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Woods v. Lewis

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division

March 19, 2018

DARRELL WOODS, Plaintiff,
v.
JONATHAN LEWIS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CATHERINE D. PERRY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Missouri state prisoner Darrell Woods brings this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that defendant Jonathan Lewis, a correctional officer at Northeast Correctional Center, violated his Eighth Amendment rights when Lewis watched him in the shower for sexually motivated reasons and blew kisses at him in his cell. Woods also claims that Lewis violated his First Amendment rights when he issued a conduct violation in retaliation for Woods' stated intention to file a complaint.[1] Woods also brings supplemental state law claims of negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Because there are no genuine issues of material fact and the undisputed evidence shows no violation of Woods' constitutional rights, I will grant Lewis's motion for summary judgment on Woods' constitutional claims. I decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over his state law claims.

         Background[2]

         At all times relevant to his complaint, Woods was incarcerated at Northeast Correctional Center (NECC). He currently is incarcerated at Jefferson City Correctional Center.

         In his complaint, Woods claims that on June 24, 2015, Lewis watched him in the shower, which constitutes sexual abuse under prison policy. He also claims that when he told Lewis that he was going to file a complaint against him under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), [3] Lewis issued him a conduct violation. Finally, Woods contends that a week later, Lewis blew kisses to him from outside Woods' cell.

         Woods claims that Lewis's conduct toward him was sexually motivated, and that Lewis issued the conduct violation in retaliation for Woods' threatened complaint. Lewis moves for summary judgment, arguing that the undisputed evidence shows that the conduct alleged by Woods does not rise to the level of constitutional violations. Lewis further argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity on Woods' claims.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         When considering a motion for summary judgment, I must view the facts and inferences from the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). As the moving party, defendant must establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party may not rest on the allegations in his pleadings, but by affidavit or other evidence must set forth specific facts showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). A verified complaint is equivalent to an affidavit for summary judgment purposes. Hanks v. Prachar, 457 F.3d 774, 775 (8th Cir. 2006) (per curiam).

         At the summary judgment stage, courts do not weigh the evidence and decide the truth of the matter, but rather determine if there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. However, summary judgment may be appropriate “[w]hen opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it[.]” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). In such circumstances, the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute will not serve to defeat summary judgment; instead, the factual dispute must be “genuine.” Id.

         In § 1983 actions, qualified immunity shields government officials from suit unless their conduct violated a clearly established right of which a reasonable official would have known. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). “The contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right.” Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987). For a plaintiff to overcome qualified immunity, existing precedent must have placed the constitutional question “‘beyond debate.'” City & Cnty. of S.F., Calif. v. Sheehan, 135 S.Ct. 1765, 1774 (2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 741 (2011)). “When properly applied, [qualified immunity] protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Ashcroft, 563 U.S. at 743 (alteration added) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         The evidence before the Court, including Woods' verified complaint, shows that Lewis's alleged conduct did not amount to constitutional violations, and no genuine issue of material fact exists for trial. For the following reasons, Lewis has shown that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Woods' constitutional claims, and I will grant his motion for summary judgment.

         Evidence Before the Court on the Motion

         In June or July 2015, Lewis was a utility corrections officer at NECC assigned to shower duty. His duties included escorting inmates to the shower and removing their restraints so they could shower. Inmates are allowed ten minutes to shower.[4] Inmates are escorted from the shower when they are observed standing at the shower door.[5]

         On June 24, Lewis escorted Woods to the shower. Lewis believed that Woods exceeded his ten-minute allotment in the shower, so he looked in to check on Woods' well-being and to tell him to finish.[6] Woods told Lewis that he had no business watching him in the shower and told Lewis to leave. Woods also told Lewis that he would be filing a PREA complaint.[7] Lewis said nothing nor made any facial expressions indicating that he looked into the shower for sexual gratification. Nor did Lewis have any physical contact with Woods.[8]

         Under Missouri Department of Corrections' policy, sexual abuse of an offender includes voyeurism by a staff member of an offender for reasons unrelated to official duties.[9]

         When Lewis went to Woods' shower on June 24 to tell him to hurry up, he observed Woods masturbating.[10] Woods denies this conduct.[11] Lewis issued a conduct violation to Woods that same date for sexual misconduct, creating a disturbance, and ...


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