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Johnson v. State

United States District Court, D. Nevada

January 10, 2017

STATE OF NEVADA, et al., Defendants.


          Gloria M. Navarro, Chief Judge United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 53), filed by pro se Plaintiff Francis Johnson (“Plaintiff”).[1] Defendants Officer Miguel Flores-Nava, Jennifer Nash, and Sheryl Foster (collectively “Defendants”) filed a Response, (ECF No. 59). Plaintiff did not file a reply, and the deadline to do so has passed.

         Also pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 56). Plaintiff filed a Response (ECF No. 60), and Defendants filed a Reply, (ECF No. 63).[2]For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's Motion is DENIED, and Defendants' Motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of a prisoner's First Amendment retaliation claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (See Screening Order 5:13-19, ECF No. 18). Plaintiff is an inmate in the lawful custody of the Nevada Department of Corrections (“NDOC”). (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. (“Defs.' MSJ”) 2:23-24, ECF No. 56). Plaintiff brings this suit against Defendants for events that took place during Plaintiff's incarceration at High Desert State Prison (“HDSP”). (Am. Compl. at 1, ECF No. 19).[3]

         On February 28, 2013, Officer Miguel Flores-Nava (“Officer Flores-Nava”), an HDSP correctional officer, conducted a search of Plaintiff's cell and confiscated Plaintiff's beard trimmers as unauthorized property. (Ex. I to Defs.' MSJ at 2 (“Disciplinary Records”), ECF No. 56-9). According to Plaintiff, Officer Flores-Nava did this despite being advised by the property room sergeant that the trimmers were part of a property settlement with Plaintiff. (Am. Compl. at 4). Plaintiff also claims that following the search, Officer Flores-Nava told Plaintiff that he intended to file a notice of charges and have Plaintiff transferred to the disciplinary unit, lose his job status, and lose his wages. (Id. at 4-5). Plaintiff contends that he asked Officer Flores-Nava why he was doing this, and Officer Flores-Nava responded that it was because “[Plaintiff] like[d] filing grievances and lawsuits on officers and if [he didn't] like it, [he should] take it up with the disciplinary officer.” (Id. at 5). Officer Flores-Nava then allegedly warned Plaintiff to “stop filing grievances and lawsuits.” (Id.). Although Officer Flores-Nava admits speaking with Plaintiff following the search, Officer Flores-Nava denies making these statements. (See Flores-Nava Decl. ¶¶ 8-10, Ex. C to Defs.' MSJ, ECF No. 56-3). Subsequently, Officer Flores-Nava filed a notice of charges for possession of unauthorized property against Plaintiff. (Disciplinary Records at 2). Plaintiff was served with this notice on March 5, 2013. (Id.).

         On the same day, Plaintiff alleges he met with a caseworker who informed Plaintiff that he was terminated from his work assignment in the infirmary and would consequently be demoted from a Level I designation and transferred to a Level II housing unit. (Ex. L to Defs.' MSJ (“Grievance Issue 58154”) at 5, ECF No. 56-12); (see also Ex. H to Defs.' MSJ, ECF No. 56-8) (requiring Level I inmates to be discipline free for ninety-days and to maintain a work assignment in order to remain at Level I). On March 11, 2013, Plaintiff was reassigned to a Level II housing unit. (See Ex. A. to Defs.' MSJ, ECF No. 56-1); (see also Nash Decl. ¶ 6, Ex. D to Defs.' MSJ, ECF No. 56-4).

         On April 2, 2013, Plaintiff appeared at a disciplinary hearing regarding Officer Flores-Nava's notice of charges. (Disciplinary Records at 4). The presiding hearing officer confirmed that the trimmers were Plaintiff's property and dismissed the charges against Plaintiff. (See Id. at 4-6); (see also Grievance Issue 58154 at 17, 30-31).

         According to Plaintiff, on April 10, 2013, he informed Trinity Pharris (“Pharris”), an HDSP caseworker, that the notice of charges had been dismissed and requested reinstatement back to his work assignment. (Am. Compl. at 6). Plaintiff further claims that on April 17, 2013, Pharris told Plaintiff that she planned to find him the “worst possible job assignment.” (Id. at 7). Plaintiff alleges that when he told Pharris she did not have the authority to change his classification, Pharris replied: “[Y]ou are right . . . but since you like filing lawsuits and grievances I can transfer you to [Level III, the disciplinary unit, ] and that will change your classification.” (Id.). Plaintiff was subsequently transferred to the disciplinary unit. (Id.).[4]

         As a result of these events, Plaintiff filed two separate grievance issues: Grievance Issue 2006-29-60267 (“Grievance Issue 60267”) and Grievance Issue 58154. (See Ex. M to Defs.' MSJ, ECF No. 56-13).

         On June 26, 2014, Plaintiff filed this action in state court. (Compl., Ex. A to Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1-2). Defendants NDOC and Officer Flores-Nava subsequently removed the action to this Court on September 3, 2014. (Not. of Removal, ECF No. 1). On December 22, 2014, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint adding Pharris, [5] Associate Warden Jennifer Nash (“Nash”), and Deputy Director Sheryl Foster (“Foster”) as defendants.[6] (Am. Compl. at 1-3). Plaintiff claims that Nash is liable for her subordinates' actions because she failed to rectify their actions after Plaintiff filed an informal grievance with her about this issue. (Id. at 9). Plaintiff similarly alleges that Foster is liable because she failed to rectify Plaintiff's situation after Plaintiff filed a first level grievance with her. (Id. at 11). Based on these allegations, Plaintiff alleges First Amendment retaliation against all defendants. (Id. at 11, 14). In the instant Motion, (ECF No. 56), Defendants Officer Flores-Nava, Nash, and Foster seek summary judgment on this claim.


         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for summary adjudication when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show 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). Material facts are those that may affect the outcome of the case. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Id. “Summary judgment is inappropriate if reasonable jurors, drawing all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor.” Diaz v. Eagle Produce Ltd. P'ship, 521 F.3d 1201, 1207 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing United States v. Shumway, 199 F.3d 1093, 1103-04 (9th Cir. 1999)). A principal purpose of summary judgment is “to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986).

         In determining summary judgment, a court applies a burden-shifting analysis. “When the party moving for summary judgment would bear the burden of proof at trial, it must come forward with evidence which would entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial. In such a case, the moving party has the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of fact on each issue material to its case.” C.A.R. Transp. Brokerage Co. v. Darden Rests., Inc., 213 F.3d 474, 480 (9th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted). In contrast, when the nonmoving party bears the burden of proving the claim or defense, the moving party can meet its burden in two ways: (1) by presenting evidence to negate an essential element of the nonmoving party's case; or (2) by demonstrating that the nonmoving party failed to make a showing sufficient to establish an element essential to that party's case on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. ...

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