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Strominger v. Indiana Dept. of Corrections

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

March 26, 2015




Plaintiff Raymond Strominger, an inmate confined at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, alleges that the Indiana Department of Correction ("IDOC") discriminated against him by initially denying him the opportunity to participate in the Action, Consequences, and Treatment ("ACT") program because he requires the use of a wheelchair. Mr. Strominger argues that he is entitled to compensatory or nominal damages under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. ยง 701, et. seq., because his rights were intentionally violated by the IDOC.[1] This is the only remaining claim for consideration.[2]

The IDOC seeks summary judgment on this remaining claim. For the reasons explained below, the motion for summary judgment [dkt. 56] is granted.

Standard of Review

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.P. 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.P. 56(c)(1)(A).[3] 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.P. 56(c)(1)(B).

A moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law where the non-moving party "has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. "[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id.; see also Lewis v. Holsum of Ft. Wayne, Inc., 278 F.3d 706, 709 (7th Cir. 2002).

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.

Statement of Facts

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. Strominger as the non-moving party with respect to the motion for summary judgment. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000).

ACT is a multidisciplinary, behavioral rehabilitation program for difficult inmates who have been placed in long-term restrictive housing and who exhibit both the desire and ability to complete the program. Each class consists of about twelve inmates and lasts about twelve months. Participants are housed together on the same range (group of cells) to facilitate instruction and avoid disruption from non-participants.

There is a waiting list for entry into the ACT program. Generally at any one time, fifty inmates have asked for a referral into the program and are waiting for admission. On May 12, 2014, seventeen inmates who were referred to the program in the first quarter of 2013 were still waiting to be admitted into the program.

Admission priority is generally given to participants with the earliest projected release dates. Mr. Strominger does not have a projected release date because he was sentenced to life in prison without parole after his conviction for the murder of his former girlfriend, her mother, and her boyfriend.

The last phase of the program seeks to prepare offenders for a return to the general offender population, but successful completion of the program only guarantees that a committee shall review the inmate's behavior and submit a recommendation; the Wabash Valley superintendent and IDOC's executive director have the final say on whether the offender can be placed in the general population.

Mr. Strominger was assigned to long-term administrative segregation in 2009 following his violent assault on an elderly inmate, in which the inmate's skull was crushed and the elderly inmate subsequently died after being taken off life support. Mr. Strominger is housed in a handicap accessible ...

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