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Angel v. Cruse

Supreme Court of Nevada

April 3, 2014

RANDALL GEORGE ANGEL, Appellant,
v.
MICHAEL CRUSE, Respondent

Proper person appeal from a district court summary judgment in a civil rights action. First Judicial District Court, Carson City; James Todd Russell, Judge.

Reversed and remanded.

Randall George Angel, Reno, in Proper Person.

Catherine Cortez Masto, Attorney General, and Clark G. Leslie, Senior Deputy Attorney General, Carson City, for Respondent.

BEFORE HARDESTY, PARRAGUIRRE and CHERRY, JJ. Cherry, J. We concur: Hardesty, J., Parraguirre, J.

OPINION

Page 896

CHERRY, J.:

In this appeal, we consider whether the district court erred by granting summary judgment to respondent in a civil rights action alleging retaliation in response to appellant's exercise of his rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Because we conclude that genuine issues

Page 897

of material fact existed with regard to several elements of the retaliation claim, we reverse the summary judgment and remand this matter to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

BACKGROUND

In the district court, proper person appellant Randall George Angel, then an inmate, filed a civil rights complaint against respondent corrections officer Michael Cruse, in his individual capacity only. In the complaint, Angel alleged that Cruse had violated his civil rights by filing a disciplinary charge against him and having him placed in administrative segregation in retaliation for Angel attempting to file a grievance against Cruse. Specifically, Angel asserted that he was filling out a grievance form when Cruse asked him what he was doing. Angel maintains that his response was, " you violated my constitutional right and I'm going to make you pay for it." Cruse then stopped Angel from completing the grievance, handcuffed him, and escorted him to a senior officer's office. According to Angel, he was then placed in administrative segregation and charged with threatening Cruse. The charge was upheld following a disciplinary hearing.

Cruse subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment on Angel's complaint in which he largely did not dispute the sequence of events set forth by Angel. But he asserted that, rather than saying " you violated my constitutional rights and I'm going to make you pay for it," Angel had actually threatened him by saying, " I'll get you, believe me you're going to get yours." Cruse argued that the adverse action taken against Angel following this exchange was carried out in response to this threat and not because Angel was attempting to file a grievance against him. Thus, Cruse contended that the adverse action was taken for a nonretaliatory purpose and that it advanced the legitimate correctional goal of institutional security. Cruse further argued that the adverse action had not chilled Angel's exercise of his First Amendment rights, as demonstrated by the fact that Angel had continued to file grievances related to this and other unrelated 'incidents. Alternatively, Cruse asserted that he was entitled to qualified immunity because he could not have known that the adverse action violated Angel's constitutional rights.

Angel opposed the summary judgment motion, again asserting that Cruse had prevented him from completing the grievance and falsely charged him with making threats in retaliation for his attempt to file the grievance. Angel disputed Cruse's contentions regarding his reason for taking action against Angel, the action's chilling effects, and Cruse's entitlement to qualified immunity. In support of his opposition, Angel submitted an affidavit detailing his version of the events leading up to the adverse action, including his assertion that what he had said to Cruse was, " you violated my constitutional right and I'm going to make you pay for it." He further attested that this statement was not a threat and that Cruse had falsely charged ...


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