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Hill v. Best

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 11, 2014

JAMES P. BEST, Defendant.


J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on the Report and Recommendation ("Report") (Doc. 117) of Magistrate Judge Philip M. Frazier recommending that the Court grant defendant James P. Best's motion for partial summary judgment (Doc. 111). Plaintiff Demetrius G. Hill has objected to the Report (Doc. 118), and Best has responded to that objection (Doc. 123).

In this case, Hill alleges in Count 1 that Best violated his constitutional rights by opening and reading a piece of "privileged legal mail" outside his presence on or around June 14, 2009. In Count 1, he also alleges Best retaliated against him based on the content of that mail (he was going to provide information to an attorney about another inmate's case) in violation of the First Amendment, but those allegations are considered in Count 4, Hill's retaliation claim. Hill claims Best interfered with his right to send and receive mail, to be free from interference with the attorney-client relationship, and to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

In Count 4, Hill alleges that Best retaliated against him from June 2009 to October 2009 for exercising his right to assist in an investigation of another inmate's case and to file grievances. He alleges Best retaliated by threatening Hill's safety, giving him an undesirable cellmate, assaulting him, denying him haircuts and showers, and bribing other inmates to harm Hill. The Court has dismissed Hill's retaliation claims based on everything except the alleged assault and denial of showers.

I. Report and Recommendation Review Standard

The Court may accept, reject or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations of the magistrate judge in a report and recommendation. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). The Court must review de novo the portions of the report to which objections are made. Id. "If no objection or only partial objection is made, the district court judge reviews those unobjected portions for clear error." Johnson v. Zema Systems Corp., 170 F.3d 734, 739 (7th Cir. 1999).

II. Report

Magistrate Judge Frazier addressed the question of whether Best was entitled to summary judgment on part of Count 1 (interference with legal mail) and part of Count 4 (retaliation).

With respect to Count 1, Magistrate Judge Frazier concluded that the July 14, 2009, letter marked "Privileged Legal Communication" that was opened and read outside of Hill's presence - in violation of prison rules regarding legal mail - was not communication covered by the attorney-client privilege because it had nothing to do with providing Hill legal advice. He further concluded that Best's opening of the July 14, 2009, letter marked "Privileged Legal Communication" outside Hill's presence did not result in any harm such as an adverse impact on Hill's ability to litigate and did not interfere with the attorney-client relationship.

With respect to Count 4, Magistrate Judge Frazier found no evidence in the record indicating a temporal connection between Hill's exercise of his First Amendment rights (filing grievances and assisting in the investigation of another inmate's case) and the deprivation of showers for a week beginning August 12, 2009, such that an inference of causation was reasonable.

III. Objections and Analysis

Hill objects to every part of the Report. Consequently, the Court will review the entire matter de novo. Summary judgment must be granted "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); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Spath v. Hayes Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir. 2000). The reviewing court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Chelios v. Heavener, 520 F.3d 678, 685 (7th Cir. 2008); Spath, 211 F.3d at 396

The initial summary judgment burden of production is on the moving party to show the Court that there is no reason to have a trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Modrowski v. Pigatto, 712 F.3d 1166, 1168 (7th Cir. 2013). Where the non-moving party carries the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden of production in one of two ways. It may present evidence that affirmatively negates an essential element of the non-moving party's case, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A), or it may point to an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the non-moving party's case without actually submitting any evidence, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B). Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-25; Modrowski, 712 F.3d at 1169. Where the moving party fails to meet its strict burden, a court cannot enter summary judgment for the moving party even if the opposing party fails to present relevant evidence in response to the motion. Cooper v. Lane, 969 F.2d 368, 371 (7th Cir. 1992).

In responding to a summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party may not simply rest upon the allegations contained in the pleadings but must present specific facts to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-26; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57; Modrowski, 712 F.3d at 1168. A genuine issue of material fact is not demonstrated by the mere existence of "some alleged factual dispute between the parties, " Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247, or by "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, " Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, a genuine ...

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