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Ruffin v. Fitzpatrick

United States District Court, D. Maine

May 25, 2016

JOSPEH FITZPATRICK, et al., Defendants


          John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge

         In this action, Plaintiff Daniel Oneil Ruffin, an inmate at the Maine State Prison, alleges Defendants violated his constitutional rights. In particular, Plaintiff contends Defendants discriminated against him on the basis of race in connection with disciplinary charges and retaliated against him when he engaged in conduct protected by the First Amendment.

         The matter is before the Court on Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 30.) Plaintiff opposes the motion. (Plaintiff’s Opposition, ECF No. 33.) Following a review of the pleadings and the summary judgment filings, and after consideration of the parties’ arguments, I recommend the Court grant Defendants’ motion.

         Summary Judgment Record

         At summary judgment, the Court ordinarily considers only the facts included in the parties’ statements of material facts, which statements must be supported by citations to evidence of record. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) and District of Maine Local Rule 56(b) - (d) require the specific citation to record evidence. In addition, Local Rule 56 establishes the manner by which parties must present their factual statements and the evidence on which the statements depend. A party seeking summary judgment thus must file, in addition to its summary judgment motion, a supporting statement of material facts setting forth each fact in a separately numbered paragraph, with each factual statement followed by a citation to evidence of record that supports the factual statement. D. Me. Loc. R. 56(b), (f).

         A party seeking to oppose a properly filed and supported motion for summary judgment must file an opposing statement of material facts that admits, denies, or qualifies the factual statements made by the moving party. D. Me. Loc. R. 56(c). Unless a statement is admitted, the opposing party must provide a citation to evidence of record that supports the opposing statement. Id. If a party fails to do so, the moving party’s factual statements “shall be deemed admitted.” D. Me. Loc. R. 56(f). Moreover, pursuant to Local Rule 7(b), parties are expected to file an objection to a motion if they contest the motion, and unless they do so are “deemed to have waived objection.”

         The Court, however, “may not automatically grant a motion for summary judgment simply because the opposing party failed to comply with a local rule requiring a response within a certain number of days.” NEPSK, Inc. v. Town of Houlton, 283 F.3d 1, 7 - 8 (1st Cir. 2002). Instead, the Court must assess whether the movant has shown “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). In the context of summary judgment, this Court has observed that a prisoner’s nonconforming summary judgment submission should be reviewed by the Court and that the facts set forth in a verified complaint or prisoner affidavit should be considered. Clarke v. Blais, 473 F.Supp.2d 124, 128 (D. Me. 2007). In this case, therefore, the summary judgment record consists of the Local Rule 56 record and Plaintiff’s sworn statements of record.


         Plaintiff Daniel Ruffin is a prisoner currently incarcerated at the Maine State Prison (MSP). (Defendants’ Statement of Material Facts (DSMF) ¶ 1, ECF. No. 31.) In 2014, Plaintiff was incarcerated at the Bolduc Correctional Facility (BCF), a minimum custody facility. (Id. ¶ 2.) BCF is an unfenced facility, and the prisoners at BCF are in the least restrictive custody level of the Department of Corrections and are afforded the greatest number of privileges. To maintain minimum custody, prisoners at BCF are expected to obey Department rules and policies and to avoid disciplinary write-ups. (Id. ¶ 3.)

         On April 2, 2014, Plaintiff was written up for Trafficking, a Class A disciplinary violation. The process began when Plaintiff was subjected to a drug test based on a note from another prisoner stating that Plaintiff was using drugs. Plaintiff tested positive for buprenorphine (Suboxone). (Id. ¶ 5.) Defendant Russel Worcester, assistant director of BCF, conducted a disciplinary hearing, at which hearing Plaintiff admitted the violation. (Id. ¶ 6.)

         On July 8, 2014, Officer Clayton Knight conducted a search of the cell shared by Plaintiff and three other inmates. When Officer Knight stripped the sheets from Plaintiff’s bunk, a cell phone fell to the floor. Upon further inspection, Officer Knight discovered a cell phone charger plugged into a wall outlet next to Plaintiff’s bunk with a cord running under the bunk. (Id. ¶¶ 7 - 8.)

         According to Defendants, Plaintiff was subjected to discipline because the contraband phone was found in his bunk. (Id. ¶ 8.) At the time, Plaintiff, who is African American, had three roommates, one who was African American and two who were white. (Id.) Plaintiff asserts that one of his white roommates admitted that he owned the cell phone. (Ruffin Affidavit ¶ 4, ECF No. 33-1.) Plaintiff maintains that he was not charged in connection with the cell phone until the day after his cellmate was released from the facility, which was 10 days after the incident. (Id. ¶ 5.)

         At Plaintiff’s initial, informal disciplinary proceeding, Defendant Beal presented evidence that a frequently called out-of-state telephone number listed on the cell phone was a telephone number frequently called by Plaintiff using the BCF telephone system. Defendant Beal played a recording made from the facility telephone system of a call Plaintiff made to the number. The recording revealed a conversation between Plaintiff and a female. When he was confronted with this evidence, Plaintiff continued to deny that the cell phone belonged to him. (DSMF ¶ 9.)

         The disciplinary charge proceeded to a formal hearing. Because Defendant Worcester, who usually served as the disciplinary hearing officer, was involved in the interview with Plaintiff, Defendant Beal designated Defendant Sgt. Martin, who was not involved in the disciplinary write-up or investigation, to act as the hearing officer. Defendant Martin dismissed the charge for lack of evidence when another prisoner testified that the cell phone belonged to him.[1] Under the Department’s disciplinary policy, the discipline was expunged from Plaintiff’s record and the disciplinary record was deleted. (Id. ¶ 10.)

         On July 29, 2014, the Department conducted a facility-wide shakedown of BCF. Officer Dube conducted a search of the window frame and sill in Plaintiff’s shared cell and discovered a lighter, a small packet containing three sections of buprenorphine sublingual tape (Suboxone), rolling papers, and a pill. (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff was targeted for discipline because several prisoners, acting as confidential informants, identified Plaintiff as the owner of the contraband. (Id. ΒΆ 12.) Plaintiff contends Defendants never produced for him statements from any inmate who asserted the contraband belonged to Plaintiff, and he ...

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