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Steele v. Knight

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 16, 2015

SHAUN STEELE, Plaintiff,
WENDY KNIGHT, Superintendent and MATTHEW JOHNSON, Internal Affairs, Defendants.



This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff Shaun Steele's ("Mr. Steele") Motion for Preliminary Injunction. For the reasons explained below, the Defendants' Request for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 72) is GRANTED because they are entitled to qualified immunity and Mr. Steele's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Dkt. 65) and Preliminary Injunctive Relief (Dkt. 83) are DENIED.

Mr. Steele, an Indiana prisoner, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 against Superintendent Wendy Knight ("Superintendent Knight") and Matthew Johnson ("Mr. Johnson") (collectively "Defendants"). Defendants are employees of the Correctional Industrial Facility ("CIF"). Mr. Steele alleges that while incarcerated at CIF, he was denied access to the courts.[1] (See Dkt. 6). Specifically, he contends that the closure of CIF's law library for more than a month frustrated and impeded 1) his post-conviction appeal transfer, and 2) the civil complaint that he had against Menards.[2] In response, the defendants' filed a cross motion for summary judgment. Defendants argue, among other things, that they are entitled to qualified immunity because they did not violate any clearly established constitutional rights.


A motion for summary judgment asks that the Court find that a trial based on the uncontroverted and admissible evidence is unnecessary because, as a matter of law, it would conclude in the moving party's favor. See Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56. To survive a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must set forth specific, admissible evidence showing that there is a material issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

Whether a party asserts that a fact is undisputed or genuinely disputed, the party must support the asserted fact by citing to particular parts of the record, including depositions, documents, or affidavits. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(c)(1)(A). A party can also support a fact by showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute or that the adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(c)(1)(B). Affidavits or declarations must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant is competent to testify on matters stated. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(c)(4). Failure to properly support a fact in opposition to a movant's factual assertion can result in the movant's fact being considered undisputed, and potentially the grant of summary judgment. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(e).

The Court need only consider the cited materials, Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(c)(3), and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has "repeatedly assured the district courts that they are not required to scour every inch of the record for evidence that is potentially relevant to the summary judgment motion before them, " Johnson v. Cambridge Indus., 325 F.3d 892, 898 (7th Cir. 2003). Furthermore, reliance on the pleadings or conclusory statements backed by inadmissible evidence is insufficient to create an issue of material fact on summary judgment. Id. at 901.

The key inquiry, then, is whether admissible evidence exists to support a plaintiff's claims, not the weight or credibility of that evidence, both of which are assessments reserved to the trier of fact. See Schacht v. Wis. Dep't of Corrections, 175 F.3d 497, 504 (7th Cir.1999). When evaluating this inquiry, the Court must give the non-moving party the benefit of all reasonable inferences from the evidence submitted and resolve "any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial... against the moving party." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 330.

Consistent with the foregoing, the following statement of facts was evaluated pursuant to the standards set forth above. That is, this statement of facts is not necessarily objectively true, but as the summary judgment standard requires, the undisputed facts and the disputed evidence are presented in the light reasonably most favorable to Mr. Steele as the non-moving party with respect to the motion for summary judgment. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000).


A. Mr. Steele's Petition for Post-Conviction Relief

In July 2010, Mr. Steele was charged with, among other charges, receiving stolen property as a class C felony, which was enhanced due to a prior auto theft conviction, and being a habitual offender; Mr. Steele eventually pleaded guilty to these charges, admitting he had an unrelated prior auto theft conviction and previous felony convictions for robbery and escape. ("Memorandum Decision - Not for Publication" in State v. Steele, No. 20A03-1111-PC-503 at 2-3.)

On October 14, 2010, Mr. Steele was sentenced to eight years for the receiving stolen property conviction, a sentence which was enhanced by an additional eight years due to his status as a habitual offender (with two years suspended).

In April 2011, Mr. Steele filed a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief in the Elkhart Superior Court, bringing eight challenges to his convictions and one to his sentence, contending that his trial counsel was ineffective for not objecting to an improper double enhancement. The Elkhart Superior Court granted Mr. Steele's Petition in part, determining that his ineffective assistance of counsel claim was correct as to the double enhancement, and denied it in part as to his remaining arguments. The State of Indiana subsequently appealed that decision to the Indiana Court of Appeals. On appeal, Mr. Steele filed a Motion to Dismiss, which was denied; an Appellee/Cross-Appellant's Brief, in which Mr. Steele cross-appealed the trial court's denial of his other grounds for relief; and an Appellee/Cross-Appellant's Reply Brief. Mr. Steele was not represented by counsel on this appeal; as such, he did his own research and wrote his own briefs.

On October 18, 2012, the Court of Appeals issued a Memorandum Decision that was Not for Publication affirming in part and reversing in part the Elkhart Superior Court's decision on Mr. Steele's Petition for Post-Conviction Relief. In that decision, the Court of Appeals found Mr. Steele's case to be "virtually the same" as the situation in Davis v. State, 935 N.E.2d 1215 (Ind.Ct.App. 2010), a decision issued two weeks before Mr. Steele's sentencing in which the court held that the appellant's sentence was not improperly enhanced because the trial court did not use the same conviction to enhance under both the progressive enhancement and habitual offender statutes.

The court declared its Davis holding "equally applicable" to Mr. Steele, concluding that "[t]his was the law at the time Steele's sentence was imposed and Steele's sentence was perfectly consistent with it. Obviously, Steele's counsel did not render deficient performance in failing to register an objection to a sentence that was lawful at the time." (Dkt. 72-4 at 9). Accordingly, the Court of Appeals held that Mr. Steele did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel on the double enhancement issue and that the trial court committed clear error in granting Mr. Steele's petition on this issue. Regarding Mr. Steele's cross-appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial ...

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