Whitehead v. Mgmt. & Training Corp.

Decision Date01 March 2021
Docket NumberCiv. No. 17-275 MV/KK
Citation524 F.Supp.3d 1155
Parties Monte WHITEHEAD, Plaintiff, v. MANAGEMENT AND TRAINING CORPORATION et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of New Mexico

Monte Whitehead, Santa Fe, NM, Pro Se.

Christina Muscarella Gooch, Sutin, Thayer & Browne, Jacqueline K. Kafka, Adams+Crow Law Firm, Albuquerque, NM, for Defendants Management and Training Corporation, James Frawner, Richard Martinez.

Christina Muscarella Gooch, Sutin, Thayer & Browne, Jacqueline K. Kafka, Adams+Crow Law Firm, Kurt Wihl, Keleher & McLeod PA, Albuquerque, NM, for Defendant FNU Moreno.

ORDER ADOPTING IN PART MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

MARTHA VÁZQUEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

THIS MATTER is before the Court on: (1) Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment against MTC Defendants (Doc. 124) ("Plaintiff's Motion"), filed November 21, 2019; (2) OCPF DefendantsMotion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 143) ("Defendants’ Motion"), filed April 3, 2020; (3) Magistrate Judge's Proposed Findings and Recommended Disposition (Doc. 160) ("PFRD"), filed September 22, 2020; (4) OCPF Defendants’ Objection to Magistrate Judge's Proposed Findings and Recommended Disposition (Doc. 161) ("Defendants’ Objection"), filed October 5, 2020; and, (5) Plaintiff's Objections to Magistrate Judge's Proposed Findings and Recommended Disposition (Doc. 162) ("Plaintiff's Objections"), filed October 9, 2020. The Court, having considered the parties’ submissions, the record, and the relevant law, and for the reasons described below, will overrule Plaintiff's Objections, sustain Defendants’ Objection, adopt in part and modify in part the Magistrate Judge's PFRD, deny Plaintiff's Motion, and grant Defendants’ Motion.

I. Introduction

This case arises out of Plaintiff's incarceration at the Otero County Prison Facility ("OCPF") from March 2013 to April 2017. (Doc. 119 at 3; Doc. 142-1 at 2.) Many of Plaintiff's claims have been dismissed or stricken; however, the following claims remain: (1) Plaintiff's First Amendment claims against Defendants Management and Training Corporation ("MTC"), James Frawner, Richard Martinez, and FNU Azuna challenging these Defendants’ restrictions on Plaintiff's access to hardbound books, (Doc. 119 at 29-33); (2) Plaintiff's First Amendment claims against Defendants MTC, Frawner, Martinez, Azuna, FNU Moreno, and FNU Barba (collectively, "Defendants") challenging Defendants’ restrictions on Plaintiff's access to publications from non-approved vendors, (id. at 36-38); (3) Plaintiff's First Amendment claims challenging Defendants’ restrictions on Plaintiff's access to newspaper and internet articles, (id. at 14-19); and (4) Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliatory transfer claim against Defendant Martinez. (Id. at 43-50; see also Doc. 135.) In the Motions presently before the Court, Plaintiff seeks summary judgment on the first three claims and Defendants seek summary judgment on all of them.1 (Docs. 124, 143.)

II. Procedural History

Plaintiff, a pro se prisoner, filed this action in state court on November 14, 2016. (Doc. 1-1.) At the time, Plaintiff was incarcerated at the OCPF.2 (Id. at 3.) The case was removed to federal court on March 1, 2017. (Doc. 1.) In a Memorandum Opinion and Order dated September 27, 2017, United States District Judge Robert Junell dismissed Plaintiff's federal claims under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, denied Plaintiff's motions to amend his complaint and supplement the pleadings, declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over his state law claims, and remanded the state law claims to state court. (Doc. 91.) On February 12, 2018, Plaintiff appealed the Court's decision as to his federal claims but did not challenge the remand of his state law claims. (Doc. 99; Doc. 110-1 at 2.)

In an Order and Judgment entered on April 2, 2019, the Tenth Circuit affirmed this Court's decision in part and reversed it in part, remanding the case "for further proceedings consistent with [its] order and judgment." (Doc. 110-1 at 23.) In many respects, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Plaintiff's federal claims. (See generally id. ) However, it vacated the dismissal of Plaintiff's claims that "certain defendants violated his First Amendment rights by preventing him from receiving hardback books, books from non-approved vendors, information from the internet, and newspaper articles sent by mail," and remanded these claims "to the district court for consideration in the first instance." (Id. at 5, 8.) The Tenth Circuit noted that, on remand, this Court could "allow[ ] the prison-official defendants to proffer a legitimate penological reason for the restrictions." (Id. at 8.)

