United States District Court, District of Maryland
Ellen Lipton Hollander United States District Judge
This suit arises from an altercation on October 4, 2010, involving plaintiff, Gavata King-Fields,  a detainee at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility (“MCCF”) in Boyds, Maryland, and Emily Geller, a fellow detainee. As a result of the incident, plaintiff, then self-represented,  filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Three defendants remain: Deputy Warden Susan Malagari, Correctional Specialist Carla Johnson, and Correctional Specialist Karalynn Davis, all of whom worked at MCCF during the relevant time.
Now pending is defendants’ motion for summary judgment (ECF 46, the “Motion” or “Mot.”), which plaintiff opposes (ECF 56). In their Motion, defendants note that three claims remain under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: (1) that plaintiff’s access to the courts was thwarted; (2) that plaintiff was denied due process during her adjustment proceedings, and (3) that defendants failed to protect plaintiff during her incarceration at MCCF. Mot. at 1-2; see also ECF 17 (Memorandum of January 23, 2012). According to defendants, judgment in their favor is warranted as to all three aspects of plaintiff’s claims. Id. at 2. In her Opposition, plaintiff advised that she is no longer pursuing a claim for denial of access to court. Opp. at 1 n.1; see also, e.g., Ferdinand-Davenport v. Children’s Guild, 742 F.Supp.2d 772, 777 (D. Md. 2010) (“By her failure to respond to [defendant’s] argument” in dispositive motion, “the plaintiff abandons [her] claim.”); Mentch v. E. Sav. Bank, FSB, 949 F.Supp. 1236, 1247 (D. Md. 1997) (plaintiff’s failure to address in opposition brief an argument raised in defendant’s opening brief constitutes abandonment of claim).
No hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I will grant the Motion.
I. Factual Background
Plaintiff was housed as a pretrial detainee at MCCF between May 6, 2010, and October 20, 2010. Deposition of plaintiff, Oct. 22, 2012 (“King Dep.”) at 9. She was subsequently convicted of multiple counterfeiting and theft charges, related to the counterfeiting of checks, and is currently serving a sentence of more than 15 years’ imprisonment. See Id . at 8-9.
During plaintiff’s detention at MCCF, Malagari was Deputy Warden of Programs and Services. Deposition of Susan Malagari, Jan. 23, 2013 (“Malagari Dep.”) at 5-6. Johnson and Davis served at MCCF as Correctional Specialists. Deposition of Carla Johnson, Jan. 23, 2013 (“Johnson Dep.”) at 6; Deposition of Karalynn Davis, Jan. 23, 2013 (“Davis Dep.”) at 6-7. Davis reported to Johnson, who in turn reported to Malagari. See, e.g., Malagari Dep. at 9.
Of relevance here, MCCF’s female inmates are housed in one of two units, known as N2.2 and N2.1. Mem. Exh. 6, Affidavit of Susan Malagari, Feb. 26, 2013, ¶ 3. If necessary, inmates may also be housed in the medical unit. N2.2, known as the Program Pod, is for female inmates who have qualified for certain inmate programs and who are classified at the medium or minimum security level. N2.1 is divided into four “pods, ” designated as A, B, C, and D. Within N2.1, A-Pod is for general population inmates assigned a classification level of medium or maximum security; B-Pod is for general population inmates assigned a classification level of minimum or medium security; C-Pod is pre-placement for inmates who lack medical clearance to return to the general population, have yet to receive their inmate classification assignment, or who are on disciplinary status; and D-Pod is the Crisis Intervention Unit for mental health-high risk/high observation inmates, as well as those inmates on Special Management status.
The pods are separate locations, inaccessible to one another, and a correctional officers’ station is situated in the center of the four pods. Each pod has its own doorway separating it from the officers’ station, as well as a full glass wall exposing each of the pods to the full view of the officers’ station. Id.; see also King Dep. at 42-44; Mem. Exh. 2 (drawing of pods). Upon plaintiff’s arrival at MCCF, she was initially assigned to N.2.1’s A-Pod. King Dep. at 13.
Plaintiff met detainee Emily Geller upon entering MCCF. King Dep. at 11-12. Plaintiff prayed with Geller and assisted her with legal work. Id. at 12. Around mid-September 2010, plaintiff met another inmate, Patricia Torry, who was new to MCCF and was assigned to A-Pod. Id. at 12-13. Within a week after arriving at MCCF, Torry began writing letters to plaintiff and expressed interest in a “‘gay’ female relationship” with her. Id. at 13-14. Although plaintiff would talk to Torry and give her snacks, she was not interested in a relationship with Torry and would “laugh it off.” Id. at 13-14, 20. Plaintiff acknowledged that she corresponded with Torry through “jail mail” letters, which she knew to be in violation of MCCF rules. Id. at 20.
