United States District Court, D. Colorado
ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Craig B. Shaffer United States Magistrate Judge.
This civil action comes before the court on Defendant John Reilly’s Motion for Summary Judgment and attached exhibits (doc. #46), filed on August 21, 2015. The pro se Plaintiff, Chester Huggins, filed his Respond (sic) to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment and attached exhibits (doc. #52) and an Motion to Amended (sic) Plaintiff Respond (sic) Motion to Defendant Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. #51) on October 2, 2015. In addressing the pending motion, I have also reviewed and considered Mr. Huggins’ Discovery Evidence (doc. #42) and Plaintiff’s own Declaration (doc. #43), as well as the declarations of inmates Joseph W. Rodgers (doc. #44) and Ralph Jackson (doc. #45). At the court’s request, Mr. Huggins filed a Supplemental Briefing and attached exhibits (doc. #57) on February 1, 2016, which prompted Defendant’s Response to Plaintiff’s Supplemental Brief and related exhibits (doc. #60) on February 5, 2016.
The parties consented (doc. #18 and #22) to the magistrate judge’s jurisdiction to “conduct all further proceedings in this civil action, including trial, and to order the entry of a final judgment, ” pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, and D.C.COLO.LCivR 72.2. Accordingly, the case was referred to this court on December 3, 2014. The court has carefully considered the parties’ briefs and attached exhibits, the entire case file, and the applicable law and is sufficiently advised in the premises. For the following reasons, Mr. Huggins’ failure to fully exhaust his administrative remedies pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), requires this court to grant Defendant’s motion and dismiss this action.
Mr. Huggins commenced his lawsuit on August 6, 2014, by filing a Complaint that asserted claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff’s claims arose from his employment from 1998 through 2013 as a sewer in the Colorado Correctional Industries Garment Factory (hereinafter “the Garment Factory”) located at Limon Correctional Facility in Limon, Colorado. According to the Complaint, in 2011 the Garment Factory was selected to become a certified Cost Accounting Center under the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP). Under this Program, the Garment Factory was permitted to sell goods to private consumers across State borders and receive funding from the federal government and Colorado’s Department of Labor and Employment. Inmates participating in PIECP and “on the clock” are eligible to receive a minimum wage that exceeds the 90 cents per day paid to workers on the BDU/regular line in the Garment Factory.
In seeking compensatory and punitive damages, Mr. Huggins asserts two claims for relief. The first claim alleges a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause. More specifically, Plaintiff contends that prior to PIECP, Defendant Reilly, as Head Manager/Supervisor, “chose to employee (sic) primarily white inmates in the most desirable jobs” in the Garment Factory. After PIECP was implemented, Defendant Huggins allegedly selected four white inmates for the initial minimum wage positions, even though three of those individuals had no sewing experience. Mr. Huggins acknowledges that during this initial phase, he also was accepted into PIECP, “but he was not permitted to actually be assigned to the minimum wage work.” See Complaint, at ¶ 7. The Complaint further alleges that
After December of 2011, PIECP went into full operations at the Factory. Fifteen workers were assigned by Mr. Reilly to the program. The workers were divided into “full time” and “part time” - full time workers could punch in on clock every day, while part time workers could only punch on when there was a large order and extra help was needed. Of the fifteen PIECP workers, fourteen were assigned by Mr. Reilly to full time. All of these fourteen were white. The remaining worker was a black part timer. Shortly after PIECP began full operations, Mr. Huggins was moved to the BDU line, which was where the PIECP part time workers were assigned when they were not on the clock.
Id. at ¶¶ 8 and 9.
After six months, Mr. Huggins complained that Defendant Reilly was only assigning white inmates to the full-time minimum wage projects. Thereafter, Mr. Huggins was allowed to work on part-time PIECP projects. When he complained directly to Mr. Reilly, Plaintiff allegedly was told that he could “work in the kitchen if you don’t like it.” Id. at ¶ 10. The Complaint avers that for a brief period, while Defendant Reilly was on vacation, the acting supervisor allowed black inmates to work three hours a day on PIECP. But when Mr. Reilly returned, “he was upset about the schedule change and he immediately stopped working the blacks - including Mr. Huggins.” Id. at ¶ 11.
Plaintiff’s second claim for relief accuses Defendant Reilly of retaliation in violation of the First Amendment. In this claim, Mr. Huggins alleges that after he filed a grievance challenging Defendant’s discriminatory assignment practices, Mr. Reilly gave him a formal assessment that rated Plaintiff’s work as “poor.” Mr. Huggins maintains that prior to this evaluation, his work consistently had been rated as “good” or better. However, Mr. Reilly responded to the initial informal grievance by claiming that Mr. Huggins had not been selected for the minimum wage positions because he was a poor worker. Id. at ¶ 13. The Complaint avers that “[a]fter submitting his grievances, Mr. Huggins was moved completely off of the PIECP by Mr. Reilly.” Id. at ¶ 16. Thereafter, Mr. Huggins was transferred to Sterling Correctional Facility in Sterling, Colorado, and, as a result, lost his employment in the Garment Factory. Mr. Huggins contends that had he not complained about Mr. Reilly’s assignment practices, “he would never have been scrutinized, given unfair work evaluations, moved off of the PIECP, and (ultimately) moved out of” Limon Correctional Facility.
Defendant Reilly moved for summary judgment on August 21, 2015, arguing that Mr. Huggins has not come forward with facts to support his Equal Protection claim and, more specifically, any evidence showing that he was removed from the Garment Factory or the PIECP program because of his race. Mr. Reilly further contends that Plaintiff’s First Amendment retaliation claim is based on nothing more than speculation and that Mr. Huggins cannot show a causal connection between his complaints and any adverse actions taken by Defendant Reilly. Finally, the pending motion for summary judgment asserts that Mr. Huggins failed to properly exhaust his administrative remedies prior to commencing this litigation, in violation of the Prison Litigation Reform Act.
“Pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court may grant summary judgment where 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 the . . . moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Montgomery v. Board of County Commissioners of Douglas County, Colorado, 637 F.Supp.2d 934, 939 (D. Colo. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
The burden of persuasion under Rule 56 requires the moving party to “point to those portions of the record that demonstrate an absence of a genuine issue of material fact, given the relevant substantive law.” Thomas v. Wichita Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 968 F.2d 1022, 1024 (10th Cir. 1992) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)). A fact is “material” if under the substantive law it could have an effect on the outcome of the lawsuit. Equal Employment Opportunity Comm’n v. Horizon/CMS Healthcare Corp., 220 F.3d 1184, 1190 (10th Cir. 2000) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). While the moving party bears the initial burden of showing that there is an absence of any issues of material fact, Hicks v. City of Watonga, 942 F.2d 737, 743 (10th Cir. 1991), the movant need not negate the non-movant's claim. See John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Weisman, 27 F.3d 500, 503 (10th Cir. 1994); Universal Money Ctrs., Inc. v. American Tel. & Tel. Co., 22 F.3d 1527, 1529 (10th Cir. 1994). Once the moving party points to an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party’s claim, the ...