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Estate of Roemer v. Johnson

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 25, 2019

DAVID JOHNSON, in his individual capacity, NATHAN ALGIEN, in his individual capacity, and CHASE FELZEIN, in his individual capacity, Defendants.


          PHILIP A. BRIMMER, Chief United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Johnson, Algien, Felzein, and Boyer’s Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 145].[1] The Court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         A. Mr. Farley’s Transfer to Colorado

          In July 2011, inmate Paul Farley was transferred from the Arizona Department of Corrections (“ADC”) to the Colorado Department of Corrections (“CDOC”). Docket No. 110 at 1, ¶ 1. At the time of his transfer, the ADC provided the CDOC with records concerning Mr. Farley’s incarceration in Arizona. Id. at 2, ¶¶ 5-6. Those records detailed multiple acts of violence committed by Mr. Farley while in ADC custody, including a 1999 disciplinary conviction for sexually assaulting a cellmate, a 2000 disciplinary conviction for slicing open a cellmate’s back with a razorblade, and a manslaughter conviction for helping an inmate in an adjoining cell commit suicide in July 2001. Id. at 2-3, ¶ 6. Mr. Farley’s records also indicated that Mr. Farley had made threatening statements in regard to other inmates such as “I just want to do somebody, ” “I want to put steel in someone, ” and “it would be easier to find a victim in PS.” Id. at 4, ¶ 13.

         On September 1, 2011, CDOC officials held a hearing at the Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center (“DRDC”) to determine whether Mr. Farley should be placed in administrative segregation. Id. at 1, ¶ 2.[3] Defendant Ali Shoaga presided over the hearing as the chairperson of a three-member hearing board. Id., ¶ 3. As part of the hearing process, Mr. Shoaga reviewed records regarding Mr. Farley’s ADC disciplinary history. Id. at 2, ¶ 5. Relying principally on the fact that it had been over ten years since Mr. Farley’s last disciplinary infraction, Mr. Shoaga recommended that Mr. Farley not be placed in administrative segregation in the CDOC. Id. at 6, ¶ 24.

         B. Facts Related to Defendant Johnson

          At the time of the events giving rise to this lawsuit, defendant David Johnson was the associate warden of DRDC. Docket No. 148 at 1-2, ¶ 2; Docket No. 149 at 1, ¶¶ 2- 3. In that role, he was responsible for reviewing administrative segregation hearings and affirming, modifying, or reversing the classification recommendation submitted by the chairperson. Docket No. 145 at 3, ¶¶ 3-5. After reviewing the records related to Mr. Farley’s hearing, including any documents considered by the hearing board, Mr. Johnson affirmed Mr. Shoaga’s recommendation that Mr. Farley not be placed in administrative segregation. Id., ¶¶ 4, 7-8. Mr. Johnson relied on the same factors considered by the hearing board, including the fact that Mr. Farley had no documented disciplinary infractions in the ADC in the past ten years. Id., ¶¶ 9-10.

         C. Facts Related to Defendant Algien

          ln 2011, defendant Nathan Algien was a classification officer in the CDOC’s Office of Offender Services, which makes the final decision regarding an offender’s facility placement within the CDOC. Id. at 5, ¶¶ 22-24. Before that determination is made, a diagnostic programmer at the DRDC gives the offender an Initial Custody Rating based on an objective scoring system designed to assess the offender’s level of risk and security needs. Id. at 5-6, ¶¶ 27-28, 31. In 2011, custody levels in general population in the CDOC ranged from “minimum” custody, the least restrictive classification, to “close” custody, the most restrictive. Id. at 6, ¶ 29. Although Mr. Algien had the authority to recommend an override of an offender’s initial custody classification, id., ¶ 32, he did not have the power to override an offender’s administrative segregation classification. Id. at 7, ¶ 33.

         Mr. Algien’s job as a classification officer was to determine an appropriate facility at which to place an offender based on the offender’s custody level and any “custody issues” related to that offender. Id., ¶¶ 35-36.[4] Based on Mr. Farley’s initial classification as a “close” custody offender, there were three facilities within the CDOC system at which he could be placed: Sterling Correctional Facility (“SCF”), Limon Correctional Facility, and Centennial Correctional Facility. Id. at 9, ¶ 48. Mr. Farley was likely assigned to SCF because it was the first close custody facility with available bed space that could house him due to custody issues. Id., ¶ 49.

