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Hall v. Palmer

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

January 13, 2020

JOHN PALMER, etc.; et al., Defendants.



         I. Status

         Plaintiff, Enoch Donnell Hall, a death-row inmate, is proceeding on a fourth amended complaint (Doc. 22; Compl.) filed by his court-appointed counsel. Plaintiff asserts claims based on the conditions of his confinement and an alleged use of excessive force while he was housed at Florida State Prison (FSP).[1] The first four counts are against individuals the Court references collectively as “supervisory defendants”: John Palmer, Warden of FSP; Jeffery McClellan, Assistant Warden of FSP; Gina Gay, Classification Supervisor of FSP; Amanda Maddox, Senior Classifications Officer of FSP; and Julie Jones, former Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC).[2] Plaintiff alleges the supervisory defendants housed him a “heightened security” cell for “multiple years” and arbitrarily restricted his recreation and visitation privileges, in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments and contrary to the provisions of the Florida Administrative Code. See Compl. at 10-12. Count five of the complaint is against two corrections officers, Defendants Simmons and Ellis, for their alleged use of excessive force against Plaintiff on May 21, 2014. Id. at 13-14.

         Before the Court are two motions for summary judgment: (1) Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment as to count four of his complaint in which he seeks declaratory and injunctive relief against the supervisory defendants (Doc. 86; Pl. Motion); and (2) Defendants Jones, Palmer, McClellan, Gay, Maddox, and Ellis's motion for summary judgment as to the claims against the supervisory defendants (counts one through four) (Doc. 87; Def. Motion).[3] The motions are ripe for this Court's review. See Responses (Doc. 92; Def. Resp.) (Doc. 93; Pl. Resp.).[4]

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Under Rule 56, “[t]he 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). An issue is genuine when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the nonmovant. Mize v. Jefferson City Bd. of Educ., 93 F.3d 739, 742 (11th Cir. 1996) (quoting Hairston v. Gainesville Sun Publ'g Co., 9 F.3d 913, 919 (11th Cir. 1993)). “[A] mere scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Kesinger ex rel. Estate of Kesinger v. Herrington, 381 F.3d 1243, 1247 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986)).

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating to the court, by reference to the record, that there are no genuine issues of material fact to be determined at trial. See Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). The record to be considered on a motion for summary judgment may include “depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Rule 56(c)(1)(A).

         “When a moving party has discharged its burden, the non-moving party must then go beyond the pleadings, and by its own affidavits, or by depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 64 F.3d 590, 593-94 (11th Cir. 1995) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         On summary judgment, a party opposing the motion must point to evidence in the record to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Substantive law determines the materiality of facts, and “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court “must view all evidence and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing summary judgment.” Haves v. City of Miami, 52 F.3d 918, 921 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing Dibrell Bros. Int'l, S.A. v. Banca Nazionale Del Lavoro, 38 F.3d 1571, 1578 (11th Cir. 1994)).

         When a court is presented with cross motions for summary judgment, the court must evaluate each motion separately to determine whether either party is entitled to the relief sought. In accordance with Rule 56, when evaluating the merits of each motion, the court must construe the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See 10A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2720 (4th ed., August 2019 update) (“The court must rule on each party's motion on an individual and separate basis, determining, for each side, whether a judgment may be entered in accordance with the Rule 56 standard.”).

         III. Plaintiff's Allegations & Claims for Relief[5]

         Plaintiff sues the supervisory defendants in their individual and official capacities. He alleges the supervisory defendants treated him differently than other death row inmates with respect to his cell assignment and visitation and recreation privileges. See Compl. at 6, 7. Plaintiff asserts he was arbitrarily “housed in a cell that was built for and designated as a disciplinary confinement cell for prisoners, ” though he had not been found guilty of any disciplinary infraction to have warranted this “heightened security” status. Id. at 6. When Plaintiff grieved the issue, he was informed his cell assignment was a result of “his conviction for which he was sentenced to death.”[6] Id.

         Plaintiff also asserts the supervisory defendants arbitrarily restricted his visitation and recreation privileges, which further isolated him from other inmates and visitors. Id. at 10. Plaintiff contends the collective conditions of his confinement-placement in a heightened security cell with restrictions on his ability to interact with others during recreation and visitation-amount to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment (count one). Id. Additionally, he contends the restrictions on his visitation and recreation privileges violate the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause (counts two and three). Id. at 11, 12.

         In a separately numbered count (four), which Plaintiff characterizes as a “claim, ” he sets forth his requests for declaratory and injunctive relief against the supervisory defendants. Id. at 13. In count four, Plaintiff asserts he faces “the continuing violation of his limited rights afforded to him regarding the terms of his confinement” unless declaratory and injunctive relief are not granted. Id. In addition to declaratory and injunctive relief, Plaintiff seeks nominal damages[7] and any equitable relief deemed just and proper, reasonable attorneys' fees, costs, and litigation expenses. Id. at 13-14.

