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Martin v. Posey

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

January 10, 2018

CODY POSEY, et al., Defendants.

          George C. Smith, Judge



         Plaintiff, Ronald Martin, a state-court inmate who is proceeding without counsel, brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Woody Coey, Cody Posey, Brent Cruse, Corby Free, Roger Wilson, and Gary Mohr violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. By previous order, this Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims against Corby Free, Roger Wilson, and Gary Mohr. See Martin v. Posey, No. 2:15-cv-2294, 2016 WL 455398 (S.D. Ohio Feb. 5, 2016), adopted and affirmed 2016 WL 770997 (S.D. Ohio Feb. 29, 2016). This matter is now before the Court for consideration of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 85) as to Plaintiff's remaining claims for retaliation and conspiracy against Defendants Coey, Posey, and Cruse. For the reasons that follow, it is RECOMMENDED that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 85) be GRANTED.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff was an inmate at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution (“CCI”) when the October and November 2014 events giving rise to this lawsuit occurred. At that time, Plaintiff was assigned to work in the Ohio Penal Industries (“OPI”) paint shop and was supervised there by Timothy Blakeman. According to Plaintiff's verified Complaint and his Declaration attached to his Memorandum in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, in October 2014, Defendant Posey, a corrections officer, asked him if he knew how to open the lock on Mr. Blakeman's locker. Because this request made Plaintiff uncomfortable, on October 15, 2014, he reported Mr. Posey to Supervisor Randy Dunham. On October 20, 2014, Mr. Blakeman returned to work, learned that his lock was missing, and filed an incident report. Upon questioning by Mr. Blakeman, Plaintiff informed Blakeman of Mr. Posey's request.

         On October 23, 2014, citing information obtained from Plaintiff and another inmate, Mr. Robison, Mr. Blakeman filled out a second incident report. That same day, Plaintiff was handcuffed, called to the Captain's office, and placed in isolation for eight days. On November 3, 2014, Defendant Coey, OPI's Industrial Manager, filed a conduct report against Plaintiff. In the conduct report, Defendant Coey alleged that Plaintiff had made false statements to CCI staff to corroborate false statements by Mr. Robison. The conduct report provides, in relevant part, as follows:

Be advised through an investigation it has been determined that Inmate Martin made false statements to Mr. Blakeman (OPI PWS - Paint Shop) to go along with a story fabricated by Inmate Robison 517-488. Inmate Martin stated to Mr. Blakeman that PWS Posey asked him to pick a lock that was reported as missing form a personal locker in the OPI Paint Shop. Through interviews it was discovered that the lock in question was noticed by staff to be missing from the locker Monday morning of the week that Inmate Martin was stating the incident took place. Each inmate did not give a specific time or date but stated a week time frame instead. Therefore Mr. Posey could not have asked Inmate Martin to pick a lock that was already missing off the locker.

(Conduct Report, ECF No. 85-2.) Plaintiff alleges that this conduct report is false and further states that he did not even know that Mr. Robison had also spoken with Mr. Blakeman. Plaintiff also states that he had told the same story days earlier to Supervisor Dunham. According to Plaintiff, the conduct report was a cover-up for Defendant Posey's criminal activities and filed in retaliation for Plaintiff's attempt to expose those activities.

         On November 4, 2014, Plaintiff reported to Sergeant Parnell for a hearing on and disposition of the conduct report. Plaintiff alleges that Parnell said to him, “personally, I think your [sic] getting screwed, but I have to find you guilty because they want you out of OPI and never allowed through the OPI gate again.” (Compl. 7, ECF No. 37.) According to Plaintiff, Parnell added that he had found Plaintiff guilty because Defendant Coey wanted Plaintiff fired from OPI.

         In Parnell's affidavit, which Defendants attach in support of their Motion for Summary Judgment, he avers that he made no such representation to Plaintiff or any other individual and that he found Plaintiff guilty “[a]fter considering all of the evidence, including the Conduct Report, Incident Report, and witness testimony, ” and that he found Plaintiff was not credible. (Parnell Aff. ¶ 5, ECF No. 85-5.) He noted that Plaintiff could have called witnesses in his defense but did not do so. Parnell further represents that neither Defendant Coey nor anyone else told him to find Plaintiff guilty and that he does not even know Defendant Coey. He also says that he independently decided that the appropriate disposition was changing Plaintiff's job assignment.

