United States District Court, D. Maryland
JAMES K. BREDAR, District Judge.
Pending is Aaron Sloan's ("Sloan") complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF 1, 3, 23, 26). Defendants Sergeant Christopher Bingaman, Correctional Officer II Clinton T. Davis, Lieutenant William Gordon, Jr., Correctional Officer II Ryan Harper, Correctional Officer II Jason W. Lee, Correctional Officer II Codey K. Linn, Correctional Officer II Cody Miller, Correctional Officer II Jeremy Snyder, Warden Richard J. Graham, Jr., the Division of Corrections, and Western Correctional Institution, by their counsel, have filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment (ECF 34) to which Sloan has filed an opposition. (ECF 38).
The case is ripe for disposition. After considering the pleadings, exhibits, and applicable law, the court now rules pursuant to Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014), as a hearing is deemed unnecessary. For reasons to follow, the Division of Corrections, Western Correction Institution, and Warden Richard J. Graham ARE DISMISSED as defendants, and summary judgment IS GRANTED in favor of the remaining defendants.
I. Procedural History
Sloan, a self-represented litigant, presents claims of Eighth Amendment violations for use of excessive force, failure to protect, unlawful conditions of confinement, and deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. He also alleges he has been subjected to retaliation for filing administrative claims and lawsuits and his legal mail was unlawfully confiscated.
Sloan filed this complaint on December 20, 2013, initially presenting claims arising from a use of force incident that took place at Western Correctional Institution ("WCI") on November 11, 2013. (ECF 1). He later presented claims arising from an incident on December 25, 2013, when he was found with contraband and the subsequent removal of his in-cell wheelchair and his placement in a double inmate cell without handicap accommodations.
Sloan alleges on November 11, 2013, Officer J. Lee sprayed him with "mase" in his cell for no reason. He alleged Officer C. Linn sprayed him with "mase" two more times, choked him, and called him a "snitch." Id. He also alleged Officer Swagger refused to give him his legal mail. Id. As Sloan's complaint was incomplete, the court directed him to supplement the complaint using court-provided forms.
On January 23, 2014, Sloan supplemented the complaint. (ECF 3). He claimed pepper spray was used against him by Officer Lee "for no reason" on November 11, 2013, and caused him to be unable to breathe. (ECF 3, pp. 4, 6). Sloan claimed Officer Lee acted with deliberate indifference as he "clearly expressed" to Officer Lee that he had asthma, suffered seizures, and was unable to breathe. (ECF 3, p. 8).
Additionally, Sloan complained he was placed in a cell without modifications to accommodate his wheelchair after the November 11, 2013 incident, officers were "threatening" him, and he was in imminent danger of harm. (ECF 3, pp. 4, 6). As relief, he requested the termination of the officers who participated in the use of force incident, damages, and transfer to another correctional facility. (ECF 3).
On March 4, 2014, the court issued an order to obtain service on defendants, and service was accepted by counsel on behalf of Officers J. Lee, Davis, and C. Linn. (ECF 6, 7, 9). Since then, Sloan has filed numerous papers, letters, and supplements.
In a letter dated March 25, 2014, Sloan alleged Davis on March 24, 2014, came to his cell, confiscated his medication, and broke his razors. Sloan averred he has been threatened by Davis, Lin, and Lee for "writing them up" and Davis planted contraband on him. He asked to be transferred to a different correctional facility. (ECF 10). On April 3, 2014, the undersigned sent the letter to the Office of the Attorney General for appropriate investigation. (ECF 10, 11). On April 23, 2014, counsel responded, attaching a letter from Warden Graham. The letter indicated that on March 24, 2014, Sloan's cell was searched and 19 unauthorized pills were discovered. Sloan was given an adjustment hearing and found guilty of a rule violation by a hearing officer. Graham's letter read in part:
After an empirical review of the case I am confident this cell search was performed in accordance with policy. Mr. Sloan's allegation he is being set-up by Officer Davis is unfounded. This allegation was investigated by IIU and found to be without merit...
Sloan thereafter filed numerous additional supplements and correspondence. In his letter dated April 9, 2014, Sloan claimed that he had been tortured for fourteen days in a non-handicap accessible cell without his wheelchair. (ECF 10, p. 2.) In that letter and in his March 25th letter, he complained: 1) he had difficulty using the toilet because there were no grab bars; 2) Officer Wilburn choked him and pushed him out of his wheelchair; 3) Davis, Linn, and Lee threatened him; and 4) Davis planted contraband on him (ECF 10). Sloan claimed he was falsely accused of giving away his medicine, and as a result, his medication was confiscated and he wrongfully was issued a rule violation. (ECF 10, 13). Lastly, he suggested that he was denied medical care by Detective Gordon. (ECF 10, p. 2).
On April 16, 2014, the court directed counsel for the Division of Corrections to file an expedited response to Sloan's request for injunctive relief and address his claims that he had been tortured for fourteen days in a cell without accommodations for his wheelchair, he was pushed out of his wheelchair by a corrections officer, he was deprived of his wheelchair, he was choked by Officer Wilburn, and he was deprived of medical care. (ECF 12).
On April 17, 2014, Sloan submitted another letter to the court. (ECF 13). He alleged he had sustained additional injuries while trying to navigate his cell without a wheelchair. He stated he was found guilty of the rule violation at a hearing he did not attend. Id. He stated he had not received a response to his sick call requests, and maintained correctional and medical staff were conspiring.
On April 23, 2014, counsel for the Office of the Attorney General filed investigatory findings concerning Sloan's March 25, 2014, correspondence to the court. (ECF 10, 14).