         IV. Record Evidence

         A. “Heightened Security” Cell Assignment

         Plaintiff was transferred to FSP in 2008 after he murdered a corrections officer at Tomoka Correctional Institution. Pl. Dep. at 4-5. Between 2008 and 2011, Plaintiff was housed in maximum management at FSP. Id. at 5. See also Palmer Dep. at 24. On March 23, 2011, after Plaintiff was convicted and sentenced to death, he was moved to death row and immediately placed in a “heightened security” cell. Pl. Dep. at 5; Pl. Dec. ¶ 4. A heightened security cell is one with a solid steel door (solid door cell) as opposed to one with bars (open bar cell). Pl. Dec. ¶ 5; Pl. Dep. at 12. See also Palmer Dep. at 19 (stating there are five “reinforced cells” on death row, which are reserved for inmates on heightened security); Gay Dep. at 10 (recognizing that confinement in a solid door cell is considered “heightened security”).

         At deposition, Plaintiff described the differences between solid door and open bar cells: solid door cells have a steel door with only one small window, while open bar cells have bars down the front allowing inmates to see out, reach out, and communicate; the air quality in solid door cells is poor; inmates in solid door cells are not permitted to have entertainment or comfort items, such as televisions, radios, computers, access to the canteen, reading materials from the library, or fans, while inmates in open bar cells enjoy such privileges; inmates in solid door cells sleep on a concrete slab, while inmates in open bar cells sleep on a metal bed that flexes; the shelf available for eating and writing is smaller in solid door cells than in open bar cells; and inmates in open bar cells receive cell-front visits from members of the church, while those in solid door cells do not. Pl. Dep. at 13, 14, 15, 18-19.[8]

         Plaintiff remained in a solid door cell for a little over five years, from March 2011 until July 2016.[9] Pl. Dep. at 15; see also Pl. Dec. ¶ 9. In July 2016, an officer told Plaintiff he had “received a telephone call from the administration” with an order to move Plaintiff to an open bar cell. Pl. Dep. at 47. Plaintiff was housed in an open bar cell for a couple of months, and then he was returned to a solid door cell in about September or October 2016. Pl. Dep. at 16; Pl. Dec. ¶ 14. At that time, he received a similar explanation for his return to a solid door cell: the administration “got a call and [he] was to be moved back.” Pl. Dep. at 47-48. Plaintiff remained in a solid door cell for about five or six months, until March 2017, when, without explanation, he was again moved to an open bar cell. Id. at 16, 48. Plaintiff said, after March 2017, he was moved “a couple more times . . . behind the [solid] door, ” though he could not recall how many times or the dates. Id. at 16-17.

         The last time Plaintiff was placed in a solid door cell was because of a disciplinary infraction in July 2017, following an altercation with another inmate while in the recreation yard. Id. at 17.[10] Plaintiff remained in the solid door cell for about twenty days, returning to an open bar cell on August 9, 2017. Id. Plaintiff has not been moved back to a solid door cell since. Id.

         Plaintiff had no disciplinary charges lodged against him between 2011, when he was transferred to death row and placed in a solid door cell, and 2016, when he was moved to an open bar cell (the first time). Id. at 43; Palmer Dep. at 11; Def. Motion at 11-12, 18.[11] When Plaintiff filed a grievance asking why a restriction had been imposed against him even though he had not committed a disciplinary infraction, a prison official informed him he was housed in a cell “for heightened security due to [his] . . . crime that sent [him] to death row.” See Pl. Ex. E at 2. Defendant Palmer, on the other hand, offered a different explanation for Plaintiff's cell assignment, maintaining the cell assignment was not related to Plaintiff's conviction. Palmer Dep. at 14.

         Defendant Palmer testified Plaintiff was placed on a “heightened level of security” because he had a “propensity for . . . violence” as demonstrated by his 1994 conviction (for which he received a life sentence) and the 2011 murder conviction. Id. at 12, 16. Defendant Palmer explained, “from a behavioral risk assessment standpoint [Plaintiff had] demonstrated a pattern of violence towards others.” Id. at 16. According to Defendant Palmer, Plaintiff had to regain the trust of administrators to be moved to an open bar cell. Id. at 17. However, Defendant Palmer also stated, “[Plaintiff] committed one of the most heinous crimes that you can commit inside of a prison, and that is murder on a female correctional officers.” Id. at 12.