Shortly after Torry’s arrival in A-Pod, Geller was also transferred there from the Crisis Intervention Unit (the “CIU”). Id. at 14-15, 19. Geller had been assigned to the CIU after displaying suicidal behavior. Id. at 20. Within days of her transfer to A-Pod, Geller began “to express an interest” in Torry. Soon, the two began to sit in a corner, away from the unit’s other inmates, whispering to one another. Id. at 14-16.
During an “outburst” on September 22, 2010, Torry accused plaintiff of reporting her to a correctional officer for passing notes with Geller. Id. at 16. Torry stated plaintiff was “hot, ” which, plaintiff explained, meant she was a “snitch.” Id. Geller and other inmates were present for this exchange, but Geller said little and “didn’t really even take a stand.” Id. at 17. Plaintiff testified at her deposition that although she was concerned for her safety after being “labeled a snitch, ” she did not perceive a threat from any particular inmate. Id. at 17-18. At the time of her deposition, plaintiff could not recall having reported the September 22 incident to any MCCF staff member. Id. at 22.
On the morning of September 23, 2010, while the inmates were located in A-Pod’s “day room” common area, plaintiff spoke with a friend on the telephone, approximately 12 feet from Geller and Torry. Id. at 22-25. Torry approached plaintiff and began “cussing [her] out, ” saying, among other things, that someone should “F [her] up” for being a “snitch.” Id. at 26-27. Geller also became involved, cursing at plaintiff. Id. at 27-28. Plaintiff argued with them, using “inappropriate” language as well. Id. at 28. As a result of this incident, plaintiff, Geller, and Torry were each placed on a 24-hour cell restriction, in separate cells. Id. at 28-29.
While on lockdown, plaintiff could hear Torry shouting at her from her nearby cell, saying: “‘[W]hen I get out tomorrow, I’m going to do X, Y, and Z to this B.’” Id. at 31. In response, plaintiff collected letters she had received from Torry and waved them near her door, threatening to turn in the letters to get Torry in trouble. Id. at 31-35. Plaintiff could also hear Geller yelling, but could not understand what she was saying. Id. at 35-36. During the lockdown, plaintiff was in fear for her safety, from both Geller and Torry. Id. at 29-30. Accordingly, she pressed an emergency button located in her cell and asked an officer on security rounds, “Ms. Baker, ” to stop and talk with her. Id. at 32. However, neither Baker nor any other officer responded. Id.
Further, while on lockdown after the incident of September 23, 2010, plaintiff wrote letters to Malagari or “Captain David.” Id. at 29-30, 40. Although plaintiff could not recall the exact contents of those letters, she had explained the situation and indicated that she felt threatened by Geller and Torry. Id. at 40. Plaintiff could not recall writing any similar letters describing threats prior to September 23, 2010. Id. at 40-41.
On the morning of September 24, 2010, after the 24-hour lockdown was over, Torry came to plaintiff’s cell and told plaintiff that she “didn’t have any problems” with her. Id. at 37. At her deposition, plaintiff indicated that, at the time, she believed Torry’s statement that they “were okay.” Id. at 39.
In the afternoon of September 24, in response to plaintiff’s letter from the previous day, Davis visited plaintiff’s cell and moved plaintiff to administrative segregation in D-Pod. Id. at 41-42; 44; Davis Dep. at 64. Although plaintiff acknowledged that she was transferred for her own protection, administrative segregation amounted to a 23-hour lockdown, so plaintiff felt as though she was being punished. King Dep. at 41, 44-45.
Plaintiff wrote a letter to Captain David on September 25, 2010, asking to be removed from administrative segregation. Id. at 45-47. At her deposition, plaintiff recalled that she wrote “about Torry and I having the discussion the morning before, and that she said that she didn’t have any problems with me.” Id. at 47. Plaintiff also said that, while she was “begging” to be removed from administrative segregation, she felt as though it was safe to return even with Torry and Geller remaining there. Id. at 48. In support of her request to leave administrative segregation, plaintiff signed a release stating that she felt safe to return to A-Pod. Id. at 49. Based on her request, plaintiff was removed from administrative segregation on the afternoon of September 28, 2010, and returned to A-Pod. Id. at 49. Plaintiff asserts that no MCCF officials conducted any investigation or followed up with her to confirm that she felt safe upon returning to A-Pod, and defendants do not contest that point. See, e.g., Johnson Dep. at 15-16.
