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Lightner v. Hardison

August 5, 2010


Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Ronald J. Wilper, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gutierrez, Judge

2010 Opinion No. 53

Order of the district court granting motion for summary judgment, affirmed.

William and Marcia Lightner filed a civil rights complaint alleging that in terminating their visiting privileges, the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC) violated their constitutional rights under the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution as well as their Idaho State Constitutional rights. The Lightners appeal the district court‟s order granting respondents John Hardison, Brent Reinke, and Steve Nelson‟s motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, we affirm.


In an underlying criminal case, William was convicted of lewd conduct with a minor under sixteen in violation of Idaho Code § 18-1508. The district court sentenced William to a unified term of twenty years, with a minimum period of confinement of three years, and placed him on a retained jurisdiction program. The district court received a report from the IDOC recommending that the court relinquish jurisdiction, which the district court followed. While in prison, William met Marcia who was a contract vendor at the Idaho State Correctional Institute (ISCI). In 1997, they got married and William remained incarcerated. In 1998, William used the IDOC grievance process with regard to some visitation issues. He objected to the prison policy that denied visitation to the couple. As a result, restricted visitation was granted, but the Lightners still objected to the form of visitation granted. Around 2000 or 2001, the Lightners received full visitation privileges. In 2005, William was granted parole.

While out on parole, William absconded from supervision and fled the country to Belize with Marcia. He was subsequently apprehended, his parole was revoked, and he was returned to the custody of the IDOC to serve his full prison term. On April 10, 2007, Marcia was arrested on felony charges for harboring a felon in violation of I.C. § 18-205.*fn1 As a result of her arrest, the ISCI Warden at the time, Warden Blades, terminated her visiting privileges. In July 2007, Warden Blades reinstated Marcia‟s visiting privileges on the condition that Marcia keep the facility informed on the status of her case.

The Lightners have accrued citations for violating facility visitation policies. For example, in November 2006, William accepted a visitation restriction for violating the visitor contact rules at the beginning and conclusion of his visits with Marcia. In December 2006, William was issued a disciplinary offense report for an inappropriate goodbye. In July 2007, other visitors to the ISCI complained that Marcia was changing the order of the visitors‟ log and was dressed inappropriately for visiting, including sheer, revealing clothing, and a lack of undergarments. In August 2007, Marcia failed to display her disabled identification permit when she parked in a handicap parking space. When she was reminded to display her permit, she exhibited hostility toward the officer. The Lightners filed officer misconduct complaints a number of times following the officers‟ corrective actions.

In August 2007, Warden Hardison replaced Warden Blades at ISCI. On October 1, 2007, Warden Hardison terminated Marcia‟s visiting privileges based on her previous arrest and unresolved criminal charges, as well as William‟s history of absconding the country while on parole, and a variety of past visiting issues involving the Lightners. Marcia ultimately pled guilty to obstructing justice and received a two-year probation sentence. As part of the plea agreement, the charge of harboring a felon was dismissed. The Lightners‟ visitation privileges were thereafter reinstated.

The Lightners initiated a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 alleging that the termination of their visiting privileges as of October 1, 2007, violated their constitutional rights. The Lightners sought compensation for the period of separation, requesting an award of $120,000 and $12,500 per missed visit, for a total of nearly $1.5 million. As part of the litigation, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. After a hearing, the district court issued an order granting defendants‟ motion for summary judgment primarily on the basis that William had failed to exhaust the IDOC grievance process. The Lightners appeal.


Summary judgment under Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) is proper only when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. On appeal, we exercise free review in determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists and whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Edwards v. Conchemco, Inc., 111 Idaho 851, 852, 727 P.2d 1279, 1280 (Ct. App. 1986). When assessing a motion for summary judgment, all controverted facts are to be liberally construed in favor of the nonmoving party. Furthermore, the trial court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the party resisting the motion. G & M Farms v. Funk Irrigation Co., 119 Idaho 514, 517, 808 P.2d 851, 854 (1991); Sanders v. Kuna Joint School Dist., 125 Idaho 872, 874, 876 P.2d 154, 156 (Ct. App. 1994).

The party moving for summary judgment initially carries the burden to establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Eliopulos v. Knox, 123 Idaho 400, 404, 848 P.2d 984, 988 (Ct. App. 1992). The burden may be met by establishing the absence of evidence on an element that the nonmoving party will be required to prove at trial. Dunnick v. Elder, 126 Idaho 308, 311, 882 P.2d 475, 478 (Ct. App. 1994). Such an absence of evidence may be established either by an affirmative showing with the moving party‟s own evidence, or by a review of all the nonmoving party‟s evidence and the contention that such proof of an element is lacking. Heath v. Honker's Mini-Mart, Inc., 134 Idaho 711, 712, 8 P.3d 1254, 1255 (Ct. App. 2000). Once such an absence of evidence has been established, the burden then shifts to the party opposing the motion to show, via further depositions, discovery responses or affidavits, that there is indeed a genuine issue for trial or to offer a valid justification for the failure to do so under I.R.C.P. 56(f). Sanders, 125 Idaho at 874, 876 P.2d at 156.

The United States Supreme Court, in interpreting Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), which is identical in all relevant aspects to I.R.C.P. 56(c), stated:

In our view, the plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party‟s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be "no genuine issue as to any material fact," since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party‟s case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial. The moving party is "entitled to judgment as a matter of ...

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