60 F.3d 1161 (5th Cir. 1995), 94-30040, Woods v. Smith

Docket Nº94-30040.
Citation60 F.3d 1161
Party NameClaude E. WOODS, Plaintiff-Appellee, Cross-Appellant, v. Larry SMITH, et al., Defendants-Appellants, Cross-Appellees.
Case DateAugust 15, 1995
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Page 1161

60 F.3d 1161 (5th Cir. 1995)

Claude E. WOODS, Plaintiff-Appellee, Cross-Appellant,

v.

Larry SMITH, et al., Defendants-Appellants, Cross-Appellees.

No. 94-30040.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

August 15, 1995

Page 1162

Andre Charles Castaing, Asst. Atty. Gen., Richard P. Ieyoub, Atty. Gen., Louisiana Dept. of Justice, Litigation Div., Baton Rouge, LA, for appellant.

Prof. Henry D. Gabriel, (Court-appointed), Loyola Law School, New Orleans, LA, for appellee.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.

Before POLITZ, Chief Judge, HIGGINBOTHAM and DeMOSS, Circuit Judges.

POLITZ, Chief Judge:

On appeal is the partial grant of summary judgment in the civil rights action by Claude E. Woods, an inmate at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, against various corrections officials. Two officers appeal the denial of summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity; two officers appeal the court's refusal to dismiss certain state law claims; Woods cross appeals the adverse summary judgment rulings. For the reasons assigned we affirm that part of the trial court's rulings over which we have interlocutory appellate jurisdiction and dismiss the appeals for that part of the rulings over which we lack that jurisdiction.

Background

Woods alleges that on January 14, 1990 corrections officer Sergeant Leon Daigrepont warned him that if he did not become an informant bad things would happen to him, including transfer to a less desirable part of

Page 1163

the prison. On that day Woods reported the alleged threat by letter addressed to United States District Judge Frank J. Polozola, who was presiding over pending prison litigation, and to Larry Smith, the Warden of Angola. 1 Three days later Woods handed a copy of the letter to Lieutenant Frank Palermo with the request that he pass the copy to the shift supervisor. A few hours later Palermo informed Woods of the issuance of a disciplinary charge for defiance and that he would be placed in administrative lockdown. 2 The defiance was defined by Palermo as Woods' use of the referenced letter "to coerce [Palermo] into preventing Sgt. L. Daigrepont from doing his job."

Later that day Woods received a second disciplinary charge, this one signed by Sergeant John Preston, accusing Woods of refusing verbal orders to pack his belongings for the transfer to administrative segregation. Woods asserts that Captain Martin Regel and Lieutenant Palermo handed him the second disciplinary report while taunting him as he packed his bags. Woods alleges that Regel stated: "I know you know that we Security people stick together like you prisoners, didn't Sergeant Daigrepont tell you he gets what he wants?"; and Palermo added "This will make sure we don't see you around here for awhile." Woods was then removed to administrative lockdown.

Woods pled not guilty to both disciplinary charges. Following a hearing, the prison Disciplinary Board found him guilty and he was sentenced to four weeks loss of canteen, ten days isolation, and a change in quarters. Woods' efforts to pursue an administrative appeal foundered. 3

In April 1990 Woods filed the instant pro se complaint, invoking 42 U.S.C. Secs. 1983, 1985(3), and 1986, against Smith, Palermo, Daigrepont, and Regel, 4 alleging inter alia, that the defendants conspired to issue false disciplinary reports in retaliation for his exercise of the constitutional right of access to the courts. Woods claimed that the acts directed toward him violated state law, as well as the first and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution. He amended his complaint to add as defendants Preston, Captain Mike Roberts, Harvey Grimmer, and Major Leslie Dupont. He sought monetary, declaratory, and injunctive relief.

