511 F.3d 826 (8th Cir. 2008), 06-3450, Hartsfield v. Nichols

Docket Nº:06-3450.
Citation:511 F.3d 826
Party Name:Napoleon HARTSFIELD, Appellant, v. Deborah NICHOLS; Ken Burger, Warden at Iowa State Penitentiary; Ronald G. Welder, Executive Officer at Iowa State Penitentiary; Travis Lozano, Appellees.
Case Date:January 08, 2008
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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511 F.3d 826 (8th Cir. 2008)

Napoleon HARTSFIELD, Appellant,

v.

Deborah NICHOLS; Ken Burger, Warden at Iowa State Penitentiary; Ronald G. Welder, Executive Officer at Iowa State Penitentiary; Travis Lozano, Appellees.

No. 06-3450.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit.

January 8, 2008

Submitted: Oct. 19, 2007.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.

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Donna R. Miller, argued, Des Moines, IA, Nicholas J. Mauro, on the brief, Des Moines, IA, for Appellant.

Kristin W. Ensign, Assistant Attorney General, argued, Des Moines, IA, for Appellee.

Before RILEY, MELLOY, and COLLOTON, Circuit Judges.

RILEY, Circuit Judge.

In a prior retaliation action, Napoleon Hartsfield (Hartsfield), a prisoner in the Iowa State Penitentiary, successfully obtained a court order compelling the Iowa Department of Correction (IDC) not to destroy some of his legal papers, and to provide him access to the materials. Immediately after Hartsfield obtained this order, IDC correctional officers Deborah Nichols (Officer Nichols) and Travis Lozano (Officer Lozano) submitted separate disciplinary reports against Hartsfield. Hartsfield was found guilty of the violations in prison disciplinary hearings, which resulted in detention and loss of earned time. Hartsfield filed this suit, claiming these disciplinary actions constituted retaliation for having successfully obtained the prior court order. Hartsfield also claimed violations of his right to access the courts. Upon initial review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

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, the district court1 determined Hartsfield alleged no injuries sufficient to maintain the access to the courts claim. The district court also granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on the retaliation claim, finding the disciplinary actions were supported by "some evidence" and the claim was, therefore, barred. Both claims were dismissed, and Hartsfield challenges both dismissals on appeal. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

After Hartsfield filed a retaliation claim against the IDC warden, the district court2 considered Hartsfield's motion for an emergency temporary restraining order preventing IDC officials from destroying some of his legal documents. The district court construed the motion as one for preliminary relief. On October 18, 2004, the court granted Hartsfield's motion, and ordered the IDC to file a report with the court after allowing Hartsfield to sort through his papers.3

The following day, Officer Nichols filed a disciplinary notice against Hartsfield, charging him with (1) disobeying a lawful order; (2) verbal abuse; and (3) disruptive conduct. The report alleged Hartsfield had used loud and inappropriate language, and "this behavior had been noted on numerous other days," and Hartsfield, nineteen days before, was advised of a "final warning." Hartsfield denied the allegations, and claimed this was a retaliatory action against him because he filed the request for relief in federal court. Hartsfield claims on October 19, 2004, Officer Nichols told Hartsfield, "Hartsfield your lawsuit means nothing, nor do your injunction [sic] you still won't be receiving your legal property I'll just write you a report." Hartsfield further stated he could not call any witnesses, because the report against him was so vague he could not determine toward which inmates he was accused of directing profanities. Considering only the written report and Hartsfield's written denial, an independent hearing officer found Hartsfield guilty of the violations, and assessed thirty days disciplinary detention, and sixteen days loss of earned time. Hartsfield appealed, and the ruling was affirmed.