On May 14, 2014, counsel filed an expedited response (ECF 22) to Sloan's request for emergency injunctive relief to which Sloan replied with a declaration from his cellmate, Antonio Banks, who attested to witnessing the difficulty Sloan has had navigating a cell without accommodations. (ECF 28).
Sloan supplemented his complaint again on May 16, 2014, to name additional defendants and alleged he was afraid cellmate Milton Savoy would kill him and that he had open wounds on his head and knees from crawling and hitting his head in his cell due to his lack of a wheelchair (ECF 23).
On June 5, 2014, Sloan filed another supplement, this time in the form of an affidavit. In it, he alleged Officer Davis smashed his head against a strip cage in retaliation for filing a "prison grievance." (ECF 26, p. 4). Sloan avers the right side of his face was swollen for ten days. Additionally, he generally reiterated his earlier presented allegations of fact.
On August 5, 2014, defendants filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment (ECF 34).
II. Defendants' Expedited Response
The court-ordered expedited response to Sloan's claims and exhibits are summarized as follows.
Declaration of Dr. Colin Ottey
Dr. Colin Ottey ("Ottey"), a physician who has treated Sloan, attests:
1) Sloan "needs a wheelchair to travel longer distances throughout the housing unit and institution" in general, but not while housed in his cell (ECF 22, Ex 2 ¶ 6);
2) Sloan has a "well-documented history" of using his wheelchair to break his cell window;
3) Sloan's Neurontin prescription was discontinued because he was hoarding medication and giving it to other inmates;
4) On April 9, 2014, Dennis Martin, R.N., saw Sloan in the medical department for complaints of a left knee abrasion due to falling. Martin observed a small open abrasion;
5) On April 10, 2014, medical providers requested a physical therapy assessment for Sloan. Ottey informed Sloan that his medication would be provided to him crushed and floating in water in light of allegations that Sloan was selling his medicine;
6) On April 11, 2014, medical staff observed Sloan throw himself toward the cell door to receive his medicine, hit the right side of his head, and land on the floor. Sloan was evaluated by medical staff who observed no bruising, bleeding, or swelling. It was determined there was no medical necessity to remove him from his cell. (ECF 22, Ex. 2 ¶ 9);
7) On April 19, 2014, Sloan was seen by medical providers for reported injury to his knees, lip, and head. Lisa Shell, R.N., examined Sloan and observed superficial skin injuries which were cleaned, treated with antibiotic ointment, and bandaged. There were no open head wounds. Sloan's lip was slightly swollen; and
8) On April 22, 2014, Sloan went to the medical unit complaining he had suffered a seizure the previous night, is not assigned to a handicapped accessible cell, and is having difficulty pulling himself upon the toilet. He also claimed that he was not receiving all his seizure medications. Ottey prescribed Gabapentin with for Sloan.
Notice of Inmate Rule Violation
On March 24, 2014, Sloan received two notices of rule violations. In the first, Sloan was notified that contraband was found during a search of his cell. Specifically, corrections officers found 19 pills, 3 intact razors, and "numerous broken razors." The officers also observed damage indicating tampering on the right side of Sloan's wheelchair. As a result, Sloan was charged with violating institutional rules 105 (possession of a weapon or article modified into a weapon), 111 (possession or use of medication that could be used as an intoxicant), and 406 (possessing, passing, or receiving contraband). (ECF 22, Ex 3, pp. 17, 20-22). Sloan refused to attend his disciplinary hearing on March 26, 2014. When Officer Wilburn whether he wanted to go to the hearing, Sloan, who was seated in his wheelchair, replied "fuck that hearing." Id. at 25. The hearing officer held the hearing without Sloan, and found him guilty of all three rules charged. Id. at 28. Sloan received 180 days of segregation for violating rules 105 and 111, and 45 days of segregation for violating rule 406. Id. at 29.
Also on March 24, 2014, Sloan was issued a second rule violation for passing medication to another inmate out of a hole under his cell door. Sloan was charged with violating rules 111 and 406, found guilty, and sanctioned with 45 days of segregation. (ECF 22, p. 42).
On March 28, 2014, Sergeant Bingaman heard a loud banging and discovered Sloan's cell window was shattered and he was unresponsive on the floor of his cell. Sloan was taken to the infirmary for treatment, and later charged with violating institutional rules 100 (disruptive activity) and 116 (damaging or destroying property). (ECF 22, Ex 3, pp. 3, 6-9).
On April 1, 2014, Sloan refused to be handcuffed to attend his disciplinary hearing and "waived" Officer Logsdon away. Id. at 10. Sloan was informed the hearing would proceed without him. Id. The disciplinary hearing was held on April 1, 2014, and the hearing officer concluded:
Inmate refused to appear. HO [hearing officer] finds good cause to hold hearing in abstentia [ sic ]. HO finds the report credible and reliable. Sloan regularly breaks his cell window. HO finds inmate guilty of rule 116. Rule 100 is not supported or explained in the violation.
ECF 22, Ex. 3, p. 13). The Hearing Officer indicated he would sanction Sloan by deducting 300 good conduct credits but there were no good conduct credits on his record to subtract. Id. at 14.
Wheelchair Destruction Documentation
On March 31, 2014, Lieutenant William Gordon ("Gordon") advised Chief of Security Michael Thomas ("Thomas") by memorandum that on March 28, 2014, Sloan had used parts of his wheelchair to break his cell window. Gordon wrote "[t]his is the third occurrence of the same type of destruction from inmate Sloan." (ECF 22, Ex. 4, p. 2).
On April 8, 2014, an "institutional wheelchair inspection" revealed that Sloan's wheelchair was beyond repair and missing several pieces "due to inmate Sloan using the parts to break out cell windows." (ECF 22, Ex. 4, p. 3). It was decided to ...