Williams v. Griffin, 89-6409

Decision Date30 December 1991
Docket NumberNo. 89-6409,89-6409
Citation952 F.2d 820
PartiesEddie WILLIAMS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. J.H. GRIFFIN, Superintendent; J.C. Harris, Jr., Area Administrator; Aaron J. Johnson, Secretary of Corrections, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

Eric J. Glassman, Student Counsel, Appellate Litigation Clinical Program, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, D.C., argued (Steven H. Goldblatt, Director, Beth E. Cook, Supervising Atty., Lisa Ellis, Christine R. Engelmaier, Student Counsel, on brief), for plaintiff-appellant.

Ronna Dawn Gibbs, Associate Atty. Gen., North Carolina Dept. of Justice, Raleigh, N.C., argued (Lacy H. Thornburg, Atty. Gen., Sylvia Thibaut, Asst. Atty. Gen., on brief), for defendants-appellees.

Before HALL and MURNAGHAN, Circuit Judges, and WILLIAMS, District Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia, sitting by designation.


MURNAGHAN, Circuit Judge:

Eddie Williams, a North Carolina prisoner, filed a pro se verified complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking monetary damages, an injunction and declaratory relief as a result of prison overcrowding combined with unsanitary conditions. The defendants, various state prison officials ("the Prison Officials"), moved for summary judgment and dismissal. The district court notified Williams of the filing of the summary judgment motion and motion to dismiss and of his need to respond to the motions. However, Williams failed to respond to the defendants' motions.

The case was referred to a magistrate, who recommended that the motion for summary judgment be granted and the case dismissed. The district court entered judgment, granting the Prison Officials' motion for summary judgment and dismissing Williams' complaint. An appeal followed.

I. Background

Williams, an inmate, was assigned to Hoke Correctional Institution ("Hoke") on December 11, 1984. He filed a verified complaint on October 19, 1988. In his verified complaint, Williams alleged that Hoke was unconstitutionally overcrowded, with twelve persons to a cell. He further alleged unsanitary conditions in Hoke, including one toilet bowl for twelve inmates, four showers for approximately ninety-six inmates, and leaking toilets in the shower area.

With respect to the overcrowding complaint, Williams asserted that his cell, which measured approximately 20 X 20 feet, was designed to hold only four persons. In 1988, when he filed his complaint, Williams was required to share the 20 X 20 room with eleven other inmates. The cell also held six bunk beds, a sink, and a toilet.

In addition to the overcrowding, Williams alleged that the plumbing system at Hoke was unsanitary and deficient. Williams asserted that the only toilet in his cell was "constantly coated with urine day and night." He also pointed out that his unit had only four showers for use by approximately ninety-six inmates, and that the water temperature fluctuated between scalding hot and extremely cold. Williams described the plumbing system at Hoke as antiquated and alleged that the inmates were required to walk on floors flooded with sewage because many of the toilets in the facility constantly leaked.

Williams also alleged that the clothing and bed linens given to the inmates were inadequate. He stated that he was not provided with a coat or a blanket. Furthermore, he was provided only one towel a week, and was not permitted to wash or dry the towel during the course of the week.

Finally, Williams described the inadequacies of the insect and vermin control, stating that "[r]oaches infest the storerooms, housing rooms and hallways." He also contended that the walls, ceilings, and floors had small cracks and holes, which permitted insects to infest the walls, posing a health hazard, injurious in nature, at night.

As a result of all of the conditions at Hoke, Williams alleged that he has been subjected to unhealthful and unsafe living conditions, in violation of his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Not surprisingly, the Prison Officials, named defendants in this suit, view things somewhat differently. The Prison Officials attached two affidavits and inspection reports to their motion to dismiss and for summary judgment.

In response to Williams' allegations regarding overcrowding, it was not disputed that twelve inmates were housed in Williams' cell. In fact, one defendant confirmed that ten to twelve inmates were housed in that section of the prison. The Prison Officials have contended that the allegation is constitutionally insignificant.

In response to Williams' contentions regarding vermin and insect infestation, the Prison Officials have asserted that Hoke has a contract for continuing roach and vermin control and that the level of control has been satisfactory. Defendant Griffin stated that he routinely inspects the prison for roaches and sees "very few."

