United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Northern Division
VICTORIA L. PETERSON, ADC # 707743 Plaintiff,
M. RICHARDSON; et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
JOE J. VOLPE, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Victoria L. Peterson, brought this action alleging that Defendants Michael Richardson,  Nazural Faust, Linda Dixon, and Lynda Dykes ("Defendants") failed to protect her from other inmates who threatened her with violence. (Doc. No. 2.) Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant Richardson retaliated against her for filing a grievance related to her failure to protect claims. ( Id. ) Now, Defendants have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 23) seeking dismissal of all claims against them. Plaintiff has not submitted a response within the deadline and the matter is ripe for disposition.
Plaintiff alleges that on June 23, 2013, while incarcerated at the Arkansas Department of Correction ("ADC") McPherson Unit, she was transferred from Housing Unit I to Barracks Thirteen. (Doc. No. 2 at 4.) She claims that upon her arrival, African-American inmates who were part of the "Bloods" gang began threatening to harm her. (Doc. No. 2 at 4.) She also claims they subjected her to sexual harassment. ( Id. ) Plaintiff reported these threats to Defendants, but alleges they refused her transfer requests until July 23, 2013, when she was transferred to Barracks Nine. ( Id. at 5). She claims the threats and verbal abuse from other inmates only intensified after this placement. ( Id. ) Plaintiff admits in her deposition testimony that she was never physically injured in either Barracks Thirteen or Barracks Nine and the abuses were purely verbal. (Doc. No. 24-1 at 55-56.)
Plaintiff's retaliation claim stems from a disciplinary charge received on August 25, 2013. ( Id. at 34-36.) On that day, Plaintiff alleges she submitted a grievance against Defendant Richardson which accused him of failing to protect her. (Doc. No. 2 at 8.) Shortly thereafter, she claims that Defendant Richardson issued her a retaliatory disciplinary and relocated her to segregation. (Doc. No. 24-1 at 35-36.)
For their part, Defendants emphasize that despite her claims of repeated abuse by other inmates, Plaintiff was never involved in a physical altercation during the relevant time period. (Doc. No. 24 ¶ 8.) They also state that Defendant Richardson issued Plaintiff a disciplinary, not in retaliation for any filed grievance, but because he determined that she had (1) physically threatened other inmates; (2) provoked a fight; (3) failed to obey staff orders; and (4) deliberately provided misinformation. ( Id. ¶¶ 13-15.) Plaintiff was found guilty of assault, provocation, and failure to obey staff orders at the subsequent disciplinary hearing. ( Id. ¶¶ 16-18.)
III. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 321 (1986). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Naucke v. City of Park Hills, 284 F.3d 923, 927 (8th Cir. 2002). The nonmoving party may not rely on allegations or denials, but must demonstrate the existence of specific facts that create a genuine issue for trial. Mann v. Yarnell, 497 F.3d 822, 825 (8th Cir. 2007). The nonmoving party's allegations must be supported by sufficient probative evidence that would permit a finding in his favor on more than mere speculation, conjecture, or fantasy. Id. (citations omitted). A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that it could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party; a fact is material if its resolution affects the outcome of the case. Othman v. City of Country Club Hills, 671 F.3d 672, 675 (8th Cir. 2012). Disputes that are not genuine or that are about facts that are not material will not preclude summary judgment. Sitzes v. City of West Memphis, Ark., 606 F.3d 461, 465 (8th Cir. 2010).
Defendants raise several arguments in support of their Motion. They are, in the order they appear, that: (1) Plaintiff's official capacity claims for monetary damages are barred by sovereign immunity; (2) Plaintiff's retaliation claim against Defendant Richardson fails to establish a constitutional violation; (3) no Eighth Amendment claim for failure to protect claim can be established against any Defendant; and (4) qualified immunity bars all individual capacity claims against Defendants. The Court will address each argument in turn.
A. Official Capacity Claims
It is well established that an official capacity claim for damages against a state official is akin to a claim against the state itself. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985). Accordingly, a suable "person" under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 does not include a state official sued in their official capacity for damages. Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, 491 U.S. 58 (1989). It is undisputed that Defendants were, at all times relevant to this action, ...