In addition, the Tenth Circuit held that this Court improperly denied Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend the Complaint (Doc. 23) and Motion to Supplement the Pleadings (Doc. 60). (Doc. 110-1 at 22-23.) Specifically, the appellate court found that Plaintiff's retaliatory transfer claim "may be a proper claim for relief," noting that "prison officials may violate a prisoner's First Amendment rights when they transfer the prisoner because the prisoner exercised those rights."3 (Id. at 22 & n.15.) Accordingly, it reversed and remanded the "denial of [Plaintiff's] motion to amend the complaint and his motion to supplement the pleadings to the district court for evaluation consistent with this order and judgment." (Id. at 22-23.)

On remand, the Court granted Plaintiff's motions to amend and supplement and permitted Plaintiff to "file an amended complaint reasserting his First Amendment claims and asserting a First Amendment retaliatory transfer claim." (Doc. 112 at 6.) Plaintiff timely filed an Amended and Supplemental Complaint for Damages of Civil and Constitutional Rights and for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief ("Amended Complaint") on October 10, 2019. (Doc. 119.) However, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint exceeded the scope of the amendments the Court gave him leave to file. (Doc. 135 at 3-4.) As such, on March 6, 2020, the Court entered an order striking the unauthorized portions of the Amended Complaint. (Id. at 6-7.)

Meanwhile, on November 21, 2019, Plaintiff moved for partial summary judgment. (Doc. 124.) Defendants filed a response in opposition to Plaintiff's Motion on December 3, 2019, and Plaintiff filed a reply in support of it on December 19, 2019. (Docs. 127, 128.)

On March 4, 2020, the Court ordered Defendants to file a Martinez Report addressing, with the exception of claims to be stricken, "all of Plaintiff's allegations against the OCPF Defendants, as well as any defenses raised in the OCPF Defendants’ answers that they wish to pursue." (Doc. 134 at 4.) In its Order, the Court informed the parties that

the Court may use the Martinez Report in deciding whether to grant summary judgment for or against any party, whether by motion or sua sponte. As such, the parties (including Plaintiff in his response or objections to the Martinez Report) are urged to submit whatever proof or other materials they consider relevant to Plaintiff's claims against the OCPF Defendants and the OCPF Defendants’ defenses in the pleadings they file pursuant to this Order.

(Id. at 6-7.)

Defendants filed their Martinez Report on April 2, 2020 and moved for summary judgment the following day. (Docs. 142-43.) Plaintiff responded to DefendantsMartinez Report on May 26, 2020 and to their Motion on June 1, 2020. (Docs. 149-50.) Defendants, in turn, replied in support of the report and their Motion on June 15, 2020. (Docs. 151-52.) At the Court's direction, Defendants also filed a Supplemental Martinez Report on August 14, 2020, to which Plaintiff responded on September 2, 2020. (Docs. 155-56, 159.)

On September 22, 2020, United States Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa issued her PFRD recommending that the Court deny Plaintiff's Motion, grant Defendants’ Motion as to Plaintiff's First Amendment access-to-information claims, and deny Defendants’ Motion as to Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliatory transfer claim. (Doc. 160 at 48-49.) On October 5, 2020, Defendants objected to the portion of the PFRD recommending that the Court deny Defendants’ Motion as to the retaliatory transfer claim. (Doc. 161 at 1.) Plaintiff responded in opposition to Defendants’ Objection on November 5, 2020, and Defendants replied in support of it on November 16, 2020. (Docs. 167, 169.) On October 9, 2020, Plaintiff objected to the portions of the PFRD recommending that the Court grant Defendants summary judgment on Plaintiff's access-to-information claims. (Doc. 162 at 1.) Defendants responded in opposition to Plaintiff's Objections on October 23, 2020, and Plaintiff replied in support of them on November 5, 2020. (Docs. 164, 168.)

In their Objections, both Plaintiff and Defendants presented evidence that was not before Judge Khalsa when she issued her PFRD. (Doc. 161-1; Doc. 162 at 32.) Thus, on October 15, 2020, the Court ordered the parties to address in their responses to the opposing side's Objections whether it should consider this additional evidence. (Doc. 163 at 2.) The Court also permitted each side to present rebuttal evidence and to file a reply to the opposing side's response. (Id. at 3.)

III. Analysis
A. Standards Governing Objections to Magistrate Judge's PFRD

When a party files timely written objections to a magistrate judge's recommendation on a dispositive matter, the district judge must conduct a de novo review, and "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). De novo review requires the district judge to consider relevant evidence in the record and not merely to review the magistrate judge's recommendation. In re Griego , 64 F.3d 580, 584 (10th Cir. 1995). "[A] party's objections to the magistrate judge's [PFRD] must be both timely and specific to preserve an issue for de novo review by the district court or...

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