Although Torry had remained in A-Pod, plaintiff discovered upon returning that Geller had been transferred from A-Pod to other housing. King Dep. at 49, 51. Tensions with Torry persisted on September 28. When another inmate approached plaintiff to speak with her, Torry warned the inmate to “‘stay away from that hot B, ’” and continued to call plaintiff names for the remainder of the afternoon. Id. at 52. At her deposition, plaintiff stated that, at that point on September 28, she was in fear of Torry. Id. at 53. Although plaintiff did not notify the corrections staff on September 28 of her concerns, she wrote another letter to Johnson and Captain David, and placed the letter into the inmate mailbox on the morning of September 29. Id. at 54-56. Plaintiff described the incident, but could not recall whether the letter specifically stated that she was afraid, nor did she recall asking them to do anything in particular. Id. at 55.
On the morning of September 30, 2010, Torry came to plaintiff’s cell and explained that she (Torry) was being placed on lockdown until October 4 as discipline for writing “jail mail” letters. Id. at 56-57. According to plaintiff, Torry was not mad, and although plaintiff did not know why Torry had come to speak with her, she speculated that she may have been the only person on the unit Torry felt she could tell. Id. at 57-58. The “jail mail” letters that resulted in the discipline were not ones exchanged by plaintiff and Torry; plaintiff “had nothing to do with it.” Id. at 58. At that point, plaintiff did not fear Torry, nor did she indicate to correctional staff that she feared Torry’s return from lockdown on October 4. Id.
On October 2 or 3, 2010, Geller returned to A-Pod from disciplinary segregation, which resulted from an incident unrelated to plaintiff. Id. at 59. Geller visited plaintiff’s cell, and the two had what plaintiff described as a “girls’ session where we just talked about all of the lies that Torry had been mixing up between she and I.” Id. at 61. Plaintiff showed Geller the letters from Torry, in an effort “to bring back peace between she and I.” Id. Plaintiff testified that, as a result of that conversation, she did not fear Geller, and believed she had resolved any problems with Geller. Id. at 60, 62.
According to plaintiff, two other inmates told her that Geller and Torry had spoken on October 3, while Torry remained on lockdown. Specifically, Geller told Torry that plaintiff had shown her the letters that remained in plaintiff’s possession. Id. at 63-66.
On October 4, 2010-the day Torry was scheduled to return to A-Pod-plaintiff was summoned to Davis’s office. Id. at 69. Torry, Johnson, and another officer, Captain Harold Payne, were also present. Id. at 71-72. Plaintiff learned that Torry had requested the mediation. In plaintiff’s view, Torry’s request for the mediation was an attempt to put “everything out in the air so that [the] situation [with plaintiff] could be resolved.” Torry also sought to turn in additional “jail mail” letters, written by Torry and in plaintiff’s possession, so that Torry could avoid further discipline and “come off of lock[down] with a clean slate.” See Id . at 72- 73.
In the course of the mediation, plaintiff and Torry told their versions of the recent events. Id. at 74. Plaintiff acknowledged that she still had letters written by Torry, who did not want her to have them any longer. At the suggestion of Davis, plaintiff agreed to retrieve the letters. Id. An MCCF official, Officer Frazier, escorted plaintiff to her cell. As they returned to the mediation, other inmates, including Geller, observed plaintiff carrying the letters. Plaintiff explained that the inmates would not have known that Torry had requested their surrender. See Id . at 74-76. In the latter portion of the mediation, Torry stated several times, regarding plaintiff: “‘This B is a snake, and do you know what you do with a snake? You take a snake and you chop its head off.’” Id. at 77.
As a result of the mediation, Davis concluded that although a more restrictive designation of plaintiff and Torry as “separatees” was unwarranted, they nevertheless should be assigned to different pods. Id. at 78-79. At her deposition, plaintiff stated she was satisfied with that outcome, and that she felt it was a safe solution for her. Id. at 79. Davis’s decision was effective immediately, so Torry was transferred from lockdown directly to B-Pod, rather than back to APod. Id. at 79-80.
As plaintiff returned to A-Pod following the mediation, the other inmates were in the process of locking down after lunch. Id. at 80. At that time, Geller yelled insults at plaintiff, along the lines of “‘that’s F’ed up B. Oh, you’re going to get yours.’” Id. at 80-81. However, plaintiff acknowledged that, between the time she was locked in until dinner that evening, she did nothing to address any fear of Geller. Id. at 81-82.