         Following this Court's February 29, 2016 Order affirming a February 5, 2016 Report and Recommendation and granting in part and denying in part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, only Mr. Martin's retaliation and related conspiracy claims against Messrs. Coey, Posey, and Cruse remain. The Court has described these claims as follows:

To summarize, Mr. Martin has stated a claim for retaliation based on the following allegations. He provided statements to his supervisor Mr. Blakeman regarding Mr. Posey's alleged criminal activity in connection with Mr. Blakeman's investigation regarding the break-in to his locker. As a result, Mr. Coey prepared a false conduct report against Mr. Martin in conspiracy with Mr. Posey and Mr. Cruse which then caused Mr. Martin to lose his job. Mr. Coey and Mr. Posey conspired to have Mr. Coey write the false conduct report because Mr. Martin had implicated Mr. Posey in Mr. Blakeman's investigation. Further, Mr. Cruse had full knowledge of the false conduct report, was willing to write it himself until he realized he could not do so anonymously, and admittedly worked to cover up Mr. Posey's guilt.
* * *
The defendants recognize Mr. Martin's attempt to set forth a conspiracy claim, but contend that Mr. Martin's allegations are too conclusory to state such a claim under §1983. . . . Here, Mr. Martin has alleged that a single plan existed - a plan to protect Mr. Posey by implicating Mr. Martin as a liar; that Mr. Posey, Mr. Coey, and Mr. Cruse shared in this general objective of protecting Mr. Posey at Mr. Martin's expense; that a false conduct report was written in retaliation for Mr. Martin's exposing Mr. Posey's illegal conduct; and that this retaliation violated Mr. Martin's First Amendment rights.

         Defendants raise several issues in their motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 85.) First, they contend that Mr. Martin failed to exhaust his administrative remedies under the PLRA because he did not appeal his job reclassification in accordance with the Ohio Administrative Code. They next assert that Mr. Martin failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to any claims against Mr. Cruse. Further, as explained in more detail below, they assert that Mr. Martin has failed to establish any of the elements of a retaliation claim. They explain that Mr. Martin's failure to do so also dooms his conspiracy claim. Finally, they contend that they are entitled to qualified immunity because “an inmate has no clearly established constitutional right to fabricate prison staff misconduct and remain free from any consequence of that fabrication.” (Id. at PAGEID #718.) Mr. Martin has filed a lengthy, highly detailed response and a sur-reply. (ECF Nos. 91 and 102.)

         II. The Summary Judgment Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 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). “The moving party has the initial burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact exists, and the court must draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Stansberry v. Air Wisconsin Airlines Corp., 651 F.3d 482, 486 (6th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations omitted); cf. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2) (providing that if a party “fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact” then the Court may “consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion”). The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). “The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Id. at 255 (citation omitted). “The nonmovant must, however, do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, . . . there must be evidence upon which a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party to create a genuine dispute.” Lee v. Metro. Gov't of Nashville & Davidson Cty., 432 Fed.Appx. 435, 441 (6th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) (requiring a party maintaining that a fact is genuinely disputed to “cit[e] to particular parts of materials in the record”), cert. denied, 565 U.S. 1157 (2012). “When a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported and the nonmoving party fails to respond with a showing sufficient to establish an essential element of its case, summary judgment is appropriate.” Stansberry, 651 F.3d at 486 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23).

         III. Analysis

         A. Exhaustion

         Initially, the Court will address the issue of whether Mr. Martin properly exhausted his administrative remedies. In making the argument that he did not, Defendants recognize that, in part, they are not asserting the typical exhaustion defense. That is, they are not framing their exhaustion argument in terms of Mr. Martin's failure to pursue the three-step grievance process set forth in Ohio Administrative Code §5120-9-31. Rather, they contend that the proper administrative procedure applicable to Mr. Martin's claim is found in Ohio Administrative Code §5120-3-06. This provision pertains to appeals of prison job reclassifications. In making this argument, they characterize “the thrust” of Mr. Martin's claim as “that he was wrongly removed from his assignment at OPI as a result of his rule violation.” (ECF No. 85, at PAGEID #709.)

         The Court does not view this as an accurate statement of Mr. Martin's claim. As explained above, Mr. Martin has asserted a retaliation claim. His allegation regarding his job loss is directed to an element of that claim. That is, Mr. Martin's statement of his claim is that he lost his job at OPI, not based on an alleged rule violation, but as a result of Defendants' alleged retaliation for his truthful statements to Mr. Blakeman implicating Mr. Posey. Moreover, as the Court discussed in the context of the motion to dismiss, because prisoners have no protected liberty interest in prison vocational programs, Mr. Martin has no independent due process claim arising from the loss of his prison job. See Newsom v. Norris, 888 F.2d 371, 374 (6th Cir. 1989). Consequently, the Court finds no merit to this aspect of Defendants' exhaustion argument.

         Beyond this, Defendants assert that Mr. Martin has not exhausted his administrative remedies under §5120-9-31 with respect to Mr. Cruse. The Court of Appeals recently ...

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