In a separate incident, on November 17, 2004, Officer Lozano filed a disciplinary report against Hartsfield, charging him with assault, threats/intimidation, verbal abuse and disruptive conduct. Officer Lozano, who was passing out books, alleged Hartsfield said to him, "you won't be walking by my cell playing games much longer." Officer Lozano further stated he asked Hartsfield if that should be taken as a threat, and Hartsfield replied, "write it up however you want." Hartsfield filed a written statement denying the charge. Hartsfield contended the statement was taken out of context and he actually said, "you won't be walking by my cell playing games much longer cause I'm going to file a grievance against you and file suit for discrimination." Hartsfield admitted, when asked if this was a threat, he stated, "write it up however you want." An independent hearing officer reviewed the written report and response and heard testimony from Hartsfield. The hearing officer

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found Hartsfield guilty of the rules violations, and sanctioned him to thirty days disciplinary detention and a loss of sixteen days earned time. Hartsfield appealed this ruling, and the ruling was affirmed.

Hartsfield filed a lawsuit against Officer Nichols and Officer Lozano, accusing them of retaliatory conduct. Hartsfield also alleged the IDC officials intentionally denied him access to the courts by denying him access to law books within the law library, and adequate legal assistance from a prison attorney.

On January 18, 2005, the district court handed down an initial review order, finding Hartsfield's retaliation claim was not frivolous, and allowing the claim to proceed. The court concluded Hartsfield alleged no injury sufficient to maintain the access to the courts claim. The court later granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the retaliation claim. Hartsfield appeals both determinations.

II. DISCUSSION

We review the grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing the record most favorably to the non-moving party. See Tipler v. Douglas County, 482 F.3d 1023, 1025 (8th Cir. 2007). Summary judgment is appropriate if the record shows "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Knowles v. Citicorp Mortgage, Inc., 142 F.3d 1082, 1085 (8th Cir. 1998).

A. Retaliation

An inmate may maintain a cause of action for retaliatory discipline under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 where a prison official files disciplinary charges in retaliation for an inmate's exercise of constitutional rights. See Sprouse v. Babcock, 870 F.2d 450, 452 (8th Cir. 1989). However, claims of retaliation fail if the alleged retaliatory conduct violations were issued for the actual violation of a prison rule. See Orebaugh v. Caspari, 910 F.2d 526, 528 (8th Cir. 1990). Thus, a defendant may successfully defend a retaliatory discipline claim by showing "some evidence" the inmate actually committed a rule violation. See Goff v. Burton, 7 F.3d 734, 738-39 (8th Cir. 1993).

Based on these principles, the district court set forth to determine whether the sanctions Hartsfield received were valid. The district court explained, according to established law, prison disciplinary violations are valid when they are supported by "some evidence." Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Hartsfield, the court determined Officer Nichols said "Hartsfield, your lawsuits mean nothing." Nevertheless, the district court found, because there was "some evidence" supporting the validity of the disciplinary action, no retaliation claim could be maintained.

On appeal, Hartsfield does not dispute his claim would be foreclosed if the disciplinary action was supported by "some evidence." Indeed, this standard seems well settled, Goff, 7 F.3d at 738-39, and without a challenge by one of the parties, we will not address the standard further here.

Hartsfield argues legally sufficient evidence was not present to constitute "some evidence" he committed the charged violations. Hartsfield claims the only evidence available was the defendants' uncorroborated allegations as set forth in their disciplinary reports. Hartsfield contends uncorroborated allegations of a correctional officer are insufficient to satisfy the "some evidence" standard because "[a] contrary holding would essentially preclude any inmate from ever bringing a retaliation claim." This argument first appears

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well taken. After all, if Hartsfield is precluded from maintaining suit, correctional officers would be nearly free to retaliate against prisoners for exercising constitutional rights, so long as the officers write up a report directly maintaining the prisoner violated a valid prison rule, and a hearing officer accepts the officer's view of the matter over that of the prisoner.

However, Hartsfield is incorrect such a holding would automatically "preclude any inmate from ever bringing a retaliation claim." The Supreme Court has outlined procedures correctional facilities must follow to conduct an impartial due process...

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