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Clayborne v. Franks

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

October 27, 2016

ROBERT EARL CLAYBORNE JR., Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT FRAKES, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          RICHARD G. KOPF SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Robert Earl Clayborne, Jr., an inmate at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution (“TSCI”), claims in this § 1983 action that the Director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (Scott Frakes, identified in the Complaint as “Scott Franks”), the Warden of TSCI (Brian Gage), an officer at TSCI (Adam Crop), and two caseworkers at TSCI (Chelsea Guffrie and Paul Tompkins) violated his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to protect his safety during a prison riot that occurred at TSCI on May 10, 2015. The defendants, who are sued only in their individual capacities, have moved for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. Their Motion for Summary Judgment (Filing No. 50) will be granted, and the plaintiff's action will be dismissed with prejudice.

         I. Standard of Review

         “A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought. The court shall grant summary judgment if 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. The court should state on the record the reasons for granting or denying the motion” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).

         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, giving that party the benefit of all inferences that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence. See Dancy v. Hyster Co., 127 F.3d 649, 652-53 (8th Cir. 1997). It is not the court's function to weigh evidence in the summary judgment record to determine the truth of any factual issue; the court merely determines whether there is evidence creating a genuine issue for trial. See Bell v. Conopco, Inc., 186 F.3d 1099, 1101 (8th Cir. 1999).

         The moving party bears the burden of showing there are no genuine issues of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). This burden “may be discharged by ‘showing'-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Id. at 325. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who “may not rest upon mere allegation or denials of his pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). “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 v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc) (quoting Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009)).

         II. Plaintiff's Procedural Objection

         Clayborne has responded to the defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment by arguing that it was not filed in a timely manner. He points to a Memorandum and Order entered on April 22, 2016, in which the court granted the defendants a stay of discovery but directed them “to file a motion for summary judgment raising the issue of qualified immunity, either by itself or in conjunction with the exhaustion issue, within 21 days” (Filing No. 39 at CM/ECF p. 2). The defendants were advised that “[i]f such a motion is not filed within 21 days, the court will enter an order lifting the stay of discovery” (Id.).

         The stay of discovery was in fact lifted by the court on June 23, 2016, after the defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment raising only the exhaustion issue (Filing No. 46). The current Motion was filed on August 12, 2016 (Filing No. 50).

         Contrary to Clayborne's argument, the court's April 22, 2016 Memorandum and Order did not preclude the defendants from filing sequential motions for summary judgment on the issues of exhaustion and qualified immunity. The only consequence of the defendants' failure to raise the qualified immunity issue within 21 days was that Clayborne was permitted to conduct discovery. The current Motion is timely.

         III. Undisputed Facts[1]

         In May 2015, Clayborne was assigned to a cell in Housing Unit #2 at TSCI. This housing unit holds inmates on protective custody status.

         On May 10, 2015, Crop, Guffrie (referred to in the plaintiff's Complaint as “Guthrie”), and Tompkins were working in Housing Unit #2. On this day, an inmate disturbance occurred in which inmates gained control of the facility for several hours, started fires, assaulted inmates, and caused major property damage.

         At the beginning of the disturbance, inmates started fires in Housing Unit #2 near the control center where staff were stationed. As a result of the smoke coming from the fires, staff had to leave the control center and retreat to an office in the lobby area for safety. Prior to leaving the control center, staff placed the cell doors on “Group Access” which allows inmates to either stay in their cell or push a button which will open their cell door. At this time the inmates were ...


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