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Johnson v. Western Cumberland Institution Officers

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 12, 2014



ELLEN L. HOLLANDER, District Judge.

Vonzell Johnson, the self-represented plaintiff, is a Maryland prisoner currently incarcerated at Jessup Correctional Institution ("JCI"). He has filed suit against Correctional Officer II Marlin Randall, defendant, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983. See ECF 3 (Amended Complaint).[1]

Defendant has moved to dismiss or, alternatively, for summary judgment. ECF 22. The motion is supported by numerous exhibits and a legal memorandum (collectively, the "Motion"). On January 28, 2014, a letter was sent to plaintiff, advising that the Motion could result in the dismissal of the case, and of his right to respond to the Motion. ECF 23. See Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309, 310 (4th Cir. 1975). In response, plaintiff filed a motion for judgment. ECF 24.[2]

No hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). For the reasons that follow, defendant's Motion, construed as a motion for summary judgment, shall be granted.


Johnson alleges that on April 26, 2013, while he was incarcerated at the Western Correctional Institution ("WCI"), C.O. Randall came to his cell after a "3:00 pm' count" and "shook down" his cell. Plaintiff states Randall threw plaintiff's property around the cell and on the floor, including personal letters and pictures. According to plaintiff, after his cell was searched he was taken to a holding cell, where Randall punched him in the face and ribs, stomped on his back, and kicked him in the ribs. ECF 3.

Randall's version of events differs. On April 22, 2013, Randall filed a request to restrict plaintiff's walks/exercise for three days due to plaintiff's verbal abuse of staff. Additionally, in contravention of regulations, plaintiff covered his cell window, cell light and/or door window, and refused to stand for count. ECF 22-3, Ex. 1. The request to restrict plaintiff's activity was approved on April 23, 2013, by Lt. Rodney Likin, the Unit Manager. The restrictions were to be removed on April 25, 2013. Id.

On April 26, 2013, plaintiff used threatening language toward Correctional Officer N. Hetz during a search of plaintiff's cell. ECF 22-4, Ex. 2. During the search of the cell, plaintiff acted aggressively toward Hetz, stating: "I'm going to kill you when I slip these handcuffs you mother fucker." Id. Hetz ordered plaintiff to stop but plaintiff continued the threats, stating: "You fuckin' bitch, let[']s go! I'm going to fuck you up." Id. Due to plaintiff's assaultive behavior, Randall escorted plaintiff out of the cell and, at Lt. Likin's instructions, placed plaintiff on Staff Alert status. ECF 22-4, Ex. 2; ECF 22-6, Ex. 4, ECF 22-7, Ex. 5.

As a result of plaintiff's conduct, on April 26, 2013, he received a Notice Of Inmate Rule Violation. ECF 22-4 at 2, Ex. 2. He also received a Notice Of Inmate Disciplinary Hearing, id. at 1, which included an advisement of plaintiff's rights in connection with the charges. Id. However, plaintiff refused to sign for receipt of the rule violation report or the notice as to the disciplinary hearing. Id.

An adjustment hearing was held on May 10, 2013. The Hearing Officer, John Sandstrom, was presented with plaintiff's version of events, ECF 22-4 at 6, in which plaintiff claimed that he "did nothing, " was placed in a holding cell following the cell search for no reason, and was then assaulted by Randall. Id. The Hearing Officer found plaintiff's version of events, "not credible." Id. The Hearing Officer noted there was no evidence corroborating plaintiff's version of events. Id. In contrast, the Hearing Officer found Hetz's report credible. Id. Plaintiff was found guilty of the rule infraction, and was sanctioned with 180 days of disciplinary segregation and revocation of 120 days of good conduct credits. Id. Plaintiff appealed, and articulated his grounds. ECF 22-4 at 8. The Warden at JCI affirmed the Hearing Officer's decision as well as the sanctions. ECF 22-4 at 10.

Randall denies that he assaulted or harassed plaintiff. He states that on April 26, 2013, he escorted plaintiff from his cell in #4-C-30 to #4-B-1 after plaintiff threatened Officer Hetz during a cell search. Randall avers that he placed plaintiff in #4-B-1 at the direction of Lt. Likin in an effort to avoid further aggression by plaintiff. Randall also alleges that the escort was without incident, no force was used against plaintiff, and plaintiff did not sustain any injuries as a result of the escort. ECF 22-8, Ex. 6, Declaration of Marlin Randall.

Sgt. Steven Beeman, the Administrative Remedy Procedure ("ARP") officer at WCI, avers in his Declaration that he has researched serious incident reports and use of force logs at WCI and found no reports involving plaintiff on April 26, 2013. ECF 22-9, Ex. 7. Nor did he locate such reports for any dates in close proximity to April 26, 2013. Id.

On April 30, 2013, plaintiff filed an ARP as to the alleged assault. ECF 22-11 at 33. He reported that Randall hit him in the right rib area and face, stomped on his back, and kicked him in the ribs. Id. Given plaintiff's allegations, the matter was referred to the Internal Investigation Unit ("IIU") for review. ECF 22-11, Ex. 9. Plaintiff's allegations were thoroughly investigated by IIU, which included an interview of Johnson, ECF 22-11 at 9, and photographs of him taken on April 29, 2013. ECF 22-11 at 12, 64-65. No evidence was uncovered in support of plaintiff's claims. The case was closed with no further action taken by IIU. ECF 22-11 at 14.

Plaintiff's medical records reflect that on May 2, 2013, plaintiff was seen by Dennis Martin, R.N. for a wellness check after he reported to staff that he was assaulted by Randall on April 26, 2012. ECF 22-10 at 2, Ex. 8, ECF 22-12 at 35, Ex. 10. No injuries were reported by plaintiff or noted by ...

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