The Prison Officials contended that "all maintenance needs are met in a reasonable and timely manner," and have submitted inspection reports to support that claim. One such report, prepared by the State Department of Human Resources in June of 1987, revealed no demerits for insects or breeding areas for vermin. However, Hoke received nine demerits for deficiencies in the prison's walls and ceilings, storage, bed linen, and food service utensils and equipment. The report further indicated that the walls and ceilings were not in good repair, the storage facilities were not clean, the bed linen was not in good repair, and the food service utensils and equipment were not easily cleanable, nor kept clean, nor in good repair. In addition, an attachment to the report indicated that "walls and ceilings need repairing" and "some blankets needed replacing."

A second report, prepared in July of 1987 by the Division of Prisons, stated that insects were properly controlled. However, it also showed that the roof of the building in which Williams was housed was "in serious need of repair or replacement" and that the ceiling in the showers needed repair. These same comments were repeated in subsequent reports in September and December of 1987 and again in March and December of 1988.

The question presented to us is whether the district court erred in entering summary judgment against inmate Williams and dismissing his suit, finding that Williams' allegations regarding unconstitutional prison conditions failed to rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation.

At the threshold, the Prison Officials have argued that Williams' failure to respond to the motions to dismiss and for summary judgment, and his failure to submit documentary evidence to substantiate his claim, compelled the district court to resolve all factual disputes in favor of the Prison Officials. Williams, in response, has contended that his verified complaint should be treated as the functional equivalent of an affidavit in response to a motion for summary judgment.

As a general rule, when one party files a motion for summary judgment, the non-movant cannot merely rely on matters pleaded in the complaint, but must, by factual affidavit or the like, respond to the motion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Kipps v. Ewell, 538 F.2d 564, 566 (4th Cir.1976); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). However, a verified complaint is the equivalent of an opposing affidavit for summary judgment purposes, when the allegations contained therein are based on personal knowledge. Davis v. Zahradnick, 600 F.2d 458, 459-60 (4th Cir.1979) (holding that the factual allegations contained in a verified complaint establish a prima facie case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, so as to preclude summary judgment). Accord Williams v. Adams, 935 F.2d 960, 961-62 (8th Cir.1991); Conaway v. Smith, 853 F.2d 789, 792-93 (10th Cir.1988); McElyea v. Babbitt, 833 F.2d 196, 197-98 (9th Cir.1987); Lodge Hall Music, Inc. v. Waco Wrangler Club, Inc., 831 F.2d 77, 80 (5th Cir.1987); Hooks v. Hooks, 771 F.2d 935, 945-46 (6th Cir.1985).

In the instant case, Williams' verified complaint, which described the allegedly unconstitutional prison conditions, was based upon his own personal knowledge and set forth specific facts admissible in evidence. Accordingly, it may be considered in opposition to summary judgment.

Next, the Prison Officials contended that Williams' claims were mooted by his transfer from Hoke in January of 1990. Williams, in contravention, has argued that his claim for monetary relief survived the transfer. In his original complaint, Williams sought declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as monetary damages. The transfer, however, has rendered moot Williams' claims for injunctive and declaratory relief, since he is unlikely to return to Hoke and since he, himself, requested the transfer in order to facilitate family visitation rights. See Taylor v. Rogers, 781 F.2d 1047, 1048 n. 1 (4th Cir.1986) (holding that a prisoner transfer mooted a request for declaratory and injunctive relief, but not a request for money damages); Moore v. Thieret, 862 F.2d 148, 150 (7th Cir.1988) (a transfer rendered the claim for injunctive relief moot); Magee v. Waters, 810 F.2d 451, 452 (4th Cir.1987) (holding that the transfer of a prisoner rendered moot his claim for injunctive relief). Thus, the district court should vacate the summary judgment previously granted to the Prison Officials and dismiss the claims for injunctive and declaratory relief on account of mootness. See United States v. Munsingwear, 340 U.S. 36, 71 S.Ct. 104, 95 L.Ed. 36 (1950). However, since Williams also has sought monetary damages, his entire case is not mooted. Thus, we turn to the merits of Williams' claim.

In reviewing the grant or denial of a motion for summary judgment, an appellate court conducts a de novo review, applying the same standard as that applied by the district court under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c). Felty v....

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