The district court granted summary judgment on several of Woods' claims, including all made against the defendants in their official capacities. Finding the existence of genuine issues of material fact regarding whether Preston and Palermo issued the disciplinary reports for a retaliatory purpose, the court denied their motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. Finally, the court declined to dismiss the remaining state law claims against Daigrepont, Regel, Palermo, Preston, Grimmer, and Roberts. The remaining defendants timely appealed and Woods cross-appealed. 5

Analysis

Preston and Palermo appeal the trial court's refusal to grant summary judgment on their qualified immunity defense, challenging the court's conclusions regarding the legal elements of the retaliation claim. 6

Page 1164

Faced with the purely legal question whether Woods' complaint stated a constitutional cause of action, we have jurisdiction to review this interlocutory judgment. 7 Woods contests our appellate jurisdiction, pointing to the trial court's finding of disputed issues of material fact. Collateral review would nonetheless be appropriate if we accept the defendants' contention that the disputed facts are not material to the essential issue of qualified immunity. 8

We review de novo the district court's denial of a summary judgment motion. Movants may prevail only if they have demonstrated that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that they are entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. 9 The defense of qualified immunity protects a public official from both litigation and liability, absent a showing that the official violated a constitutional right that was clearly established at the time of the incident. 10 In assessing the defense we must first inquire whether the plaintiff has asserted the violation of a clearly established constitutional right. If that inquiry is answered in the affirmative, we then determine whether the defendant's conduct was objectively reasonable in light of the established law. 11

Woods avers that Palermo and Preston filed the two disciplinary reports in retaliation for his letter to Judge Polozola and Warden Smith. He maintains that these actions violated his right to be free from retaliation for the exercise of his first amendment right of access to the courts. The law of this circuit is clearly established, and was so in 1990 when the instant disciplinary charges issued, that a prison official may not retaliate against or harass an inmate for exercising the right of access to the courts, or for complaining to a supervisor about a guard's misconduct. 12 The defendants candidly concede that this is a claim of constitutional proportions which is actionable under section 1983, but advance the proposition that Woods may not allege such a claim unless he first establishes that the underlying disciplinary proceedings were ultimately terminated in his favor.

We are not persuaded. Under this circuit's controlling precedents, favorable termination is not a requisite of a retaliatory interference claim. 13 Defendants rely heavily on an analogy with a section 1983 malicious prosecution claim where we have held favorable termination to be an element of the offense. 14 The two causes of action, however, have an essential difference. As we explained in Brummett, "[t]he essence of a malicious prosecution claim is a groundless

Page 1165

prosecution." 15 Indeed, the focus of that action is the ultimate merit of the underlying proceeding. The retaliation claim, on the other hand, focuses on the interference, asking only whether there has been an obstruction of the exercise of a constitutional right. 16

Further, in a malicious prosecution claim, resolution of the underlying proceedings typically is within the province of a judge, jury, or senior prosecutor. This differs sharply from the procedures at bar where the disciplinary proceedings are conducted solely by corrections officials. Mindful of that critical difference, we are not prepared to require a favorable termination before examining an otherwise legitimate constitutional complaint. Such a requirement would unfairly tempt corrections officers to enrobe themselves and their colleagues in what would be an absolute shield against retaliation claims. 17 This we will not do, for as we previously have stated, "the court with which [the inmate] sought contact, and not his jailer, will determine the merits of his claim." 18

We emphasize that our concern is whether there was retaliation for the exercise of a constitutional right, separate and apart from the apparent validity of the underlying disciplinary report. 19 An action motivated by retaliation for the exercise of a constitutionally protected right is actionable, even if the act, when taken for a different reason, might have been legitimate. 20 Our inquiry today looks only to whether there has been a violation of a constitutional right. As our colleagues of the Seventh Circuit have held, proceedings that are not otherwise constitutionally deficient may be invalidated by retaliatory animus. 21 Our colleagues in the Eleventh Circuit have opined that an allegation of retaliatory disciplinary charges could give rise to either an independent section 1983 action or be part of a procedural due process review of the disciplinary hearing. 22

Further, adding a favorable termination requirement in this setting would create the anomaly of establishing a more onerous exhaustion requirement for section 1983 actions than is required in habeas corpus proceedings. Unlike habeas claims, it is clearly settled that, except for the limited exception Congress has established, exhaustion of state judicial or administrative remedies is not a prerequisite to the bringing of a section 1983 claim. 23 The effect of a favorable termination

Page 1166

requirement could conceivably defer review of a civil rights action until the Supreme Court has reviewed a state adjudication, or precluding it altogether by denying a writ of certiorari.

