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Holmes v. Miller-Stout

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

February 12, 2018

JOEL CHRISTOPHER HOLMES, Plaintiff,
v.
MAGGIE MILLER-STOUT, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON MOTIONS FOR RECONSIDERATION

          ROBERT J. BRYAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Reconsideration (Dkt. 43) and Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration (Dkt. 47). The Court has reviewed the motions and the remainder of the file herein.

         A. Background.

         This case centers on whether Department of Corrections (DOC) staff retaliated against Plaintiff in violation of the First Amendment, by disciplining Plaintiff for sending a kiosk message to DOC staff. After DOC threatened to cut Plaintiff's hair, which would violate a tenet of Plaintiff's Rastafarian faith, Plaintiff sent Defendant Kerry Lawrence the following kiosk message:

riot at Stafford Creek. Maybe there will be one here if the South African born Douglas attempts to my hair again-or you and Inslee will all lose your jobs. I have had enough. The U.S. SUP CT has accepted a case on the Issue-Holv V. Hobbs and prison hair. [sic]

Dkt. 31-1 at 13. Based on that kiosk message, Defendant Kerry Lawrence wrote an Initial Serious Infraction Report recommending pre-hearing confinement for threatening an officer in violation of “WAC 506.” Dkt. 31-1 at 12. See WAC 137-35-030 (“506-Threatening another with bodily harm or with any offense against any person or property”).

         Defendants sought summary judgment of dismissal on all claims, a motion that was granted as to all claims except Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendant Lawrence. Dkt. 41 at 14.

         B. Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration (Dkt. 47).

         Plaintiff's motion is not clearly organized, and it is unclear exactly what Plaintiff portion of the Order on Motion for Summary Judgment Plaintiff seeks to be reconsidered. See Dkt. 47 at 1. It also appears Plaintiff may intend his “motion” to be construed as a supplemental Response to Defendant's Motion for Reconsideration, where Plaintiff writes, “Plaintiff hereby responds with a Motion for Reconsideration, and Answer, of his own.” Dkt. 47 at 1.

         Nonetheless, by construing Plaintiff's motion generously, it would appear that Plaintiff raises the issue of how inmate speech should be analyzed under the First Amendment. See Dkt. 47 at 1, 2. Plaintiff argues that analyzing whether an inmate has made a threat should be considered not from the subjective standpoint of the listener, but from the objective standpoint of the speaker, who must show a specific intent to communicate a true threat. Id. Plaintiff argues that, in this case, despite the DOC officer's subjective belief to the contrary, Plaintiff's kiosk message was not a threat. Id.

         Plaintiff's argument, that the Court should analyze the First Amendment retaliation claim from the standpoint of the speaker, may have bearing on the initial prima facie showing, which considers, inter alia, whether the inmate's speech was protected. See Dkt. 41 at 8, 9. But even assuming that the speaker's intent is relevant to the prima facie showing, Plaintiff has overlooked the rest of the qualified immunity analysis, which considers whether conduct violated clearly established law. It was (and is) not clearly established law that an officer cannot discipline an inmate for a written kiosk message reasonably and subjectively perceived to be a safety threat, under circumstances where the inmate did not subjectively intend for the message to be a threat.

         Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration (Dkt. 47) is HEREBY DENIED.

         C. Defendants' Motion for Reconsideration (Dkt. 43).

         The Court's Order denied barring the First Amendment retaliation claim on qualified immunity grounds because, “it was clearly established that a general, non-criminal threat, written in the context of an inmate grievance, was not a legitimate basis to justify [discipline].” Dkt. 41 at 12. Defendants' Motion for Reconsideration asks the Court to revisit that finding, because it “relied heavily upon the fact that Plaintiff was punished for ...


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