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Miller v. Goodyear

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

August 29, 2019

VICTOR CORNELL MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
KENNETH GOODYEAR, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          James H. Payne, Judge

         This action is before the Court on Defendants' motion to dismiss or for summary judgment (Dkt. 18) and Plaintiff's motion for class certification and for appointment of class counsel (Dkt. 22). The Court has before it for consideration Plaintiff's complaint (Dkt. 2-5); the parties motions; the responses to the motions (Dkts. 23, 24); Defendants' reply to Plaintiff's response (Dkt. 25); a special report prepared by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) at the direction of the Court, in accordance with Martinez v. Aaron, 570 F.2d 317 (10th Cir. 1978) (Dkt. 16); and Plaintiff's objection to the special report (Dkt. 21).

         Plaintiff is a pro se state prisoner in the custody of DOC who is incarcerated at Lawton Correctional Facility in Lawton, Oklahoma, serving two sentences of life without parole. He brings this action under the authority of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking monetary, declaratory, and injunctive relief for alleged constitutional violations during his incarceration at Oklahoma State Penitentiary (OSP) in McAlester, Oklahoma. The defendants are Kenneth Goodyear, OSP Case Manager; Jessica Smith, OSP Warden's Assistant; Kevin Duckworth, former OSP Warden; Mark Knutson, DOC Director's Designee; Joe Allbaugh, DOC Director; and “named and unnamed employees.” (Dkt. 2-5 at 1).

         Plaintiff alleges that on December 15, 2008, he arrived at OSP from the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center, where he had been assigned to a class level upon initial entrance into the DOC. OSP officials, however, failed to issue the appropriate prison wages for his class level 2 assignment, as required by DOC OP-060107. Plaintiff claims he continued to meet and maintain the level criteria set forth in OP-060107 and was promoted to class level 3 on June 1, 2009. He again, however, did not receive the appropriate pay. On February 1, 2016, he was promoted to class level 4, but OSP officials continued to withhold his pay. On or about February 3, 2016, Plaintiff discovered his prison wages were not being deposited into his prison trust account. He asserts OP-060107 entitles incarcerated offenders to receive the appropriate pay grade commensurate with class level assignments while being unemployed because of the unavailability of a facility job, “if all other level criteria is [sic] met.” (Dkt. 2-5 at 3-4).

         Plaintiff further alleges “violations of his constitutional rights to a protected property interest, prohibition against retaliation for exercising a protected right, and denial of access to the courts.” (Dkt. 2-5 at 3). He claims Defendants “unlawfully withheld [his] earned prison wages without due process or other justification.” Id. In addition, he allegedly has been denied the following rights under the federal and state constitutions: (1) the right to property interest, (2) the right to petition the government for redress of grievances, and (3) the right of free speech. Id. at 7. Motion for Class Certification and Appointment of Class Counsel[1]

         As an initial matter, Plaintiff has asked the Court to certify this case as a class action and to appoint class counsel. (Dkt. 22). Respondent has filed an objection, urging the Court to deny Plaintiff's request. (Dkt. 23).

         Plaintiff asserts in the motion that the complaint “alleges facts that affect ‘numerous' prisoner's [sic] so that non-joinder of all members would be impracticable” . . . [and] “[t]here are questions of law and fact common to the class[.]” Id. at 1. Plaintiff further contends the alleged violation of withholding prison wages “spans throughout a number of decades, thereby affecting an innumerable amount of prisoner's [sic] that were and are currently being housed at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary during the years in question, with said injury extending further back than plaintiff's own injury.” Id.

         Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure sets forth the following requirements for a class action:

(a) Prerequisites. One or more members of a class may sue or be sued as representative parties on behalf of all members only if:
(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable;
(2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class;
(3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and
(4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)

         In Wal-mart v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338 (2011), the Supreme Court held that the district court has an independent obligation to conduct a “rigorous analysis” into the merits of the plaintiff's claims before concluding that Rule 23's requirements have been satisfied. Id. at 350-51. As set forth below, the Court concludes that Plaintiff's claims lack merit.

         Consequently, his motion for class certification and class counsel (Dkt. 22) must be DENIED.

         Standard of Review for Summary Judgment

          Summary judgment is appropriate when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. In making this determination, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Id. at 255. However, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment may not simply allege there are disputed issues of fact; rather, the party must support its assertions by citing to the record or by showing the moving party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Thus, the inquiry for this Court is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52. With these standards in mind, the court turns to the merits of the defendants' motion.

         Tort Claim

          Defendants allege Plaintiff's claims against them in their official capacities, and thereby the State of Oklahoma, must fail, because Oklahoma is immune from suit. The Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act (GTCA), Okla. Stat. tit. 51, § 151, is the exclusive remedy by which an injured plaintiff may recover against a governmental entity for the alleged torts of its agents and its employees. Fuller v. Odom, 741 P.2d 449, 451-53 (Okla. 1987).

         To bring a claim under the GTCA, a plaintiff must comply with procedural rules. Crockett v. Cent. Okla. Transp. & Parking Auth., 231 P.3d 748, 752 (2010). A person with a claim against the State or a political subdivision must present notice of the claim within one (1) year of the date the loss ...


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