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Huff v. Tabler

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

March 15, 2019




         Michael Allen Huff, a prisoner without a lawyer, proceeds on claims against Stephen Tabler, alleging that a transfer to another jail constituted retaliation in violation of the First Amendment and punishment without due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Huff was not entitled to remain at a particular prison and that Huff cannot demonstrate a claim of First Amendment retaliation.

         Huff says that the motion for summary judgment should be denied pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d)(1), which allows the court to deny summary judgment if “a nonmovant shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition.” According to Huff, Tabler testified at a deposition in another case and in that testimony, he admitted to transferring inmates to other jails for the purpose of avoiding lawsuits. Huff tells me he could not obtain the transcript of that testimony. I will assume that the allegation regarding Tabler's testimony in that other case is true. Huff also states that correctional staff have taken documentary evidence from him, but the description of this evidence is too vague to warrant a denial of summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d)(1). As a result, I will proceed to the merits of the summary judgment motion.

         Factual Background

          Stephen Tabler worked as the jail commander at the Pulaski County Jail. ECF 40-1. On August 16, 2016, Huff received a disciplinary write up for destruction of jail property, and he was placed in lockdown. ECF 49 at 1. Three days later, Huff told Phyllis Foust, an assistant jail commander, that he should have received a disciplinary hearing within 72 hours and demanded that he be returned to the general population. ECF 48 at 16-17. Foust rejected the demand and prepared another disciplinary write up. Id. at 17-18. Huff responded in a rude and insolent manner; he signed the papers, threw them in the air, and told Foust to “Fetch, bitch.” Id. at 18. He then threatened Foust telling her, “You wait till I get out. Just wait till I get out.” ECF 49 at 2. He then said, “Motherfucker, I will show you assault on an officer.” Id. at 30; ECF 49 at 2. He then kicked his cell door for an hour, pushed his food trays out the door, but calmed down once Foust left. ECF 48 at 18-19. Four days later Tabler transferred Huff to the Starke County Jail, where he stayed for two months. ECF 40-1.

         At the Starke County Jail, Huff was deprived of recreation for days at a time, was assaulted by other inmates, and maced by the jail officials. ECF 1. The food was also inferior, and he did not know anybody. Id. at 2. Because he was unable to contact his family and attorney, the transfer also resulted in the loss of visits, mail, and money deposits and interfered with his pending legal matters. Id. Nevertheless, Huff generally preferred the conditions of the Starke County Jail over the Pulaski County Jail because the Pulaski County Jail staff were, in his words, really “childish and petty.” ECF 48 at 35-36. At his deposition, which took place at the Pulaski County Jail, Huff testified:

Defense Counsel: So you were mad that you had been transferred in the first place?
Huff: Yeah.
Defense Counsel: Okay. But you were happy to be back here because you like this jail better than Starke; right?
Huff: Actually, I like Starke way better than here.
Defense Counsel: Oh, okay. Because . . .
Huff: The jail itself is better. You know, when I went there, I am not -- I have never been to Knox before, so I didn't know anybody. I didn't have any way to get a hold of anybody. They didn't let me take my address book with my phone numbers. They didn't let me take nothing, so I couldn't get a hold of nobody. But like here, they're -- I don't know how to explain it. They're really petty. They are really childish about stuff. Like, okay, for example, when the girls are in the hallway, they're told they're not even allowed to turn their heads or they get lockdown. In a real jail, like Elkhart, you're in the hallway with girls all day long. Any time you go to court or medical or anything like that, you are with females. They don't care about that. In Starke County, they don't care about it. Just little stuff like that. They are really petty and childish about it.


         Tabler swears in his affidavit that he transferred Huff to defuse the escalating tensions between Huff and the jail staff and to facilitate the safe and efficient operation of the Pulaski County Jail. ECF 40-1. He was informed that Huff had yelled profanities at Foust and threw paperwork at Foust and that Foust felt threatened and intimidated. Id. In the response to the motion for summary judgment, Huff states that inmates were transferred from the Pulaski County Jail for the purpose of avoiding lawsuits. ...

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