Subsequently, plaintiff and Geller, along with the five or six other inmates in A-Pod, gathered in the day room for dinner. See Id . at 84. At her deposition, plaintiff testified that she was “fearful” because of the “whole environment” at that time, when “it was clear that everybody was mad at me for giving up Torry’s letters and being a snitch.” Id. at 96. However, at no time did plaintiff approach the guard window overlooking the day room, to express concern or request to be placed in protective custody. Id. at 100-01. Further, although the inmates could sit where they chose, plaintiff sat with her back to Geller. Id. at 92.
As the inmates ate, plaintiff began discussing the mediation that occurred earlier that day, within earshot of Geller. Plaintiff explained that the mediation took place at Torry’s request. Id. at 83, 92-93. When plaintiff explained that Davis had decided to house Torry in B-Pod, Geller “went off, ” stating: “I don’t believe this B. My MF’ing girl can’t come back over here[.]” Id. at 93; see also Id . at 94 (“It didn’t seem that Geller became that enraged until she realized that Torry wasn’t coming back on the unit with her.”). Plaintiff testified that, in response, she told Geller: “‘Emily, you need to calm down and focus on your case. You’re about to go to court, you know. I’m not going to argue with you. You’re the age of my child.’” Id. at 94.
Plaintiff recalled that Geller then stood up, followed by plaintiff, and the two “argu[ed] back and forth in each other’s face[s.]” Id. Geller struck plaintiff, and the two became entangled in a nearby exercise bike. Id. Plaintiff testified, id.:
So, we’re going back and forth fighting, and then Emily punches me in the lip, and blood just start[s] gushing everywhere. I took my hand and looked at it, you know, to see where the blood was coming from, and when I saw it was coming from my mouth, I went to cover myself. And that’s when Emily struck me again, got me down, dragged me, and just began to keep punching me in the face, dragging me through my blood and kicking and kneeing me.
In discovery, defendants produced the security video of the fight, which also contains a time-stamp reflecting the duration of the incident and the timing of the MCCF staff’s intervention. See Mem. Exh. 12 (security video from A-Pod.). The video depicts a seemingly hostile exchange of words between Geller and plaintiff while they are seated at adjoining tables. Defendants describe the security video as follows, id.:
The video shows that Geller stood up at 16:57:14; Plaintiff stood up at 16:57:15; Geller and Plaintiff bumped chests at 16:57:18; Plaintiff chest-bumped Geller backwards at 16:57:19; Plaintiff again chest-bumped Geller backwards at 16:57:20; physical fighting began at 16:57:21; Officer Tarner entered the pod at 16:57:30 to break up the fight; and the remaining emergency response team began entering at 16:58:19.9[.]
Although plaintiff characterizes these incidents differently than do the defendants, she does not dispute this general timeline. Notably, the parties offer contrasting portrayals of the response by Officer Tarner, the MCCF official present in the guard station adjoining A-Pod’s day room. In plaintiff’s view, Officer Tarner “showed no immediate concern for King’s safety, ” “nonchalantly walked into the day room without any sense of urgency or concern for King’s well-being, ” and observed the altercation “from afar as the inmates fought and made no effort to intervene even while Geller dragged King across the floor and repeatedly punched her.” Opp. at 18. Defendants, by contrast, emphasize that Officer Tarner entered the day room unaccompanied by other officers, putting herself at risk and acting in violation of MCCF policy, which dictated that she should have waited for other officials to arrive, rather than attempted to intervene on her own. Mem. at 12 n.9.
The altercation ended when the “emergency response team came in, grabbed [Geller], put their foot in her back, and locked her up.” King Dep. at 103. Plaintiff was escorted to the medical unit and provided with ice. Id. She was then transferred to disciplinary segregation pending an adjustment hearing to face charges for four infractions arising from the incident. Id. at 105. Geller was also charged with infractions as a result of the incident. Mem. Exh. 22 (Geller’s Notice of Infraction, dated Oct. 4, 2010).
Plaintiff’s medical records from MCCF indicate that, following the fight on October 4, 2010, plaintiff had two small cuts on her bottom lip, experienced “slight swelling” as a result of being punched in the eye, and had “minimal bleeding” that was “well controlled.” Mem. Exh. 14. Because of “light swelling” on the left side of her face and nose, plaintiff was given ice. Id. On an Inmate Medical & Dental Health Request Slip dated October 5, 2010, i.e., the day after the altercation with Geller, plaintiff reported pain in her left eye, stating that “it hurts to move [her] eye-ball around, ” and that her “whole body is aching, ” including her neck, back, and the bridge of her nose. Opp. Exh. I. Plaintiff was seen again the following day, October 6; her records note a “small jagged superficial laceration” on her lower lip, but indicate that no bruising or cuts appeared elsewhere on her face. Mem. Exh. 14. Although plaintiff reported pain in her left eye, she declined to take Tylenol. Id. At her request, plaintiff underwent a series of nasal and facial x-rays on October 11, 2010, all of which were negative. Id.
