By Christopher Zoukis

On September 16, 2016, the Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama reversed an order by the Montgomery Circuit Court granting summary judgment in favor of state prison officials in a lawsuit filed by a state prisoner alleging constitutional violations.

Ronald D. Veteto claimed that he was forced to cell with fellow prisoner Anthony Merriweather at the St. Clair Correctional Facility, even though they were incompatible, and that Merriweather had engaged in a course of behavior designed to make Veteto change cells. Such behavior included “depriving Veteto of sleep, stealing his belongings, and, ultimately, physically assaulting him.”

Veteto further alleged that Merriweather had paid a fellow prisoner to stab him four times, calling him a “rat” – presumably because Veteto had reported Merriweather’s behavior to prison staff.

Veteto asserted claims against Merriweather for theft, conversion, assault and battery, nuisance and “willfulness and wantonness.” He also alleged that Warden Dewayne Estes and prison guards Kenneth Peters and Carla Graham had violated his constitutional rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and racial discrimination (Veteto is white, Merriweather is black), by failing to “protect him from Merriweather’s illegal and unconstitutional conduct.”

Defendants Merriweather, Estes, Peters and Graham all filed motions for summary judgment, which were granted by the circuit court.

The defendants probably did not consult with their attorneys prior to filing the motions, however, because they did not include any evidentiary support. Instead, as pointed out by Veteto in his appeal, the motions for summary judgment amounted to nothing more than conclusory denials of the facts alleged in his sworn complaint. As such, they failed to show there was no genuine issue of material fact in dispute – a core requirement for summary judgment.

The Court of Civil Appeals agreed with Veteto, reversing the circuit court’s order. Noting that Veteto had a long history of filing meritless claims, including against other prisoners, the appellate court stated, “Regardless of how litigious Veteto is … summary judgments cannot be entered against him if the parties moving for those summary judgments do not adhere to the requirements of Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure and of established caselaw and if they fail to meet their burden of demonstrating that no genuine issues of material fact exist and that they are entitled to judgments as a matter of law.”

The appellate court also noted the defendants had failed to file briefs on appeal, while Veteto represented himself pro se. See: Veteto v. Merriweather, 2016 Ala. Civ. App. LEXIS 235 (Ala. Civ. App. 2016).

In a subsequent ruling on February 3, 2017, the Court of Civil Appeals rejected Veteto’s petition for a writ of mandamus “directing the Montgomery Circuit Court … to enter a temporary restraining order requiring that Dewayne Estes, the warden of the prison, supply him with materials that Veteto says are essential for him to prepare, present, and argue the underlying civil action.”

Specifically, Veteto alleged that Warden Estes and other prison officials had engaged in a pattern of retaliation and harassment against him, and denied him access to legal research, clerical supplies, postage and timely notary services necessary for him to continue litigating his claims. He further said the circuit court had failed to respond to his motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

The appellate court found that Veteto had failed to comply with court rules with respect to his petition, including serving a copy on the trial court judge and including an appendix of the relevant record on appeal. Although the Court of Civil Appeals recognized “that Veteto claims that circumstances imposed by prison officials have rendered him unable to comply with the rules of appellate procedure,” that did not excuse his non-compliance.

Therefore, his petition seeking a writ of mandamus was dismissed. See: Ex parte Veteto, 2017 Ala. Civ. App. LEXIS 35 (Ala. Civ. App. 2017).

Related legal case

Ex parte Veteto

This article originally appeared in Prison Legal News on June 30, 2017.

About Christopher Zoukis
Christopher Zoukis is an outspoken prisoner rights and correctional education advocate who is incarcerated at FCI Petersburg Medium in Virginia. He is an award-winning writer whose work has been published widely in major publications such as The Huffington Post, Prison Legal News, New York Daily News and various other print and online publications. Learn more about Christopher Zoukis at christopherzoukis.com and prisoneducation.com.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).