues that Plaintiff's allegations do not show that he engaged in protected speech or show that the alleged retaliatory conduct of Westbrooks was motivated by Plaintiff's protected conduct, both of which are necessary showings for a constitutional retaliation claim. See Docket Entry No. 32 at 3-6.

         A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) “is appropriately granted ‘when no material issue of fact exists and the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'” See Tucker v. Middleburg-Legacy Place, 539 F.3d 545, 549 (6th Cir. 2008). In making this determination, the Court utilizes the standards applied to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Roth v. Guzman, 650 F.3d 603, 605 (6th Cir. 2011). The complaint must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). To be facially plausible, a claim must contain sufficient facts for the court “to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The Court must accept as true the well-pleaded allegations contained in the complaint, resolve all doubts in Plaintiff's favor, and construe the complaint liberally in favor of the pro se Plaintiff. See Kottmyer v. Maas, 436 F.3d 684 (6th Cir. 2006); Boswell v. Mayer, 169 F.3d 384, 387 (6th Cir. 1999); Morgan v. Church's Fried Chicken, 829 F.2d 10, 11-12 (6th Cir. 1987).

         Although the Court is required to liberally construe the pro se pleadings, this does not require the Court to apply a more lenient application of the substantive law. See Bennett v. Batchik, 1991 WL 110385 at *6 (6th Cir. 1991) (citing Wolfel v. United States, 711 F.2d 66, 67 (6th Cir. 1983)); Lyons v. Thompson, 2006 WL 463111 at *4 (E.D. Tenn. Feb. 24, 2006). Further, legal conclusions couched as factual allegations need not be accepted as true, nor are mere recitations of the elements of a ...

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