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Capler v. Watkins

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

October 17, 2018



          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         Plaintiff Jeffery Capler, Jr., is a state prisoner. He alleges that the defendants confiscated two photographs of his 8-year-old son making a peace sign in violation of his First Amendment rights while he was incarcerated at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility (“Wabash Valley”). Defendants Jeanne Watkins and Warden Dick Brown seek resolution of this action through summary judgment. Because the confiscated photographs contained images of hand symbols that were potentially detrimental to prison security and photographs without the prohibited hand symbols were available, the defendants' unopposed motion for summary judgment, dkt. [31], is granted.

         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         A motion for summary judgment asks the Court to find that a trial is unnecessary because there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and, instead, the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). As the current version of Rule 56 makes clear, 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). 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). 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.P. 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 in the grant of summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         On summary judgment, a party must show the Court what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of the events. Gekas v. Vasilades, 814 F.3d 890, 896 (7th Cir. 2016). The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if no reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 875 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court views the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Skiba v. Illinois Cent. R.R. Co., 884 F.3d 708, 717 (7th Cir. 2018). It cannot weigh evidence or make credibility determinations on summary judgment because those tasks are left to the fact-finder. Miller v. Gonzalez, 761 F.3d 822, 827 (7th Cir. 2014). The Court need only consider the cited materials, Fed.R.Civ.P. 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. Grant v. Trustees of Indiana University, 870 F.3d 562, 573-74 (7th Cir. 2017). Any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial is resolved against the moving party. Ponsetti v. GE Pension Plan, 614 F.3d 684, 691 (7th Cir. 2010).

         Mr. Capler failed to respond to the defendants' summary judgment motion. Accordingly, facts alleged in the motion are deemed admitted so long as support for them exists in the record. See Smith v. Lamz, 321 F.3d 680, 683 (7th Cir. 2003) (“[F]ailure to respond by the nonmovant as mandated by the local rules results in an admission”); Brasic v. Heinemanns, Inc., 121 F.3d 281, 285-286 (7th Cir. 1997) (affirming grant of summary judgment where the nonmovant failed to properly offer evidence disputing the movant's version of the facts). See S.D. Ind. Local Rule 56-1 (“A party opposing a summary judgment motion must . . . file and serve a response brief and any evidence . . . that the party relies on to oppose the motion. The response must . . . identif[y] the potentially determinative facts and factual disputes that the party contends demonstrate a dispute of fact precluding summary judgment.”). This does not alter the summary judgment standard, but it does “reduce the pool” from which facts and inferences relative to the motion may be drawn. Smith v. Severn, 129 F.3d 419, 426 (7th Cir. 1997).

         II. Factual Background

         A. JPay

         JPay is a private company that partners with federal, state, and county correctional facilities to provide prisoner mail services. Friends and family of offenders housed in the DOC, including Wabash Valley, can use JPay to send money and emails to DOC offenders. Senders may attach photos to JPay emails.

         B. Confiscation of Mr. Capler's Photographs

         On all dates relevant to this lawsuit, Jeanne Watkins was employed by the Indiana Department of Correction (“DOC”) and worked as the Mail Supervisor at Wabash Valley. Ms. Watkins' duties included reviewing incoming correspondence to ensure that the correspondence did not run afoul of DOC policies.

         On May 15, 2017, Wabash Valley correctional staff received a JPay photo addressed to Jeffery Capler. That same day, Ms. Watkins viewed and confiscated the JPay photo sent to Mr. Capler because it contained a prohibited hand symbol.

         Prior to May 15, 2017, the Wabash Valley Security Threat Group Coordinator instructed mailroom staff to prohibit hand signs appearing in offender correspondence from being delivered to offenders at Wabash Valley. This prohibition against hand signs included peace signs because peace signs have been used by Security Threat Groups as a hand sign. A Security Threat Group (“STG”) is defined as: a group of offenders that set themselves apart from others; pose a threat to security or safety of staff or offenders; or, are disruptive to programs or the orderly management of the facility.

         On May 17, 2017, Mr. Capler received formal written notice that correctional staff confiscated the JPay photo of his son on May 15, 2017. On May 17, 2017, Mr. Capler completed and signed State Form 21682, Disposition of Offender Personal Property/Correspondence, prior to the disposition of the JPay photo of his son. On this form, Mr. Capler indicated that he wanted the ...

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