On October 23, 2010, three days after plaintiff’s transfer to MCI-W in Jessup, Maryland, she underwent a physical intake examination. Mem. Exh. 15 (plaintiff’s MCI-W medical records). Those records make no mention of visible external injuries, nor do they note any complaints raised by plaintiff concerning vision problems or headaches. Id. At her deposition, however, plaintiff stated that she reported vision problems to MCI-W staff during the intake process, and again during her first several months there. King Dep. at 137-38.
At her deposition, plaintiff maintained that, following the incident, she experienced “very bad headaches, ” “knots to [her] head, ” and blurred vision. King Dep. at 131. She claimed that, on the date of her deposition (October 22, 2012), more than two years after the altercation, she continued to experience double vision. Id. at 131-32.
Plaintiff’s adjustment hearing was held on October 6, 2010. Johnson Dep. at 36-37. Defendant Johnson conducted the adjustment hearing for plaintiff, as well as a separate adjustment hearing for Geller. Id. at 42. In advance of the hearing, plaintiff was permitted to identify witnesses she wished to appear on her behalf, and designated two individuals: Dana Johnson (“Dana”) and Dina Lemus. King Dep. at 109. Plaintiff acknowledged that she received and signed a copy of the charges brought against her. Id. at 111. She declined representation in connection with the adjustment hearing. Id. at 109, 110; Opp. Exh. L (plaintiff’s Notice of Infraction, dated Oct. 4, 2010, stating that plaintiff did not want to be represented).
Prior to the hearing, plaintiff compiled a list of questions that she intended to ask of her witnesses at the hearing. King Dep. at 111. Defendants emphasize that plaintiff did not submit the questions to MCCF staff to ask of the witnesses, as she believed her witnesses would be present at the hearing. Id. at 111-112. On an Inmate Request Form dated October 4, 2010, bearing a notation of “Attn: Ms. C. Johnson, ” plaintiff asked defendant Johnson to speak with her before the adjustment hearing, and to review the security video prior to the hearing. Opp. Exh. M (Inmate Request Form dated Oct. 4, 2010). The Inmate Request Form makes no mention of witnesses or witness questions, but, in her Affidavit, plaintiff states that her purpose in requesting to speak with defendant Johnson was to “submit questions to be asked of the witnesses.” Opp. Exh. J, King Affidavit, July 12, 2013 (“King Aff.”) ¶ 5.
MCCF maintains an Inmate Discipline Policy (designated as “policy no. 1200-7”), the applicable version of which became effective July 26, 2009. See Mem. Exh. 8; Opp. Exh. K (MCCF Inmate Discipline Policy). Regarding witnesses at adjustment hearings, the policy states, in part, id. at 9-10:
The inmate shall be given an opportunity to call witnesses in his/her defense, provided institutional security or safety would not be jeopardized. The Chairperson [of the Inmate Adjustment Committee] shall call those witnesses (staff or inmate) who are reasonably available, and who are determined by the Chairperson to be necessary for an accounting of the circumstances surrounding the charge(s). In order to lessen the possibility of witness intimidation, the accused inmate shall not be permitted to directly question the witnesses. The members of the Adjustment Committee shall question the witness in private and include any questions raised by the accused. Witnesses whose testimony would be repetitious or irrelevant need not be called. Unavailable witnesses may be asked to submit written statements; however, there must be good reason for not calling a witness in person. The justification of this action shall be documented. An inmate may rescind his/her request for witnesses by initialing the appropriate space provided on the DCA-71.
When plaintiff arrived at the adjustment hearing, she learned that her witnesses would not be present. King Dep. at 112-13. However, Johnson had previously interviewed one witness, Dana Johnson; the other witness, Dina Lemus, had left MCCF on temporary release, and thus was unavailable. Johnson Dep. at 39-40. According to plaintiff, defendant Johnson had not advised her that one of the two witnesses would be unavailable; if she had done so, plaintiff says, she would have identified an additional witness to testify on her behalf. King Aff. ¶ 6. Although defendant Johnson noted in the Recommendation and Report of Administrative Action that Lemus was unavailable due to her temporary release and that Dana had been interviewed prior to the hearing, ...