         Once Mr. Farley was transferred to SCF, Mr. Algien did not have any authority over Mr. Farley’s specific cell or housing unit assignments. Id., ¶ 50. All internal housing decisions were made by the specific facility at which an offender was placed. Id., ¶¶ 51-52.

         D. Facts Related to Defendant Felzein

          In May and June 2012, defendant Chase Felzein was employed as a housing lieutenant at SCF. Id. at 10, ¶ 58. His responsibilities included supervising offenders and housing unit staff members and reviewing and approving offender cell assignments. Id. at 10, 12, ¶¶ 59-60, 76.

         Once an offender was assigned to a facility, an Internal Classification Committee, of which Mr. Felzein was not a member, would determine the particular living unit in which the offender would be housed. Id. at 11-12, ¶¶ 71-72. In May and June 2012, Mr. Farley and James Roemer were both assigned to Living Unit 2 in the medium security area of SCF. Id. at 10, ¶¶ 60-61. They were also two of a group of four offenders who had requested a cell change. Id. at 16, ¶ 100.

         In approving a recommendation that Mr. Farley and Mr. Roemer be placed in the same cell, Mr. Felzein relied on the factors set forth in an internal prison document known as the Points of Compatibility directive, which housing unit staff were expected to follow in making cell placement decisions. Id. at 12-13, 17, ¶¶ 78, 110. Among the compatibility factors considered by Mr. Felzein were Mr. Farley’s and Mr. Roemer’s ages, their races, their physical sizes, their security threat group (“STG”)/gang affiliations, the length of their sentences, and their Sexually Aggressive Behavior (“SAB”)/Sexual Vulnerability Risk (“SVR”) scores. Id. at 13, 16-17, ¶¶ 80, 104-08. Mr. Felzein determined that all points of compatibility were met because Mr. Farley and Mr. Roemer were only five years apart in age, they were both Caucasian, they were similarly sized, they were not members of rival STGs, they had compatible SAB/SVR scores, there was only a five-year difference in their mandatory release dates, they had no known custody issues with each other, and they had agreed to live together in the same cell. Id. at 16-17, ¶¶ 104-09.[5] In making a determination as to these factors, Mr. Felzein would have reviewed the offender information available in the CDOC’s DCIS/PCDCIS computer system. Id. at 14-15, ¶¶ 93, 98.[6] However, the DCIS/PCDCIS system did not contain all of the information that the CDOC would have possessed regarding Mr. Farley and Mr. Roemer. See id., ¶¶ 94-96.

         At some point, Mr. Farley and Mr. Roemer were moved into the same cell. Id. at 10, ¶ 63. On June 13, 2012, Mr. Farley murdered Mr. Roemer. Id.

         Plaintiff, Mr. Roemer’s estate, filed this case on June 12, 2014. Docket No. 1. Plaintiff asserts an Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on defendants’ respective roles in the decision-making process that led to Mr. Farley’s placement in the same cell as Mr. Roemer at SCF. See Docket No. 141 at 20-23, ¶¶ 94-106. On October 12, 2017, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on statute-of-limitations grounds. Docket No. 175. Plaintiff appealed, Docket No. 179, and on March 7, 2019, the Tenth Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment, holding that the Court had erred by failing to determine when plaintiff’s “claims against each defendant accrued.” Docket No. 186 at 23. The Tenth Circuit also concluded that, with the exception of Thomas Boyer, defendants had failed to establish that plaintiff’s claims accrued outside of the relevant limitations period. Id.

         Following the Tenth Circuit’s remand, see id., the Court directed the parties to file status reports identifying the issues that remained to be resolved in light of the Tenth Circuit’s decision. Docket No. 188. Based on those status reports and the T enth Circuit’s ruling, the Court determined that the next step in this case is for the Court to determine whether defendants are entitled to summary judgment on any ground other than the statute of limitations. Docket No. 191 at 1. On April 24, 2019, the Court reinstated defendants’ summary judgment motion. Docket No. 191.


         Summary judgment is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 when the “movant shows that 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); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50 (1986). A disputed fact is “material” if under the relevant substantive law it is essential to proper disposition of the claim. Wright v. Abbott Labs., Inc., 259 F.3d 1226, 1231-32 (10th Cir. 2001). Only disputes over material facts can create a genuine issue for trial and preclude summary judgment. Faustin v. City & Cty. of Denver, 423 F.3d 1192, 1198 (10th Cir. 2005). An issue is ...

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