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Nelson v. Williams

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

September 30, 2014

Robert Forest Nelson, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
Victor J. Williams, et al., Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

LEO I. BRISBOIS, Magistrate Judge.

This matter came before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge upon Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Sanctions, [Docket No. 46]. This case has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for a report and recommendation, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 72.1. The Court held a motion hearing on August 28, 2014, regarding Defendants' motion.

For the reasons discussed herein, the Court recommends that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Sanctions, [Docket No. 46], be GRANTED in part, and DENIED in part.

I. BACKGROUND

This case arises out of Plaintiff Robert Forest Nelson, Jr.'s, pretrial detention at the Itasca County Jail ("Jail"). After being released, Plaintiff initiated the present action on January 22, 2013, by filing his Summons and Complaint pro se. (Complaint, [Docket No. 1]). Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on April 1, 2013, that alleges twelve claims against each Defendant. (Amended Complaint, [Docket No. 9]). Plaintiff claims each Defendant: (1) violated his First Amendment right to free speech; (2) violated his First Amendment right to petition for redress of grievances; (3) violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural due process; (4) violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to substantive due process; (5) violated Article I, § 2 of the Minnesota Constitution; (6) violated Article I, § 3 of the Minnesota Constitution; (7) violated Article I, § 5 of the Minnesota Constitution; (8) violated Article I, § 7 of the Minnesota Constitution; (9) violated Article I, § 8 of the Minnesota Constitution; (10) violated sections of the Minnesota Department of Corrections ("DoC") Administrative Code and Rules ("DoC Rules"); (11) engaged in common-law conspiracy; and (12) violated either an oath of office or the law enforcement oath of honor. (See Id. at 14-21). Itasca County Sheriff, Victor J. Williams ("Defendant Williams"), the Jail Administrator Denise Hirt ("Defendant Hirt"), and Lucas Thompson, the Assistant Administrator for the Jail ("Defendant Thompson"), timely filed their Answer, [Docket No. 11], and the parties proceeded to discovery.

On September 26, 2013, Defendants moved the Court for an order to compel Plaintiff to provide overdue responses to their discovery requests. (See Defs.' Motion to Compel Disclosure and Discovery, [Docket No. 22]). The Court granted the motion and issued an Order, which expressly warned Plaintiff that failure to comply with the Order could result in more severe sanctions, up to and including the dismissal of Plaintiff's case. (Order granting Motion to Compel, [Docket No. 28], at 6).

Defendants now move for summary judgment in their favor as to Plaintiff's claims against each of them. (Motion for Summary Judgment and Sanctions, [Docket No. 46]). Defendants also alternatively seek dismissal of Plaintiff's claims as a sanction for Plaintiff's failure to comply with the Court's prior Order compelling discovery. (Id.).

I. FACTS

On May 22, 2012, Plaintiff was arrested on criminal charges. (See Amended Complaint, [Docket No. 9], at 5). While awaiting proceedings in the criminal matter, Plaintiff was detained at the Itasca County Jail, where he was initially held in an eight-man cell in a medium security ward. (Affidavit of Lucas Thompson, [Docket No. 33], at 2). Plaintiff was housed in that cell until June 12, 2012, when Defendant Thompson ordered Plaintiff transferred to a two-man cell in a maximum security ward. (Id.).

In his amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges his detention in the cell in the maximum security ward was "more restrictive" than being in the medium security ward, and that Thompson had ordered the transfer to retaliate against Plaintiff for drafting and filing multiple grievances on behalf of other detainees. (Amended Complaint, [Docket No. 9], at 7-8). Plaintiff also alleges that both Defendant Hirt and Defendant Williams were aware Thompson had assigned Plaintiff to the maximum security ward, and that they had not acted to change this assignment. (Id. at 10, 13).

Defendant Thompson submitted an affidavit in support of the motion indicating he had transferred Plaintiff because Plaintiff's behavior around other inmates was troublesome, and that moving Plaintiff to a two-man cell in the maximum security ward was safer for Plaintiff, the other inmates, and the jail staff than keeping Plaintiff in an eight-man medium security cell. (Affidavit of Lucas Thompson, [Docket No. 33], at 2). Defendant Thompson also averred that, in the maximum security ward, Plaintiff had access to all the same jail services, programs, the telephone, television, exercise, and visitors in the same manner and quantity as the inmates in the medium security ward. (Id. at 3). Defendant Thompson further averred that Plaintiff had not lost any good time points when being transferred. (Id.). Plaintiff was released from the county jail on July 9, 2012. (Amended Complaint, [Docket No. 9], at 12).

Plaintiff then filed this action, alleging a total of thirty-six (36) causes of action against Defendant Williams, Defendant Hirt, and Defendant Thompson. (See Id. at 14-21). Once the parties commenced discovery, Defendants provided disclosure and discovery in accord with Plaintiff's requests. (See Order granting Motion to Compel, [Docket No. 28], at 2). Plaintiff did not, however, respond to Defendants' requests for discovery, though he has acknowledged that he received them. (See Id. at 3). On September 26, 2013, Defendants filed a motion to compel Plaintiff to respond to their discovery requests. (Defendants' Motion to Compel Discovery, [Docket No. 22]). Plaintiff did not respond to the motion and did not appear at the motion hearing held on October 10, 2013. (Order granting Motion to Compel, [Docket No. 28], at 4). On October 18, 2013, this Court entered an Order directing Plaintiff to respond to Defendants' discovery requests. (Id. at 6). In that order, the Court expressly advised Plaintiff that any failure to comply with the Order could result in severe sanctions up to and including dismissal of the case. (Id.). Defendants represent to the Court that Plaintiff has since failed to comply with the Order. (Defendants' Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment and Sanctions, [Docket No. 48] at 12).

Defendants now move for summary judgment in their favor on all of Plaintiff's claims, and in the alternative, for sanctions in the form of dismissal of Plaintiff's claims for Plaintiff's failure to comply with the prior Order compelling discovery from the Plaintiff.

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate when the evidence demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact such that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Tusing v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 639 F.3d 507, 514 (8th Cir. 2011). A disputed fact is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the case, and a factual dispute is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable ...


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