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Stetzel v. Holubek

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 11, 2015

PHILIP E. STETZEL, Plaintiff,
v.
TIFFANI HOLUBEK, Defendant.

ORDER

Michael E. Hegarty United States Magistrate Judge

Before the Court are Plaintiff’s “Motion for Summary Judgment, Pre-Trial Summary Judgment, or Proposed Alternative”[1] [filed August 24, 2015; docket #47] and Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [filed September 11, 2015; docket #54]. The Motions are fully briefed, and the Court finds that oral argument will not assist in the adjudication of the Motions.[2] The Court first addresses Defendant’s Motion, concluding with a discussion of Plaintiff’s Motion.

BACKGROUND

1. Procedural History

Plaintiff is a prisoner in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections (“DOC”), currently incarcerated at Buena Vista Correctional Complex (“BVCC”). Plaintiff filed his initial pro se Complaint on July 7, 2014, in forma pauperis, against eight Defendants, alleging a deprivation of his Constitutional rights pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1343, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and other statutes. See docket #1. Magistrate Judge Craig B. Shaffer reviewed the Complaint, found it deficient, and directed Plaintiff to file an amended complaint [see docket #5], which Plaintiff did on September 2, 2014 [see docket #7]. Magistrate Judge Boyd N. Boland then reviewed the Amended Complaint and directed Plaintiff to file a second and final amended prisoner complaint in compliance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 8 alleging each Defendant’s personal participation in his claims. See docket #8.

Plaintiff filed his Second Amended Prisoner’s Complaint (the “Operative Complaint”) on October 23, 2014 [see docket #9], which he then supplemented on November 3, 2014, requesting that the Court allow him to add an exhibit to those previously submitted and to add an additional party, which Judge Babcock granted in an Order issued December 30, 2014. Docket #12 at 2. In the same Order, Judge Babcock dismissed seven of the eight Defendants and all but one of Plaintiff’s claims, ordering only Plaintiff’s first claim of retaliation asserted against Defendant Holubek to be drawn to a presiding judge [see docket #12 at11-12], at which time this Court was assigned the case, also on December 30, 2014 [docket #13].

On August 24, 2015, Plaintiff filed his Motion for Summary Judgment, Pre-Trial Summary Judgment, or Proposed Alternative [docket #47]; Defendant then filed her Motion for Summary Judgment on September 11, 2015 [docket #54]. Both Motions are fully briefed, and the Court notes it has considered Plaintiff’s Amended Affidavit, filed on October 28, 2015. See docket #69.

Remaining in the suit is Plaintiff’s 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for violations of his Eighth Amendment rights based on alleged retaliation by one Defendant. See docket #12. “The Eighth Amendment, which applies to the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishments on those convicted of crimes.” Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 296-97 (1991). The Eighth Amendment is the main source of prisoners’ substantive rights and, regarding convicted prisoners, the legal standards under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments are generally congruous. See Riddle v. Mondragon, 83 F.3d 1197, 1202 (10th Cir. 1996) (noting that where constitutional protection is afforded under specific constitutional provisions, here the Eighth Amendment, alleged violations of the protection should be analyzed under those provisions and not under the more generalized provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment). Thus, the Court reviews Plaintiff’s claim under the Eighth Amendment as applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Riddle, 83 F.3d at 1202.

II. Findings of Fact

The Court makes the following findings of fact viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, who is the non-moving party regarding Defendant’s Motion.

1. During all times relevant to the retaliation claim in this case, Plaintiff was an inmate in the custody of DOC. Operative Complaint, p. 2, ¶ 1.

2. During all times relevant to the retaliation claim in this case, Defendant was a Legal Assistant I at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility (“AVCF”). Docket #54, Exh. A-1, Affidavit of Tiffani Holubek (“Holubek Aff.”), ¶ 2.

3. In her role as Legal Assistant I at AVCF, Defendant was responsible for providing offenders housed at AVCF with access to the facility’s law library to enable them to do legal research and gain more effective access to the courts. Id.

4. On November 19, 2013, Plaintiff filed a step one informal grievance through the DOC stating that Defendant had engaged in “abusive behavior” toward him on November 12, 2013. Docket #7 at 29. The grievance was “denied in whole.” Id. at 30.

5. On November 27, 2013, Plaintiff again filed a step one informal grievance through DOC stating that Defendant subjected him “to unnecessary verbal abuse when [he] asked her why she continually failed to honor [his] requests to be scheduled during the afternoon sessions.” Id. at 31. The grievance was denied in whole. Id. at 32.

6. On December 10, 2013, Plaintiff filed a step two informal grievance through the DOC stating Defendant “acts unprofessionally” and “lied” about him being “demanding” in the library. Id. at 33. The grievance was denied in whole. Id. at 34.

7. On December 17, 2013, Plaintiff had an appointment in the law library but arrived late, which led to an altercation between Plaintiff and Defendant in the law library. Id. at ¶ 6.

8. Defendant wrote an incident report detailing the events of what she characterized as Plaintiff’s inappropriate behavior in the law library, including disobeying an order to sit down. Id. at ¶¶ 12, 16.

9. Pursuant to the Code of Penal Discipline (“COPD”), the initiating officer reviews incident reports to determine whether disciplinary charges under the COPD are appropriate. Docket #54, Exh. A-2, Administrative Record (“AR”) 150-01(III)(G); 150-01(IV)(E)(3)(a).

10. If it is determined that COPD charges are appropriate, the offender is then served with the Notice of Charge(s) (“NOC”). Id.

11. On January 6, 2014, Plaintiff was served with a NOC advising him that he was being charged under the COPD with Disobeying a Lawful Order, a Class II, Rule 25 violation of the COPD. Docket #54, Exh. A-3, NOC for case no. 14-0373.

12. The Initiating Officer and Disciplinary Officer was Lieutenant Montano. Id.

13. A hearing on the disciplinary action was held on January 9, 2014. Docket #54, Exh. A-4, Disposition of Charge(s) for case no. 14-0373.

14. William Gomez was the chairperson who considered the evidence at the hearing. Id.

15. At the conclusion of the hearing, Gomez found Plaintiff not guilty of the charge of ...


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