United States District Court, D. South Dakota
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
KAREN E. SCHREIER, District Judge.
Plaintiff, Shane Johnson, is an inmate on parole from the South Dakota State Penitentiary (SDSP) in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Johnson filed a pro se civil rights lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and requested leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Docket 1, 3. Johnson alleged that defendants failed to protect him from substantial risks of serious harm in violation of the Eighth Amendment and he was denied access to the courts. Docket 1. Additionally, Johnson moved the court to appoint him counsel. Id. On March 21, 2014, the court granted Johnson leave to proceed in forma pauperis and dismissed his complaint in part. Docket 7. Specifically, the court determined Johnson had pleaded facts sufficient to support his Eighth Amendment failure to protect claim, but dismissed his access to courts claim. Id. The court also denied his request for the appointment of counsel. Id.
On May 2, 2014, defendants filed an answer to Johnson's complaint, denying all claims against them and asserting a number of affirmative defenses. Docket 15. Pending before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment, which was filed on August 25, 2014. Docket 19. Johnson has not responded to the motion, and the time for a response has passed. The court grants defendants' motion for summary judgment.
According to defendants' statement of undisputed material facts, to which Johnson has not objected:
Johnson is an inmate in the custody of the South Dakota Department of Corrections (SDDOC). Docket 1. He was incarcerated at the SDSP in 2006, but was released on parole on or about February 28, 2014. Docket 21 at ¶ 1. Defendant Al Madsen is an employee of the SDDOC and has served as a Unit Manager of the SDSP since 2002. Id. at ¶ 2. Defendant Madsen served as the Unit Manager of the North/South unit of the SDSP in June 2012, which is the unit where Johnson was housed. Id. Defendant Hope Johnson is also an employee of the SDDOC and has, since on or about July 1, 2012, served as the Corrections Program and Contracts Manager. Id. at ¶ 3. In her position, defendant Johnson also serves as the Administrative Remedy Coordinator at the SDSP. Id. Defendant Darin Young is employed by the SDDOC and has served as warden of the SDSP since May 24, 2013. Id. at ¶ 4.
In order to determine suitable housing arrangements for inmates at the SDSP, prison staff rely on SDDOC Policy 1.4.B.3., referred to as the "Adult Internal Management System" (AIMS). Id. at ¶ 10; Docket 20-1 at ¶ 5, Docket 20-2 at ¶ 5, Docket 20-3 at ¶ 5. The policy states that "[t]he [AIMS] is designed to identify male inmates based on their life history and observed behavior while incarcerated and separate them into homogenous living groups as an effective management tool to reduce tension, violence and disruptive behavior." Docket 20 at ¶ 10; Docket 20-9 at 1. Thus, institutions such as the SDSP "will utilize the AIMS classification procedures for male inmates in general population housing assignment as well as male inmates in segregation and specialized populations[.]" Docket 20 at ¶ 10, Docket 20-9 at 1. Additionally, prison staff rely on SDDOC Policy 1.4.B.16, referred to as "PREA Institutional Risk Screens." Docket 20 at ¶ 11; Docket 20-10 at 1. The policy states that "[t]he PREA Risk Screen score will be utilized for assigning cells, rooms and beds for inmates at all adult DOC facilities" and "[i]nmates will be assigned a cell (housing assignment) based in part on their assigned initial PREA Risk Screen score." Docket 20 at ¶ 11; Docket 10-10 at 1, 4. Johnson and Benjamin Donahue, another inmate at the SDSP, were determined to be compatible for housing purposes based on their AIMS group designation and PREA Risk Screen scores. Docket 20 at ¶ 13. Prior to their placement as cellmates, Johnson and Donahue lived near one another on the same prison tier without issue or complaint. Id. at ¶ 15; Docket 20-1 at ¶ 10.
Pursuant to SDDOC Policy 1.4.B.3, prisoners may also request to "be placed in an alternative housing unit other than what their designated AIMS code indicates based on recommendations from DOC staff." Docket 21 at ¶ 17; Docket 20-9 at 2. The policy's stated purpose for alternative housing placement is "the safety and security of inmates and their housing units." Docket 20-9 at 2. Staff must complete an Alternative AIMS Housing Placement form and seek the approval of a Unit Manager, Deputy Warden, and Warden. Id.
Donahue was temporarily placed in a special housing unit (SHU) on September 24, 2013, following an argument with a staff member wherein Donahue refused to return to his cell. Docket 21 at ¶ 39; Docket 20-35 at 2; Docket 20-1 at ¶ 24. Donahue remained in the SHU until September 30, 2013, when he was reassigned to a different cell in another part of the SDSP. Docket 21 at ¶ 41; Docket 20-35 at 2; Docket 20-1 at ¶ 28. That same day, an altercation between Donahue and Johnson broke out in the "South Flag East Hall" portion of the SDSP because Donahue suspected Johnson of taking his personal property. Docket 21 at ¶ 42; Docket 20-36 at 2.
According to prison staff, neither Johnson nor Donahue made a request for alternative housing while they were cellmates. Docket 21 at ¶¶ 20, 23; Docket 20-1 at ¶¶ 14, 17; Docket 20-2 at ¶ 13; Docket 20-6 at ¶ 13. Prior to September 30, 2013, there are no records of any altercations between Johnson and Donahue, nor had any prisoners reported any such incidents to prison staff. Docket 21 at ¶¶ 23-27; Docket 20-1 at ¶¶ 17-19; Docket 20-2 at ¶¶ 13-15; Docket 20-4 at ¶¶ 3-4; Docket 20-6 at ¶¶ 13-15. Johnson did not complain to prison staff or request to be placed in protective custody due to concerns for his safety. Docket 21 at ¶ 33; Docket 20-1 at ¶ 18, Docket 20-2 at ¶ 14, Docket 20-6 at ¶ 14. Additionally, medical personnel had not treated Johnson as a result of any altercation between the two inmates prior to September 30, 2013. Docket 21 at ¶¶ 29-32; Docket 20-3 at ¶¶ 5-8; Docket 20-31.
"Summary judgment is appropriate when the evidence, viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Clark v. Kellogg, Co., 205 F.3d 1079, 1082 (8th Cir. 2000); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "Once the motion for summary judgment is made and supported, it places an affirmative burden on the non-moving party to go beyond the pleadings and by affidavit or otherwise designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Commercial Union Ins. Co. v. Schmidt, 967 F.2d 270, 271 (8th Cir. 1992) (internal quotations and citations omitted). "Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Although "the court is required to... give [the nonmoving] party the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts, " Vette Co. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 612 F.2d 1076, 1077 (8th Cir. 1980), the nonmoving party may not "rest upon mere denials or allegations." Forrest v. Kraft Foods, Inc., 285 F.3d 688, 691 (8th Cir. 2002). Instead, the nonmoving party must "set forth specific facts sufficient to raise a genuine issue for trial." Id.
Prisoners who proceed pro se are entitled to the benefit of liberal construction at the pleading stage. Quam v. Minnehaha Cnty. Jail, 821 F.2d 522, 522 (8th Cir. 1987). Nonetheless, the summary judgment standard set forth in Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure remains applicable to prisoners proceeding pro se. Id. The district court is not required to "plumb the record in order to find a genuine issue of material fact." Barge v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 87 F.3d 256, 260 (8th Cir. 1996). Moreover, the court is not "required to speculate on which portion of the record the nonmoving party relies, nor is it obligated to wade through and search the entire record for some specific facts that might support the nonmoving party's claim." Id. Courts must remain sensitive, however, "to the special problems faced by prisoners attempting to proceed pro se in ...