         Plaintiff offers the affidavit of Dr. Michael S. Maher, who is a “board certified psychiatrist specializing in general and forensic psychiatry” and evaluates inmates in FDOC facilities. Maher Aff. ¶¶ 2, 3. Dr. Maher avers Plaintiff was “confined in a heightened security, disciplinary-type cell with limited human interaction, except for prison officials, for over five (5) years and intermittently since then.” Id. ¶ 4. According to Dr. Maher, the conditions of Plaintiff's confinement, with sporadic out-of-cell recreation and limited contact with others, can have “a profoundly negative impact on [a] prisoner's mental health - due to lack of outside human contact and interaction - and poses a significant risk of serious harm to [an inmate's] well-being.” Id. ¶ 5.

         Plaintiff testified he feels physically better when he is in an open bar cell as opposed to a solid door cell. Pl. Dep. at 13. He avers the conditions in a solid door cell are similar to those of “solitary confinement in that it severely restricts [his] ability to communicate with other human beings.” Pl. Dec. ¶ 6.

         B. Visitation Privileges

         According to Defendant Palmer, when Plaintiff was sentenced to death row in 2011, his privileges should have “automatically reverted to contact visitation.” Palmer Dep. at 25-26. Plaintiff testified he indeed had contact visitation when he was first sent to death row in 2011. Pl. Dep. at 5-6. However, in early 2013, Defendant Palmer learned Plaintiff had contact visitation, which he thought was an error. Palmer Dep. at 26. As such, Defendant Palmer changed Plaintiff's visitation privileges to non-contact. Id. See also Pl. Dep. at 9. Defendant Palmer believed, based on the nature of Plaintiff's offense (the murder) and his “pattern of behavior, ” the Institution Classification Team (ICT) should have placed Plaintiff on non-contact visitation status when Plaintiff initially was sent to death row. Id.

         Defendant Palmer testified Plaintiff had a violent history and a “pattern of behavior, ” and Palmer “did [not] trust [Plaintiff] when [Palmer] was off at night or on weekends.” Id. at 26-27. According to Defendant Palmer, a “behavioral risk assessment would say that [Plaintiff] was at risk for . . . repeat behavior.” Id. at 28-29.[12] Defendant Palmer said Plaintiff is different from other inmates on death row, though he did not explain how. Id. at 33.

         Plaintiff testified Defendant Palmer told him he was being denied contact visitation because of Plaintiff's “actions, ” for which Plaintiff was “warned that [he] would suffer the consequences.” Pl. Dep. at 49. Plaintiff did not know what “actions” Defendant Palmer was referring to, though he assumed it was his murder conviction. Id.; see also Pl. Dec. ¶23. Plaintiff also testified Defendant Maddox stated Defendant Palmer changed Plaintiff's visitation status “due to [his] conviction.” Pl. Dep. at 11.

         Plaintiff has not had a visitor since 2006. Pl. Dep. at 6. However, in 2013, two people tried to visit him but were prevented from doing so.[13] Id. at 53, 56.

         C. Recreation Privileges

         According to Plaintiff, inmates on death row have two kinds of outdoor recreation: communal recreation and cage (solo) recreation. Pl. Dep. at 23. See also Pl. Dec. ¶ 7. Defendant Palmer testified death row inmates “automatically” have communal, outdoor recreation unless the ICT imposes a restriction. Palmer Dep. at 25-26. Inmates with communal recreation privileges can interact with other inmates and play team sports such as basketball or volleyball. Pl. Dep. at 28. Inmates in communal recreation also have access to a water fountain and a kiosk machine (to email family members). Id. at 33, 34.

         Inmates assigned to solo recreation, however, are restricted to a cage that roughly measures ten-feet tall by twelve to fifteen-feet wide by twenty-feet long. Pl. Dep. at 30; Pl. Dec. ¶8; Palmer Dep. at 48. When confined to cage recreation, inmates are not permitted to talk to others (even though they can see and hear inmates exercising in the communal area), are not permitted to bring anything with them, and have no access to water or the kiosk machine. Pl. Dep. at 29-30, 33, 34.[14] Defendant Palmer, however, testified water is provided for inmates exercising in the cage. Palmer Dep. at 50.

         When Plaintiff was sentenced to death row in 2011, he was not permitted to enjoy communal recreation. Rather, he was automatically assigned to cage recreation. Pl. Dep. at 5-6, 23. Defendant Gay testified she understood Plaintiff's recreation privileges were restricted because of “the murder for which he was convicted.” Gay Dep. at 53. On March 31, 2013, Plaintiff submitted an informal grievance inquiring about his recreation status, saying he was assigned to the “cages that are used for disciplinary purposes.” See Def. Ex. G at 2. Defendant Maddox responded to the grievance, informing Plaintiff his outdoor recreation status complies with Florida Administrative Code rule 33-601.830(j)3. Id.

         The first time Plaintiff received communal recreation was when he was moved from the solid door cell to an open bar cell in July 2016, but each time he subsequently was moved back to a solid door cell, ...

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