While we remain fully supportive of the proposition that prison officials must have wide...

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869 practice notes
  • Harris v. Monfra, 081320 LAEDC, C. A. 19-13955
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 5th Circuit Eastern District of Louisiana
    • August 13, 2020
    ...WL 4151212, at *5 (5th Cir. Aug. 4, 2016) (citing Morris v. Powell, 449 F.3d 682, 684 (5th Cir. 2006)); Woods v. Smith, 60 F.3d 1161, 1164 (5th Cir. [54] Clarke v. Stalder, 121 F.3d 222, 231 (5th Cir. 1997), vacated in part & reinstated in relevant part, 154 F.3......
  • Robledo v. Leal, 040512 TXNDC, 1:11-CV-077-BL
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 5th Circuit Northern District of Texas
    • April 5, 2012
    ...a retaliatory adverse act; and (4) causation. Freeman v. Tex. Dep't of Crim. Justice, 369 F.3d 854, 863 (5th Cir. 2004) (citing Woods, 60 F.3d at 1166). The inmate must allege more than his personal belief that he is the victim of retaliation. Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 325 (5th Cir.......
  • Zavala v. Strack, 061120 TXCA13, 13-19-00201-CV
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals of Texas
    • June 11, 2020
    ...misconduct, and a violation of this right is actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983."5 Id. at 891 (citing Woods v. Smith, 60 F.3d 1161, 1164 (5th Cir. 1995)). However, retaliation against a prisoner is actionable only if it is capable of deterring a person of ordina......
  • Silva v. Holly, 011413 WACA, 66302-0-I
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals of Washington
    • January 14, 2013
    ...Morris v. Powell, 449 F.3d 682, 686 (5th Cir. 2006) (emphasis added) (alteration in original) (citations omitted) (quoting Woods v. Smith, 60 F.3d 1161, 1166 (5th Cir. 1995)). [25] Compare Burgos v. Canino, 641 F.Supp.2d 443, 455 (E.D. Pa. 2009) ("The mere denial of grievances does not......
  • Free signup to view additional results
869 cases
  • Harris v. Monfra, 081320 LAEDC, C. A. 19-13955
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 5th Circuit Eastern District of Louisiana
    • August 13, 2020
    ...WL 4151212, at *5 (5th Cir. Aug. 4, 2016) (citing Morris v. Powell, 449 F.3d 682, 684 (5th Cir. 2006)); Woods v. Smith, 60 F.3d 1161, 1164 (5th Cir. [54] Clarke v. Stalder, 121 F.3d 222, 231 (5th Cir. 1997), vacated in part & reinstated in relevant part, 154 F.3......
  • Robledo v. Leal, 040512 TXNDC, 1:11-CV-077-BL
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 5th Circuit Northern District of Texas
    • April 5, 2012
    ...a retaliatory adverse act; and (4) causation. Freeman v. Tex. Dep't of Crim. Justice, 369 F.3d 854, 863 (5th Cir. 2004) (citing Woods, 60 F.3d at 1166). The inmate must allege more than his personal belief that he is the victim of retaliation. Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 325 (5th Cir.......
  • Zavala v. Strack, 061120 TXCA13, 13-19-00201-CV
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals of Texas
    • June 11, 2020
    ...misconduct, and a violation of this right is actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983."5 Id. at 891 (citing Woods v. Smith, 60 F.3d 1161, 1164 (5th Cir. 1995)). However, retaliation against a prisoner is actionable only if it is capable of deterring a person of ordina......
  • Silva v. Holly, 011413 WACA, 66302-0-I
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals of Washington
    • January 14, 2013
    ...Morris v. Powell, 449 F.3d 682, 686 (5th Cir. 2006) (emphasis added) (alteration in original) (citations omitted) (quoting Woods v. Smith, 60 F.3d 1161, 1166 (5th Cir. 1995)). [25] Compare Burgos v. Canino, 641 F.Supp.2d 443, 455 (E.D. Pa. 2009) ("The mere denial of grievances does not......
  • Free signup to view additional results