Williamson v. State

Decision Date30 June 2022
Docket NumberCiv. 21-00098 JMS-RT
PartiesCALVERT A. WILLIAMSON, Plaintiff, v. STATE OF HAWAII, GOVERNOR DAVID Y. IGE, PUBLIC SAFETY DEPARTMENT, MICHAEL HOFFMAN, FRANCIS SEQUEIRA, LANCE RABACAL, CESAR ALTARES, AND DANIEL BRYANT, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Hawaii

CALVERT A. WILLIAMSON, Plaintiff,
v.

STATE OF HAWAII, GOVERNOR DAVID Y. IGE, PUBLIC SAFETY DEPARTMENT, MICHAEL HOFFMAN, FRANCIS SEQUEIRA, LANCE RABACAL, CESAR ALTARES, AND DANIEL BRYANT, Defendants.

Civ. No. 21-00098 JMS-RT

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

June 30, 2022


ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, ECF NO. 22

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the court is a Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 22, filed by Defendants State of Hawaii; the State of Hawaii's Department of Public Safety; David Y. Ige, in his official capacity as Governor; Michael Hoffman, in his official capacity as Institutions Division Administrator for the Department of Public Safety; and Francis Sequeira, Cesar Altares, Daniel Bryant and Lance Rabacal, in their individual capacities (collectively, “Defendants”). For the reasons provided below, the Motion is GRANTED.

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II. BACKGROUND[1]

On February 16, 2021, pro se Plaintiff Calvert Williamson (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint alleging claims of racial discrimination relating to investigations conducted for and against him while he was employed at the Oahu Community Correctional Center (“OCCC”)[2] in 2020. See ECF No. 1. The investigations were conducted by Captain Daniel Bryant and Administrator Lance Rabacal, and were indirectly overseen by Major Cesar Altares and Warden Francis Sequeira (collectively, “Investigator Defendants”).

The investigations were formed on the bases of dueling grievances filed on July 2, 2020 by Plaintiff and his co-worker Lee Scruton. The grievance complaints describe an argument that occurred in an open-office space of OCCC between Plaintiff, Scruton, and another co-worker, Christopher McConnell. The argument concerned the skillsets of two African American quarterbacks playing in the National Football League. At some point during the argument, Plaintiff-an African American-left the discussion and returned to his desk out of frustration, potentially because Scruton had used racially derogatory language when referencing the quarterbacks. Scruton left the argument, too, and departed from the

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open-office space through a stairway. On his way out, Scruton passed by

Plaintiff's desk, which was positioned near the edge of the stairway leading to the lower floor. Plaintiff claims that while in the stairway, Scruton called him the “n-word” using a hushed voice. Scruton denied saying the n-word and instead accused Plaintiff of threatening violence by challenging Scruton to “take it outside.” See ECF Nos. 23-7 through 23-10. For the purposes of this Motion (construing evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff), the court assumes that Scruton called Plaintiff the n-word and used additional racially derogatory language, either in reference to the African American quarterbacks or in reference to Plaintiff.[3] The court also assumes that Plaintiff did not challenge Scruton to “take it outside” (or any similar threat).

The Investigator Defendants initiated investigations into whether Scruton had racially harassed Plaintiff in violation of Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) policy and whether Plaintiff had threatened violence against Scruton, also in violation of DPS policy. Those investigations included taking statements from Plaintiff and Scruton, as well as from apparent witness McConnell. Plaintiff and Scruton largely maintained their versions of the incident throughout the investigations.

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McConnell, however, changed the details of his story over the course of two written interviews: McConnell initially stated he was unable to hear the exchange in the stairway but that he remembered “racial slurs . . . being thrown around” in the open-office space before the stairway altercation, although he “[could not] remember the exact words.” ECF No. 23-10 at PageID # 138. Yet, in his second interview roughly two weeks later, McConnell stated that Scruton “did not use the N word” but “may have called [Plaintiff] a Silverback Gorilla,” and McConnell recalled Plaintiff, “in some form, asking [Scruton] if he wanted to take it outside.” ECF No. 23-15 at PageID # 143. The hearing officer presiding over the investigations later concluded that McConnell's testimony “was not credible because the two memos he submitted . . . were internally inconsistent and contained contradictions.” ECF No. 23-26 at PageID # 193; see also id. at PageID # 194 (stating that McConnell “contradicted himself” and, “[a]gain, there were concerns with McConnell's credibility”).

