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Israel v. Pierce

United States District Court, D. Delaware

January 25, 2017

LEE A. ISRAEL, Plaintiff,
WARDEN DAVID PIERCE, et al., Defendants,

          Lee A. Israel, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna, Delaware. Pro se Plaintiff.

          Roopa Sabesan, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Defendants.


          ROBINSON, District Judge.


         Plaintiff Lee A. Israel ("plaintiff" or "Israel"), an inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("VCC"), Smyrna, Delaware, proceeds pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. He filed this civil rights lawsuit on October 16, 2014, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging retaliation against defendants Warden David Pierce ("Pierce") and C/O Ronald Holcome ("Holcome")[1] (together "defendants").[2](D.I. 3) An amended complaint was filed on August 5, 2015. (D.I. 21) The court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Before the court are plaintiff's motion to compel (D.I. 32) and defendants' motion for summary judgment (D.I. 39). For the reasons discussed, the court will deny as moot plaintiff's motion to compel (D.I. 32) and will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment (D.I. 39).


         The amended complaint alleges that Holcome retaliated against plaintiff for submitting a grievance and writing a letter to the Delaware Department of Correction ("DOC") Commissioner. (D.I. 32 ¶¶ 20-21) It alleges that Pierce retaliated against plaintiff when he failed to protect plaintiff from the unfair treatment. (Id. at ¶¶ 24-26) Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages and injunctive relief, including reinstatement to his prior work assignment.

         Plaintiff was the lead worker assigned to W-building. (D.I. 42, Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 4) On September 6, 2013, he was suspended from his job by correctional officer Nasir Baqi ("Baqi") at the request of commissary administrator Carroll Powell ("Powell"). (Id. at ¶ 6) On September 8, 2013, plaintiff submitted a grievance complaining that he was removed and that he was not given a reason for his removal. (D.I. 42, ex, B) According to plaintiff, defendants have access to a computer system and are able to view grievances as they are submitted. (D.I. 42, Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 19) On September 10, 2013, plaintiff met with staff lieutenant Akinbayu ("Akinbayu") who informed plaintiff that he had been suspended pending an investigation. (D.I. 42, Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 8) On September 11, 2013, plaintiff sent a formal written complaint to DOC Commissioner Robert M. Coupe ("Coupe"), with a copy to Pierce, complaining about the suspension. (D.I. 42, Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 9, ex. A) On September 12, 2013, plaintiff was transferred to a double cell from his single cell housing, the latter a privilege that is routinely revoked when an inmate is fired from his job. (D.I. 42, Pl.'s Decl. ¶¶ 10, 20) Plaintiffs grievance was received by the IGC (i.e., inmate grievance chair) Lise M. Singer ("Stinger") on September 16, 2013, and returned to plaintiff unprocessed with the notation, "Delaware is an 'at will' state employment is a privilege." (D.I. 42 at ex. B) On December 6, 2013, Bureau Chief Perry Phelps ("Phelps") responded to the letter plaintiff had written to Coupe. (Id. at ex. C) In his memo, Phelps advised plaintiff that he had reviewed plaintiff's file, and indicated that plaintiff was removed from work pending an investigation. (Id.) Plaintiff was further advised that "the Administration did not choose to return you to that employment; however kept your [sic] classified in the work pod eligible to work elsewhere." (Id.)

         Holcome was the supervising correctional officer in the commissary during the relevant time-frame. (D.I. 42, Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 14) Baqi told Holcome that he was directed to revoke plaintiff's work pass in the commissary. (D.I. 40, ex. A. at 3} Holcome was unaware of any investigation into plaintiff, his termination, the reason for plaintiffs cell transfer, or why plaintiff was not returned to work in the commissary. (Id. at ex. A. at 1, 7, 8, 9) According to plaintiff, in May 2014, he was told by the work pool coordinator that he had been cleared by administration to return to work for some time, but Holcome was against it. (Id. at ¶ 23)

         On May 14, 2014, plaintiff filed a petition for writ of mandamus in the Superior Court of the State of Delaware in and for New Castle County, Israel v. Coupe, C.A. No. N14M-05-11 WCC, seeking restoration of his inmate job or a position equal to his previous job in the commissary. The petition was filed against Coupe, Phelps, and Pierce and refers to the September 6, 2013 job suspension, investigation, and plaintiff's continued unemployment even though he is classified to the work pool.[3] Respondents were granted summary judgment on November 25, 2014. See Israel v. Coupe, 2014 WL 7740426 (Del. Super. Nov. 25, 2014). The Delaware Superior Court concluded that Israel was unable to establish a clear legal right to employment, or that work classifications of an inmate are a non-discretionary duty of respondents. On June 1, 2015, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Superior Court. See Israel v. Coupe, 115 A.3d 1215 (Del. 2015) (table).


         In December 2015, plaintiff served discovery request upon defendants. (D.I. 29-31) When defendants failed to respond to the requests, plaintiff wrote them on January 21, 2016, advised them that their responses were a month late, and asked for an immediate response. (D.I. 32) Defense counsel did not respond to plaintiffs letter, which resulted in the motion to compel. (Id.)

         Thereafter, defendants sought an extension of time to respond to the discovery. (D.I. 33) It was granted, and defendants were given until on or before April 19, 2016 to respond to the discovery. (D.I. 34) Defendants timely responded to plaintiff's discovery requests. (D.I. 35-38) Accordingly, the motion to compel will be denied as moot.

         IV. MOTION FOR ...

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