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Tennyson v. Carpenter

United States District Court, D. Colorado

February 16, 2016

AUDREY LEE TENNYSON, Plaintiff,
v.
MATTHEW CARPENTER, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

MARCIA S. KRIEGER, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Defendant Matthew Carpenter’s Motion for Summary Judgment (#69), the Plaintiff Audrey Lee Tennyson’s Response (#79), and Mr. Carpenter’s Reply (#81).

I. Material Facts

Having reviewed the record and submissions of the parties, the Court finds the following material facts to be undisputed, or where disputed, construes them most favorably to Mr. Tennyson.

Mr. Tennyson is prisoner in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections. At the facility where he was housed, Mr. Tennyson was a member of the prison choir, known as the Praise Team. As a member of the Praise Team, he was given a three-ring binder by the prison chaplain to keep his music in. Mr. Tennyson personalized his binder by displaying personal photos under the plastic cover of his binder.

During a facility shakedown, his binder was confiscated. Although most were left in his cell, a couple of his photos were missing after the shakedown. Mr. Tennyson filed a prison grievance in an attempt to recover the missing photos. His step-one grievance was denied by Officer Sparks, who responded that he had carefully removed all of Mr. Tennyson’s photos before he confiscated the binder. Mr. Tennyson then filed a step-two grievance, which was denied by the Defendant Matthew Carpenter, who was the chief of unit management and chief of security. The denial stated that Mr. Tennyson had not proved that his missing photos were in the binder, and it also asserted that if Mr. Tennyson was missing a photo, it was due to his own misconduct in using the binder for a non-choir purpose. Mr. Carpenter claimed that the chaplain had asked Mr. Tennyson to return the binder and had not given anyone permission to use the binders for other purposes.

Five days after Mr. Carpenter denied his step-two grievance, Mr. Tennyson was suspended from the Praise Team for a period of six months. The chaplain told Mr. Tennyson that his “superiors” had informed him that Mr. Tennyson committed misconduct by using the binder as a photo album, and they told the chaplain that he needed to “take action.” When Mr. Tennyson tried to explain, the chaplain said he was sorry, but he had to do what he had to do.

As narrowed by the proceedings to date, Mr. Tennyson asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of his First Amendment right to participate in the Praise Team and retaliation based his First Amendment right to use the grievance process.

II. Standard of Review

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure facilitates the entry of a judgment only if no trial is necessary. See White v. York Intern. Corp., 45 F.3d 357, 360 (10th Cir. 1995). Thus, the primary question presented to the Court on a motion for summary judgment is, is a trial required?

A trial is required if there are material factual disputes to resolve. As a result, entry of summary judgment is authorized only “when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Savant Homes, Inc. v. Collins, ___F.3d ___, ___, 2016 WL 25576, *2 (10th Cir. 2016). A fact is material if, under the substantive law, it is essential to an element of the claim. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine if the conflicting evidence would enable a rational trier of fact to resolve the dispute for either party. Becker v. Bateman, 709 F.3d 1019, 1022 (10th Cir. 2013).

The consideration of a summary judgment motion requires the Court to focus on the asserted claims and defenses, their legal elements, and which party has the burden of proof. Substantive law specifies the elements that must be proven for a given claim or defense, sets the standard of proof, and identifies the party with the burden of proof. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Kaiser-Francis Oil Co. v. Producer's Gas Co., 870 F.2d 563, 565 (10th Cir. 1989). As to the evidence offered during summary judgment, the Court views it the light most favorable to the non-moving party, thereby favoring the right to trial. See Tabor v. Hilti, Inc., 703 F.3d 1206, 1215 (10th Cir. 2013).

Motions for summary judgment generally arise in one of two contexts - either when the movant has the burden of proof, or when the non-movant has the burden of proof. Each context is handled differently. When the movant has the burden of proof, the movant must come forward with sufficient, competent evidence to establish each element of its claim or defense. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). Presumably, in the absence of contrary evidence, this showing would entitle the movant to judgment as a matter of law. However, if the responding party presents contrary evidence to establish a genuine dispute as to any material fact, a trial is required and the motion must be denied. See Leone v. Owsley, ___F.3d ___, ___, 2015 WL 7567457, *4 (10th Cir. 2015); Schneider v. City of Grand Junction Police Dep’t, 717 F.3d 760, 767 (10th Cir. 2013).

A different circumstance arises when the movant does not have the burden of proof. In this circumstance, the movant contends that the non-movant lacks sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). The moving party must identify why the respondent cannot make a prima facie showing - that is, why the respondent cannot establish a particular element. See Collins, F.3d at ___. If the respondent comes forward with sufficient competent evidence to establish a prima facie claim or defense, then a trial is required. Conversely, if the respondent’s evidence is inadequate to establish a prima facie claim or ...


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