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Kizer v. Robertson County

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

April 16, 2018




         TO Honorable Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr., Chief District Judge

         By Order entered September 11, 2017 (Docket Entry No. 31), the Court referred this prisoner civil rights action 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.

         Presently pending is the motion for summary judgment (Docket Entry No. 35) filed by Defendants Bill Holt, Tony Crawford, and Robertson County, Tennessee. Plaintiff Bryan Kizer has filed a response in opposition to the motion. See Docket Entry No. 41. For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned Magistrate Judge respectfully recommends that the motion be granted and that this action be dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This lawsuit was filed on April 13, 2017, by Brian Kizer (“Kizer”), Bryan Maidlow (“Maidlow”), and Ronald Wayne Greer (“Greer”) (hereinafter referred to collectively as “Plaintiffs”), seeking injunctive and monetary relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs are inmates of the Tennessee Department of Correction (“TDOC”) who were being held at the Robertson County Detention Center (“RCDC”) pursuant to a contract with the TDOC at the time the lawsuit was filed. In a pro se and in forma pauperis complaint, Plaintiffs complained about a variety of conditions of confinement at the RCDC, which they assert are more harsh and oppressive than the conditions of confinement for TDOC inmates who are confined at state penal institutions.

         Upon initial review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A, the Court noted that Plaintiffs Kizer and Maidlow were no longer confined at the RCDC and found that their claims for injunctive relief were moot.[1] See Memorandum (Docket Entry No. 30) at 11. The Court further dismissed all of Plaintiffs' claims except for two claims against Robertson County, Tennessee (“Robertson County”), Robertson County Sheriff Bill Holt (“Holt”), and RCDC Administrator Tony Crawford (“Crawford”) (hereinafter referred to collectively as “Defendants”). Id. at 3-7. The two surviving claims are: (1) an Eighth Amendment claim based on allegations that inmates at the RCDC are kept “locked inside with no chance for direct sunshine [Vitamin D], fresh-air nor any exercise equipment for years”[2] and that this lack of outdoor recreation time causes inmates to experience mental health issues, such as violent outbursts and suicide attempts; and, (2) a First Amendment claim based on allegations that inmates at the RCDC are not permitted to attend any out of cell group religious services. Id. at 7-11. Defendants Holt and Crawford are named in both their individual and official capacities.


         In lieu of answers, Defendants filed the pending motion for summary judgment. Relying upon the Declaration of Defendant Crawford (Docket Entry No. 36-1), Defendants argue that the undisputed facts show that no violations of Plaintiffs' First or Eighth Amendment rights occurred at the RCDC and that, at a minimum, Defendants Holt and Crawford are entitled to qualified immunity from any claim for damages. Defendants further contend that there is no evidence supporting a claim of municipal liability against Defendant Robertson County.

         With respect to the First Amendment claim, Defendants assert that a Religious Practices Plan has been in place at the RCDC since 2012, which provides inmates with the opportunity to engage in religious activity through: (1) small group inmate meetings; (2) requests to see a minister or chaplain from a volunteer minister list; (3) visits with volunteer ministers who typically visit the RCDC daily; and (4) access to Bibles and holy books that are available to inmates upon request. See Memorandum in Support of Summary Judgment (Docket Entry No. 36) at 8. Defendants contend that the Religious Practices Plan provides a constitutionally reasonable means for inmates at the RCDC to exercise their religious beliefs. Id. at 9.

         With respect to the Eighth Amendment claim, Defendants assert that all inmates are permitted at least one hour a day outside of their cells and that inmates who are not in restricted housing are allowed up to 14 hours outside their cell with access to either a day room/recreation area or a dormitory area, which are both designed to allow natural sunlight to enter the areas. Defendants further assert that the RCDC has two outdoor recreation areas that are used by inmates on a rotating basis as weather and staffing levels permit. Defendants note the specific times when Plaintiffs both accepted and refused outdoor recreation opportunities and further contend that: (1) none of the Plaintiffs sought medical treatment for any physical or mental illness, injury, or condition that they claimed was the result of being denied access to sunlight or outdoor exercise; and, (2) only Plaintiff Kizer submitted a grievance about a lack of outdoor recreation, a grievance which was itself not filed until April 2017. Defendants argue that there is no evidence showing that Plaintiffs suffered the type of serious total or near-total deprivation of exercise or recreation opportunities that is necessary to satisfy the objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim. They further argue that there is no evidence showing that Defendants acted with the type of deliberate indifference necessary to show an Eighth Amendment claim and that any limitation on outdoor recreation opportunities for inmates at the RCDC is related to the realities of time constraints and management decisions at the RCDC, not to culpable indifference on the part of Defendants Holt and Crawford or a policy of Robertson County to deny inmates outdoor recreation opportunities.

         By Order entered November 28, 2017, the Court advised Plaintiffs of the need to individually respond to the motion for summary judgment and gave them a deadline of January 12, 2018, to file their responses. See Docket Entry No. 38. Plaintiffs Maidlow and Greer have not responded in any manner to the motion for summary judgment.

         Defendant Kizer has responded with a 2 page response in opposition in which he contends that: (1) Defendants Crawford and Holt knew that Kizer had developed high blood pressure while at the RCDC and that the lack of exercise opportunities at the RCDC contributed to this medical problem; (2) Defendant Crawford was aware that “the chaplain hardly ever visited the pods Plaintiff Kizer was housed in;” and, (3) Defendant Crawford failed to answer or return “at least a dozen” grievances Kizer filled out regarding “outdoor recreation/meaningful outdoor exercise” and the lack of “religious council and services.” See Response (Docket Entry No. 41). Kizer attaches to his response copies of: (1) a letter he sent to Defendant Crawford, dated April 8, 2017, about the lack of rehabilitation and outdoor recreation opportunities at the RCDC; (2) a letter he sent Defendant Holt, Dated April 9, 2017, complaining about several conditions of confinement at the RCDC; and (3) four grievances he filed on April 13, 16, 18, and 30, 2017, respectively, complaining about his high blood pressure and a lack of outdoor recreation opportunities, sunlight inside the RCDC, and regular religious services at the RCDC. Id. at 3-9.

         III. ...

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