United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
ENTRY GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT AND DIRECTING ENTRY OF FINAL JUDGMENT
WALTON PRATT, United States District Judge.
reasons set forth below, defendants Jennifer French and
Michael Thombleson's motion for summary judgment, dkt.
, is granted.
Allenn Peterson is an inmate in the New Castle Correctional
Facility (“New Castle”) in Indiana. In 2015, he
had been employed as an offender law clerk in the
facility's law library when he and all of the other
offender law clerks lost their jobs following a prison
administration inquiry into a perceived security threat. A
law library computer server had been reconfigured to allow
internet access, something prohibited by prison policy.
Authorities conducted an investigation to identify who had
reconfigured the server, but they were unable to determine
which of the offender law clerks might have done so. Unable
to identify the culprit, all fifteen to twenty-five offender
law clerks lost their jobs. None were disciplined or
otherwise sanctioned. Mr. Peterson believes that his job
dismissal was actually a retaliatory move to punish him for
bringing previous lawsuits against defendants. He filed this
action asserting a violation of his First Amendment free
Summary Judgment Standard
judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The movant bears the initial
responsibility of informing the district court of the basis
of its motion, and identifying those portions of designated
evidence that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 323 (1986). After “a properly supported
motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party must
set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine
issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (quotation marks and
factual issue is material only if resolving the factual issue
might change the outcome of the case under the governing law.
See Clifton v. Schafer, 969 F.2d 278, 281 (7th Cir.
1992). A factual issue is genuine only if there is sufficient
evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in favor
of the non-moving party on the evidence presented. See
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In deciding a motion for
summary judgment, the court “may not ‘assess the
credibility of witnesses, choose between competing reasonable
inferences, or balance the relative weight of conflicting
evidence.'” Bassett v. I.C. Sys., Inc.,
715 F.Supp.2d 803, 808 (N.D. Ill. 2010) (quoting Stokes
v. Bd. of Educ. of the City of Chi., 599 F.3d 617, 619
(7th Cir. 2010)). Instead, it must view all the evidence in
the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party and resolve all factual disputes in favor of the
non-moving party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.
Peterson was employed as an offender law clerk in the New
Castle law library on a number of occasions. Computers in the
law library are not connected to the internet. In the fall of
2015, a computer server was reconfigured to allow the
computers to connect to the internet. Officials conducted an
investigation to identify who had reconfigured the server,
but were unable to do so. All of the inmate law clerks,
including Mr. Peterson, lost their law clerk positions, but
none were disciplined.
French and Michael Thombleson are New Castle employees. Mr.
Thombleson is the supervisor of the New Castle education
department. Ms. French is an Assistant Warden at New Castle.
Both have supervisory authority of the law library. Mr.
Peterson had previously sued both, and others, in this Court
in case number 1:15-cv-00644-SEB-DKL, but the case was
dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted without service having been made on defendants. In
a state court lawsuit, Mr. Peterson again sued both
defendants, and others, in Henry County, Indiana, Circuit
Court case number 33C02-1312-PL-00069, in 2013. The suit
ended with summary judgment granted for all defendants in
December 2014, many months before the actions arose giving
rise to this suit.
Peterson asserts that Ms. French and Mr. Thombleson fired him
from his law clerk job in retaliation for his exercise of his
First Amendment free speech rights, specifically his prior
lawsuits against them. To establish a First Amendment
retaliation claim, a plaintiff must prove that “(1) he
engaged in activity protected by the First Amendment; (2) he
suffered a deprivation that would likely deter First
Amendment activity in the future”; and (3) a causal
connection between the two. Watkins v. Kasper, 599
F.3d 791, 794 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Bridges v.
Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541, 546 (7th Cir. 2009) (citation
omitted)). At issue here is the third element - the causal
show that Mr. Peterson was dismissed from his prison law
clerk position as part of the dismissal of approximately
fifteen offender law clerks. These dismissals were due to
security concerns after law library computers were found
connected to the internet. This was a serious security issue,
in the prison administration's view, and an investigation
had been conducted. The person who reconfigured law library
server to allow internet access was not identified, so all of
the law clerks lost their jobs. Dkt. 31-1, ¶¶ 6-13,
19 (affidavit of defendant Thombleson); dkt. 31-2,
¶¶ 9-11, 15 (affidavit of defendant French). The
decision to dismiss Mr. Peterson was not because of his First
Amendment exercise, but because of the law library computer
server reconfiguration. Id.
Peterson presents no evidence that defendants' reason for
dismissing him was in retaliation for his having
sued them. He suggests this, but has no evidence to
contradict defendants' evidence on this point. The
closest he comes with evidence to call into question
defendants' motives is the affidavit of Offender Richard
Ramsey. Dkt. 36-2. In his affidavit, Mr. Ramsey says that
another person, library aide Misty Cecil, said that
“Mrs. French and Mr. ...