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S.W. v. The Geo Group, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

February 4, 2019

S.W., Plaintiff,
THE GEO GROUP, INC.; and JOHN/JANE DOEs correction officers; in their individual and official capacities; WARDEN TIMOTHY B. HATCH, in his individual and official capacity, Defendants.


         This matter comes before the Court upon Defendants The Geo Group, Inc. and Warden Timothy B. Hatch's (collectively, Defendants) omnibus Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum of Law in Support (Motion for Summary Judgment), filed October 31, 2017. (Doc. 106). Plaintiff filed a response on November 21, 2017, and Defendants filed a reply on January 15, 2018. (Docs. 108 and 112). Having reviewed the Motion for Summary Judgment, the accompanying briefs, and attached exhibits, the Court grants the Motion for Summary Judgment and denies Plaintiff's request to file a third amended complaint.

         As an initial matter, the Court notes that Defendants object to some of Plaintiff's responses to Defendants' statement of undisputed facts and to Plaintiff's statement of undisputed facts as not relevant or consisting of inadmissible attorney argument or hearsay. The Court will consider all of the proffered evidence and simply disregard evidence which is substantively inadmissible. See Bd. Of Trustees of Cal. Winery Workers' Pension Tr. Fund. v. Giumarra Vineyards, 2018 WL 1155988 at *3 (E.D. Cal.) (holding that party opposing summary judgment “should argue the sufficiency of the evidence rather than make” objections based on relevancy because such objections are “duplicative of the summary judgment standard;” and that court should disregard “evidence [that] is irrelevant, immaterial, speculative, or argumentative”); Prudential Ins. Co. of Am. v. Textron Aviation, Inc., 2018 WL 1992423 *2 (D. Kan.) (holding that, instead of striking inadmissible evidence proffered in summary judgment context, court should “consider each [piece of proffered evidence] and, to the extent it may assert a fact which is not admissible evidence, simply exclude the requested fact from the court's ultimate findings”).

         A. Summary of Material Facts Viewed in the Light Most Favorable to Plaintiff[1]

         At all material times, Plaintiff was a prisoner housed at the Northeast New Mexico Detention Facility (NENMDF), a facility operated by The GEO Group, Inc. and where Timothy Hatch served as Warden. This lawsuit arises from Plaintiff's claim that in 2012 Dr. Mark Walden, a NENMDF physician and former Defendant in this lawsuit, sexually assaulted him.[2](Doc. 98) at ¶¶ 17-18.

         On July 16, 2013, NENMDF Lieutenant D. Willard charged Plaintiff in a Misconduct Report with, among other things, sexual misconduct for allegedly exposing his genitalia to a female classification manager, Angela Lucero, when Plaintiff was ordered out of the shower to view a mandatory Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) video. (Doc. 106-1) at 19. Aside from Lucero and Lt. Willard, several other staff members were present during this incident. Id. On July 18, 2013, Lucero stated in an email to the disciplinary hearing officer that she noticed Plaintiff “in the shower area dressed in his boxers.” (Doc. 106-1) at 34.

         Also, on July 18, 2013, Plaintiff was placed in segregation as a result of the shower incident, where he remained until January 11, 2014. (Doc. 106-3) at 2, ¶ 5. After a July 30, 2013, hearing on the Misconduct Report, on August 7, 2013, the disciplinary hearing officer found Plaintiff guilty of sexual misconduct, among other things, and recommended segregation as discipline. (Doc. 106-1) at 23. On August 23, 2013, Plaintiff appealed the disciplinary hearing officer's decision. Id. at 24-29. On August 27, 2013, Warden Hatch upheld the disciplinary hearing officer's decision. Id. at 30-31. Then, in May 2015, Plaintiff filed a state habeas corpus petition to challenge Warden Hatch's decision. (Doc. 106-1). On July 16, 2015, the state district judge dismissed the petition noting there was no clearly apparent violation of policy or law, and that “Petitioner's disagreement with disciplinary outcome is insufficient grounds for relief.” (Doc. 106-2) at 1-2. “Plaintiff agrees he exhausted administrative and judicial efforts to reverse the charges and the sanction of 285 days of disciplinary segregation….” (Doc. 108) at 5, ¶ C.

         The day Plaintiff began his term of segregation, on July 18, 2013, Plaintiff completed a written Inmate Informal Complaint accusing Dr. Walden of sexually abusing him. (Doc. 106-4). The Inmate Informal Complaint was forwarded to the New Mexico State Police in August 2013. Id. On August 2, 2013, Plaintiff, also, submitted a written Inmate Grievance against Dr. Walden. (Doc. 106-6) at 1. On August 26, 2013, the Inmate Grievance was referred to the New Mexico State Police and the New Mexico Corrections Department PREA coordinator. Id. at 6. The referral notes that Plaintiff did not request relief for the grievance. Id. Plaintiff acknowledges that he was advised of this referral “on August 26 and 27, 2013.” (Doc. 108) at 6, ¶ H.

         At some point, Plaintiff gave a statement to Mrs. Hatch, Warden Hatch's wife and a PREA coordinator, about Dr. Walden's conduct. (Doc. 106-5) at 3, depo. at 38; (Doc. 108-4) at 3, depo. at 66. Plaintiff, however, never received a determination from either the New Mexico State Police or a PREA coordinator on his complaints against Dr. Walden. (Doc. 106-5) at 3, depo. at 39; (Doc. 108-4) at 3, depo. at 67. When Plaintiff asked the New Mexico State Police about the referral of his complaints against Dr. Walden, he was informed that these investigations take time and to be patient. (Doc. 106-5) at 3, depo. at 39.

         During the early part of his segregation, Plaintiff also wrote an undated letter to Warden Hatch. (Doc. 106-7); (Doc. 106-5) at 5, depo. at 47. In the letter, Plaintiff explained to Warden Hatch that he was in segregation as retaliation for reporting “sexual harassment” by Dr. Walden and others. (Doc. 106-7) at 1. Plaintiff, further, alleges that Lt. Willard made “false accusations” about Plaintiff exposing himself to Lucero, which resulted in the segregation. Id.

         “Plaintiff admits that his placement in segregation did not interfere with his ability to challenge the disciplinary charges and sanctions, including the sanction of disciplinary segregation … nor did it interfere with his ability to utilize the inmate grievance system.” (Doc. 108) at 7, ¶ K. Nonetheless, while in segregation, Plaintiff did not have phone access or commissary access for the first 60 days, and Plaintiff could not meet other inmates, work, or engage in regular outdoor recreation. (Doc. 106-5) at 6-7, depo. at 50, 54.

         B. Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint for Civil Rights Violations (Second Amended Complaint) (Doc. 98)

         Plaintiff brings the Second Amended Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution.[3] (Doc. 98) at 1.

         Specifically, Plaintiff contends that Defendants retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. Id. at ¶¶ 27-44. Plaintiff alleges that after he filed formal and informal grievances against Dr. Walden, “he was denied access to his full medical records by medical and prison staff, ” he was placed in segregation “upon fabricated charges of sexual misconduct, ” and his grievances against Dr. Walden were not investigated or responded to by Defendants. Id. at ¶¶ 28, 29, and 32.

         C. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party shows “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). Once the moving party meets its initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Schneider v. City of Grand Junction Police Dep't, 717 F.3d 760, 767 (10th Cir. 2013). A dispute over a material fact is “genuine” only if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Court ...

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