After reviewing all of the evidence, the hearing officer concluded that there was insufficient evidence that Scruton had violated the discrimination and harassment policy. Id. She also concluded that there was insufficient evidence that Plaintiff had violated the workplace violence policy. Id. As a result, she recommended that Plaintiff and Scruton receive training on both policies, a

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recommendation that was “not considered disciplinary action.” Id. Plaintiff was not terminated from his position or otherwise subjected to punishment.

Plaintiff claims that the investigations were biased against him because of his race. See ECF No. 1 at PageID # 8 (“The parties, supra, willfully, and criminally collaborated and conspired to find me guilty, because of my race ....”). He specifically alleges that Administrator Rabacal coerced McConnell to change his story in the second interview, including by pushing him to attest that he heard Plaintiff utter “take it outside.” See id. at PagelD ## 7-8. According to Plaintiff, the other Investigator Defendants either directed or were complicit in that coercion. See id. And they achieved that coercion by threatening to hold McConnell's deficient work performance against him, Plaintiff argues. See Id. Plaintiff also alleges that the Investigator Defendants unfairly apprised Scruton of the substance of Plaintiff's complaint and/or written statement, in violation of DPS policy requiring confidentiality in the grievance process. See id. at PageID # 10; see also ECF No. 25 at PageID # 223.

Plaintiff's Complaint, liberally read,[4] frames those allegations into eight types of legal claims: (1) racial discrimination under Title VII, 42 U.S.C.

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§ 2000e et seq.; (2) racial discrimination under Title VI, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq.; (3) procedural due process violation under the Fourteenth Amendment; (4) substantive due process violation under the Fourteenth Amendment; (5) violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242, “[d]eprivation of rights under color of law”; (6) racial discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; (7) 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim based on racial discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and (8) violations of Hawaii common law and Hawaii Revised Statutes (“HRS”). See ECF No. 1. Plaintiff requests damages in the amount of $2,500,000 but no injunctive relief. See id. at PageID ## 14-15.

On March 30, 2022, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment challenging all of Plaintiff's claims, ECF No. 22, and supported by a Concise Statement of Facts, ECF No. 23. Plaintiff filed an Opposition on April 26, 2022. ECF No. 25. Despite not submitting a responsive concise statement of facts, Plaintiff provides some evidence in support of his Opposition in form of two attachments. See id. at PageID ## 234-37. Defendants filed a Reply on May 2, 2022. The court decides the Motion without a hearing pursuant to Local Rule 7.1(c).

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III. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “An issue is ‘genuine' only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable fact finder could find for the nonmoving party, and a dispute is ‘material' only if it could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” In re Barboza, 545 F.3d 702, 707 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).

“The moving party initially bears the burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” In re Oracle Corp. Sec. Litig., 627 F.3d 376, 387 (9th Cir. 2010). “When the moving party has carried its burden . . ., its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts”; instead, the opponent must “come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The court views the facts and draws reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007).

Parties can raise the issue of subject matter jurisdiction as late as summary judgment, and the court may sua sponte address subject matter jurisdiction at any point in the case. See Rath Packing Co. v. Becker, 530 F.2d 1295, 1303 (9th Cir. 1975),

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aff'd sub nom. Jones v. Rath Packing Co., 430 U.S. 519 (1977).

IV. DISCUSSION

Before analyzing Plaintiff's eight claims, it is helpful to identify the injuries alleged in the Complaint, as those alleged injuries clarify the nature of Plaintiff's legal theories. Importantly, Plaintiff does not sue Scruton or McConnell, nor does he request specific action relating to those employees.

Plaintiff also does not assert that the investigation into his purported violent threats was improperly instituted. Plaintiff instead sues management at OCCC (along with the State of Hawaii officials overseeing OCCC) for alleged improprieties affecting the investigations-tampering of a witness and divulging a grievance.

And although investigational improprieties might cause merely “procedural injuries,”[5] the fact that Plaintiff is asserting claims grounded in procedural laws-e.g., procedural due process-as well as claims grounded in substantive laws-e.g., the Equal...

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