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Gayler v. High Desert State Prison

United States District Court, D. Nevada

April 4, 2018

BRANDYN GAYLER, Plaintiff,
v.
HIGH DESERT STATE PRISON, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF NO. 110)

          ANDREW P. GORDON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Brandyn Gayler sues James Dzurenda, Brian E. Williams, Jerry Howell, and Jennifer Nash for violating his equal protection rights while incarcerated at High Desert State Prison (HDSP). He alleges that, as a protective segregation (P-Seg) inmate at HDSP, he is not given the same educational, vocational, and employment opportunities as similarly situated inmates at Lovelock Correctional Center (LCC), another Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) prison.[1]

         The defendants move for summary judgment on all of Gayler's claims. I previously granted judgment in the defendants' favor for the claims against them in their individual capacities and on Gayler's demand for monetary damages. Because Gayler voluntarily removed himself from P-Seg status and appeared to have transferred to LCC, I ordered supplemental briefing on whether Gayler's request for injunctive relief is moot. I now grant the remaining portion of the defendants' summary judgment motion because Gayler's requests for injunctive and declaratory relief are moot.

         I. DISCUSSION

         Gayler voluntarily removed himself from P-Seg status on October 25, 2016 so he could participate in LCC's "Structured Living Program" (SLP).[2] SLP is a six-month program that provides "opportunities for inmates to earn Merit Credits, attend classes, programs, education, attain jobs, and participate in physical fitness training."[3] He transferred to LCC in October 2017, was reclassified from close- to medium-custody status, and was placed in general population/SLP housing.[4] The Associate Warden of LCC provided a sworn declaration stating that Gayler is doing well at LCC.[5] She also declared that there is not a reasonable likelihood that Gayler will be removed from LCC and transferred back to HDSP.[6] The defendants contend that Gayler's voluntary waiver of P-Seg status in October 2016 and his transfer to LCC in October 2017 mooted his claims because those claims are based solely on the conditions of confinement in HDSP's P-Seg housing.

         "Mootness is, of course, a threshold jurisdictional issue" that federal courts have an independent obligation to address.[7] Gayler's equal protection claim is moot if "the issues presented are no longer live or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome."[8]There are exceptions to the mootness doctrine. First, I generally should not dismiss a case as moot "if the defendant voluntarily ceases the allegedly improper behavior in response to a suit, but is free to return to it at any time."[9] However, "where there is no reasonable . . . expectation that the alleged violation will recur, and where interim relief or events have completely and irrevocably eradicated the effects of the alleged violation, the case is moot."[10] Second, if the underlying conduct is capable of repetition yet evading review, the case may not be moot. This limited exception applies "when (1) the challenged action is too short in duration to be fully litigated before cessation or expiration, and (2) there is a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party will be subjected to the same action again."[11] If Gayler's equal protection claim is moot and no exception applies, I lack jurisdiction to consider it.[12]

         "When a prisoner is moved from a prison, his action will usually become moot as to the conditions at that particular facility."[13] If a prisoner is no longer subject to the allegedly unconstitutional conditions, he is no longer able to pursue claims for injunctive or declaratory relief.[14] Because Gayler is no longer in HDSP's custody and is no longer housed in P-Seg, he no longer has a legally cognizable interest in his equal protection claim.

         Gayler contends that the capable-of-repetition-yet-evading-review exception applies to his claims.[13] He argues that because SLP is a six-month program, he faces the possibility of being transferred back to HDSP's P-Seg housing after he completes the program.[16] Gayler also notes that LCC is at 193% capacity, and argues that the prison's overcrowding makes it unlikely that he will stay there once his program ends. Gayler argues that HDSP is at 177% capacity and is designed to hold more inmates, so he likely would be transferred there if he is transferred from LCC.[17]

         Gayler's contention that he will be transferred back to HDSP because of LCC's overcrowding is purely speculative. LCC's associate warden has contradicted Gayler's speculation by declaring that inmates are not generally transferred from LCC and, based on Gayler's success at LCC and his current classification level, she has no reason to believe that he will be transferred to HDSP or any other prison. So Gayler cannot demonstrate any reasonable expectation that he will be transferred back to HDSP, and therefore cannot show that the conditions he faced at HDSP are reasonably capable of repetition.

         Further, Gayler does not present any argument or evidence demonstrating that the duration of the challenged action is too short to be litigated before he would be transferred or otherwise removed from HDSP's custody. If Gayler is transferred back to HDSP and voluntarily requests P-Seg housing, there is nothing stopping him from reasserting these claims and fully litigating them. Indeed, the only reason Gayler was removed from HDSP at this time was his request to be transferred. There is no evidence indicating he would have otherwise been moved, and he could have continued to litigate his claim if not for his successful transfer request. Other prisoners in HDSP's P-Seg housing may also assert the same claim raised by Gayler, and would likely have sufficient time to litigate the adequacy of P-Seg's educational, vocational, and employment opportunities.[18] So it cannot be said that these conditions of confinement are of such a limited duration as to evade review. Consequently, Gayler's claims requesting injunctive and declaratory relief regarding the conditions facing him as an HDSP P-Seg inmate are moot. As I have already granted judgment for the defendants on Gayler's claims requesting monetary damages, there is nothing left of this case and it must be closed.

         II. CONCLUSION

         IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the defendants' motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 110) is GRANTED. Gayler's claims for injunctive and declaratory relief are dismissed as moot.

         The clerk of court is directed to enter judgment in favor of defendants James Dzurenda, Brian E. Williams, Jerry Howell, and Jennifer Nash on the claims against them in their individual capacities and on ...


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