United States District Court, D. Colorado
OPINION AND ORDER
S. Krieger, Senior United States District Judge
MATTER comes before the Court pursuant to the
Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (#
69), Mr. Peoples' pro seresponse
(# 74, 81), and the
Defendants' reply (# 77).
Court summarizes the pertinent facts here and elaborates as
necessary in its analysis. Mr. Peoples is an inmate in the
Colorado Department of Corrections, housed in the Sterling
Correctional Facility (“SCF”). According to the
Amended Complaint (# 6), on September 28,
2016, Mr. Peoples was summoned to the SCF law library to
assist an inmate in preparing some legal materials.
Defendants Baker and Newcomb,  SCF Correctional Officers, saw
Mr. Peoples in the library and told him he was not supposed
to be there. A discussion ensued, and Mr. Peoples was briefly
handcuffed while the Defendants and other SCF officials
conferred to determine whether he was authorized to be in the
law library. Eventually, it was decided that Mr. Peoples
would not be allowed to access the library for the purposes
of assisting other inmates and that he would be returned to
his unit. Before he was returned to his unit, he was required
to be searched. Mr. Baker directed Mr. Peoples to a staff
bathroom and conducted a strip search, albeit with the
bathroom door open and in view of an adjacent classroom. Ms.
Newcomb and Mr. Simpson were present for that strip search as
well. (Mr. Peoples' appears to allege that, at some
point, Mr. Simpson took over the search from Mr. Baker.) Mr.
Peoples alleges that Mr. Baker conducted the search with the
purposeful intention of having Mr. Peoples exposed to as many
other inmates as possible and to prolong and embarrass Mr.
on these facts, and as narrowed by the Court's Order
(# 7) Mr. Peoples asserts a single claim
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: violation of his Fourth
Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches,
relating to the circumstances of the strip search, asserted
against Mr. Baker, as well as against Ms. Newcomb and
Simpson, who observed Mr. Baker's unlawful actions and
failed to intercede; and (ii) retaliation for the exercise of
First Amendment rights, asserted against Mr. Baker and Ms.
Newcomb, insofar as Mr. Peoples contends that Mr. Baker's
and Ms. Newcomb's actions were taken in retaliation for a
prior instance in which Mr. Baker “attempted to get
[Mr. Peoples] fired from his job as a programs porter,
” but “Mr. Peoples' boss realized that [Mr.]
Baker was wrong in firing him and she refused to let
Baker's adverse action stand.” All three Defendants
move (# 69) for summary judgment on Mr.
Peoples' claims against them, arguing: (i) Mr. Peoples
cannot obtain compensatory damages because he did not suffer
any physical injury, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1991e(e);
(ii) Mr. Peoples does not allege any continuing injury
warranting a request for injunctive relief; (iii) Mr. Peoples
cannot establish that the strip search constituted a
violation of the Fourth Amendment, insofar as such searches
are a legitimate exercise of prison security concerns
regarding inmates' possession and movement of contraband
and that the circumstances under which the search were
conducted were reasonable; (iv) Mr. Peoples cannot establish
that Ms. Newcomb participated in the search, insofar as he
admits that she was standing outside the bathroom with her
back turned during the search; and (v) to the extent that any
of the Defendants engaged in a constitutional violation, the
contours of such violation were not clearly established,
entitling the Defendants to qualified immunity. Notably, the
Defendants' motion does not address Mr. Peoples'
retaliation claim; in their reply brief, the Defendants
assert a belief that “the only claims remaining are
those asserted pursuant to the Fourth Amendment.”
Standard of review
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).
Summary adjudication is authorized when there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and a party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Substantive
law governs what facts are material and what issues must be
determined. It also specifies the elements that must be
proved 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). A factual dispute is “genuine” and summary
judgment is precluded if the evidence presented in support of
and opposition to the motion is so contradictory that, if
presented at trial, a judgment could enter for either party.
See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. When considering a
summary judgment motion, a court views all evidence in the
light most favorable to the non-moving party, thereby
favoring the right to a trial. See Garrett v. Hewlett
Packard Co., 305 F.3d 1210, 1213 (10th Cir. 2002).
movant has the burden of proof on a claim or defense, the
movant must establish every element of its claim or defense
by sufficient, competent evidence. See Fed. R. Civ.
P. 56(c)(1)(A). Once the moving party has met its burden, to
avoid summary judgment the responding party must present
sufficient, competent, contradictory evidence to establish a
genuine factual dispute. See Bacchus Indus., Inc. v.
Arvin Indus., Inc., 939 F.2d 887, 891 (10th Cir. 1991);
Perry v. Woodward, 199 F.3d 1126, 1131 (10th Cir.
1999). If there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact, a
trial is required. If there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact, no trial is required. The court then applies
the law to the undisputed facts and enters judgment.
moving party does not have the burden of proof at trial, it
must point to an absence of sufficient evidence to establish
the claim or defense that the non-movant is obligated to
prove. If the respondent comes forward with sufficient
competent evidence to establish a prima facie claim
or defense, a trial is required. If the respondent fails to
produce sufficient competent evidence to establish its claim
or defense, then the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).
Fourth Amendment claim
possess a somewhat abridged Fourth Amendment right to avoid
unreasonable searches, but it is well-settled that “a
strip search is an invasion of personal rights of the first
magnitude.” Farmer v. Perrill, 288 F.3d 1254,
1259 (10th Cir. 2002). Inmates have a
“well-established right . . . not to be subjected to a
humiliating strip search in full view of several (or perhaps
many) others unless the procedure is reasonably related to a
legitimate penological interest.” Id. The
inquiry into whether a given search is reasonable depends on
a variety of factors, including the scope of the intrusion,
the manner in which it is conducted, the justification for
initiating it, and the place in which it is conducted.
Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 559 (1979).
the facts that led up to the search of Mr. Peoples are not
particularly relevant to the discussion herein; it is
sufficient to note that Sgt. Larson, an SCF official,
concluded that Mr. Peoples was not in a location where he was
supposed to be and instructed Mr. Baker to conduct a strip
search of Mr. Peoples before returning him to his housing
unit. Sgt. Larson's affidavit recites various reasons why
inmates who are found out of place, particularly those near
areas with books and computers in them, are considered to be
security risks. Inmates have been known to fashion contraband
from computer parts and store contraband items in books or
other locations outside their cells, and inmates who are
found outside their assigned locations can be suspected of
being “mules” carrying contraband or information
on behalf of other inmates.
Larson's affidavit also explains why SCF staff chose to
search Mr. Peoples in the staff bathroom, rather than an
offender bathroom nearby. The staff bathroom is directly
across the hallway from a classroom, and, admittedly, inmates
who were present in the classroom could see some portion of
the way into the staff bathroom through a chest-high
classroom window, particularly if they stood up. On the other
hand, Sgt. Larson notes that the offender bathroom has
“very good visibility in from the hallway and it would
be very difficult to provide the type of privacy that was
afforded by the staff bathroom.” Sgt. Larson further