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Nelson v. Skrobecki

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

January 6, 2016

LINDA NELSON, Plaintiff,
v.
DENISE SKROBECKI, STEVE HUNZEKER, DAMON BRUBER, and BROOKE BJERRUM, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

John M. Gerrard United States District Judge

This matter is before the court on a Motion for Summary Judgment (Filing No. 38) filed by Defendants Denise Skrobecki, Steve Hunzeker, Damon Bruber, and Brooke Bjerrum. Plaintiff Linda Nelson has sued Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of her right to due process. Nelson argues Defendants summarily removed her from a work release program without telling her why and without giving her a meaningful opportunity to defend herself. Nelson claims she had a constitutionally-protected liberty interest in remaining in the work release program. (See generally Filing No. 1.) Defendants argue in their unopposed summary-judgment motion that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law because there are no genuine issues of material fact. In the alternative, they argue they are entitled to qualified immunity. The court agrees that Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law and will grant their summary-judgment motion.

I. BACKGROUND AND MATERIAL FACTS

Nelson was incarcerated at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women (“NCCW”) in York, Nebraska, at the time she filed her Complaint. The undisputed, material facts in this case are these: Nelson entered the custody of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (“NDCS”) in 2012. (Filing No. 40-1 at CM/ECF p. 9.) In 2013, Nelson’s custody was transferred to the Community Corrections Center - Lincoln (“CCCL”), which is an NDCS work-release facility. Nelson’s orientation materials with the CCCL reflect she Dated this facility on or about June 20, 2013. (Filing No. 40-2; Filing No. 40-4.)

At some point between June 20, 2013, and October 15, 2013, Nelson secured full-time employment at Don & Randy’s Truck Stop in Lincoln, Nebraska, as part of her work-release program. (Filing No. 40-1 at CM/ECF p. 14.) On or about October 15, 2013, Nelson’s employer terminated her employment. (Filing No. 40-1 at CM/ECF pp. 40-41.) Thereafter, on October 18, 2013, Nelson’s custody was transferred from the CCCL to the NCCW, a more restrictive facility; the reason cited for the transfer on Nelson’s prison documents was that she was “out of [the CCCL] for hours that were not accounted for by her work.” (Filing No. 40-8 at CM/ECF p. 1.) Once at the NCCW, Nelson underwent a classification review of her inmate custody status. On October 30, 2013, she waived advance notice of her classification hearing, and her hearing occurred on October 31, 2013. (Filing No. 40-9 at CM/ECF p. 3.)

Inmate classification/custody status is determined by a computed score. A computed score of 27 points or higher is required for community custody (i.e., work-release eligibility). (Filing No. 40-9 at CM/ECF p. 2.) Upon reevaluation of Nelson’s classification, Nelson scored 26 points, just shy of the 27 points required for work-release eligibility. (Filing No. 40-9 at CM/ECF p. 2.) Accordingly, Nelson was demoted to minimum-custody status. (Filing No. 40-9 at CM/ECF pp. 2, 4.)

NDCS officials notified Nelson of her demotion to minimum-custody status on November 15, 2013. (Filing No. 40-10.) Nelson appealed to an NDCS review committee on November 16, 2013, but her appeal was denied by the committee on November 27, 2013. (Filing Nos. 40-11 and 40-12.) Specifically, the committee found her reclassification to minimum custody was appropriate based on her factor-rating score and her recent return from the CCCL. (Filing No. 40-12 at CM/ECF p. 1.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The movant bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for the motion, and must identify those portions of the record that the movant believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc). If the movant does so, the nonmovant must respond by submitting evidentiary materials that set out specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.

On a motion for summary judgment, facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a genuine dispute as to those facts. Id. Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the evidence are jury functions, not those of a judge. Id. In order to show that disputed facts are material, the party opposing summary judgment must cite to the relevant substantive law in identifying facts that might affect the outcome of the suit. Quinn v. St. Louis Cnty., 653 F.3d 745, 751 (8th Cir. 2011). But where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial. Torgerson, 643 F.3d at 1042.

III. ANALYSIS

Nelson claims in this action that she had a constitutionally-protected liberty interest in her continued participation in the work-release program at the CCCL. Nelson further claims that her demotion to minimum-custody status violated her right to due process. In Defendants’ unopposed summary-judgment motion, they argue Nelson did not demonstrate that she has been deprived of a liberty interest and so her due-process claims must fail.

“The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause protects persons against deprivations of life, liberty, or property; and those who seek to invoke its procedural protection must establish that one of these interests is at stake.” Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 221 (2005). Thus, Nelson must demonstrate that she has been deprived of a liberty interest in order to successfully claim that her Fourteenth Amendment right to due process has been violated. Persechini v. Callaway, 651 F.3d 802, 806 (8th Cir. 2011) (citing Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472 (1995)). A liberty interest can arise ...


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