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Watson v. Stouffer

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 29, 2015

ANTONIO WATSON, #336897, Plaintiff,


JAMES K. BREDAR, District Judge.

Antonio Watson ("Watson") filed this 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 complaint for declaratory relief and damages. He alleges that while housed at the North Branch Correctional Institution ("NBCI") in May of 2013, his mattress was removed pursuant to a cell search and not replaced for forty days. Now pending before the court is a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment filed on behalf of defendants. ECF No. 15. An opposition, reply, and surreply followed. ECF Nos. 20, 26 & 31. Also pending is Watson's motion for appointment of counsel. ECF No. 23. For reasons to follow, defendants' motion, treated as a motion for summary judgment, shall be granted without the need for an oral hearing. See Local Rule 106.5 (D. Md. 2014).

I. Background

Watson claims that on May 7, 2013, while housed in Unit 1, A Wing at NBCI, Correctional Officer Goebel removed his mattress from his cell. An x-ray was taken and a syringe was found inside the mattress. The mattress was destroyed. Watson states he was immediately informed that he would be given a replacement mattress, but despite his repeated requests, he did not receive another mattress until June 17, 2013. He claims that he submitted sick-call requests to the medical department for back pain and was examined by a prison physician who determined that he had injured his back due to sleeping "on a bare-metal bed frame for over a long length of time." ECF No. 1.

II. Legal Standard

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) is "to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted) (quoting Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999)). When ruling on such a motion, the court must "accept the well-pled allegations of the complaint as true, " and "construe the facts and reasonable inferences derived therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). However, this court "need not accept the legal conclusions drawn from the facts, and need not accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions or arguments." Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v., Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 253 (4th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

The Supreme Court's opinions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) "require that complaints in civil actions be alleged with greater specificity than previously was required." Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). The Supreme Court's decision in Twombly articulated "[t]wo working principles" that courts must employ when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. First, while a court must accept as true all the factual allegations contained in the complaint, legal conclusions drawn from those facts are not afforded such deference. Id. (stating that "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice" to plead a claim). Second, a complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege a "plausible" claim for relief. Id. at 678-79 ("A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.").

A court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing predecessor to current Rule 56(a)). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate the absence of any genuine dispute of material fact. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). If sufficient evidence exists for a reasonable jury to render a verdict in favor of the party opposing the motion, then a genuine dispute of material fact is presented and summary judgment should be denied. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). However, the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position" is insufficient to defeat a defendant's motion for summary judgment. Id. at 252. The facts themselves, and the inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts, must be viewed in the light most favorable to the opposing party, Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007); Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 230 (4th Cir. 2008), who may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading but instead must, by affidavit or other evidentiary showing, set out specific facts showing a genuine dispute for trial, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Supporting and opposing affidavits are to be made on personal knowledge, contain such facts as would be admissible in evidence, and show affirmatively the competence of the affiant to testify to the matters stated in the affidavit. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4).

III. Analysis

Defendants state that on May 7, 2013, Watson's cell was searched. When his mattress was x-rayed, a syringe was discovered hidden inside the mattress. Watson was issued a notice of infraction charging him with violation of Rules 105 and 113.[2] ECF No. 15, Ex. 2. He subsequently pled guilty to the Rule 113 violation and was sanctioned with a 180-day segregation term, the revocation of 150 days of good conduct time, and the indefinite suspension of visitation. Id. The record of Watson's time on segregation, including his contact with medical staff, is provided by defendants. Id., Ex. 1 at White Decl. & Attachments.

On May 24, 2013, Watson filed an Administrative Remedy Procedure ("ARP") grievance claiming that Goebel confiscated his mattress and had not returned it after it was x-rayed. He complained that nothing was wrong with the mattress and he had been sleeping on steel for the "past several weeks, " causing pain in his lower back and neck. Id., Ex. 3 at pgs. 3-4. The investigation into Watson's ARP revealed that a mass shakedown had occurred in Housing Unit I at NBCI, an x-ray showed a syringe in Watson's mattress, and the mattress was destroyed. Sergeant Iser called the main property room and requested that a new mattress be sent to Housing Unit 1 to replace Watson's mattress. Iser reported that when offered a replacement mattress, Watson refused it. The ARP was dismissed on June 10, 2013. ECF No. 15, Ex. 3 at pgs. 3-7.

On June 25, 2013, Watson filed another ARP complaining about his medical care. He indicated that his sick-call requests received no responses and the medication he was receiving for lower back pain was not working. Id., Ex. 3 at pgs. 8-9. Defendants present over 100 pages from Watson's medical records, which indicate that Watson had a "significant history of complaints for lower back pain" that pre-dated the May 2013 incident and that he was periodically seen by health care staff for back pain. Id., Ex. 4. On January 10, 2013, he complained of ongoing lower back pain from working out and difficulty sleeping. In March of 2013, Watson again complained of back pain after falling out of his bunk. On May 9, 2013, he complained of back pain that moved from his lower to middle of his back. He did not mention the confiscation of his mattress at this time, but did request the renewal of his Robaxin[3] medication. Id.

On May 22, 2013, Watson was seen by Physician's Assistant ("PA") Flury for complaints of back pain. He reported the confiscation of his mattress and his having to lie on steel for two weeks, and was prescribed Naproxen[4] and a muscle rub. Further, he was ordered not to work or to participate in recreation for 14 days. Id., Ex. 4 at pgs. 22-23. On July 15, 2013, Watson was seen by Nurse Swan for a complaint of ongoing back pain and rash. No deformities were noted and Swan directed that Watson continue on his medication regimen and increase his activity level. On July 18, 2013, Watson was again evaluated for his back pain and medication complaints and referred to a PA. ECF No. 15, Ex. 4 at pgs. 27-32. Watson returned to the medical department on July 19, 2013, claiming he slipped on water, fell in his cell, and could not walk. He was brought to the medical department on a stretcher and complained of back, wrist, and neck pain and numbness in his right arm. When examined by medical staff, he was found to have no labored respirations and no swelling, redness, or open areas noted to the back or extremities. He was, however, admitted to the infirmary due to his complaints of pain. On July 20, 2013, he informed Dr. Stallworth the neck pain he experienced after the confiscation of his mattress had resolved after receipt of the replacement mattress, but his back, neck, and shoulder pain had reoccurred after his fall. He was discharged from the infirmary on July 22, 2013, wearing a cervical brace. X-rays were normal and he was diagnosed as having a symptomatic sprain of the neck and shoulder region. Id., Ex. 4 at pgs. 33-59. Finally, defendants affirm, through the declaration of Inmate Grievance Office ("IGO") Executive Director Scott Oakley, that Watson did not fully grieve his claim regarding the failure to provide him a replacement mattress. Id., Ex. 5 at Oakley Decl.

In his opposition, Watson reiterates his claim that his mattress was not returned to him for forty days and states that he filed institutional requests and grievances through the IGO regarding same. He claims that when no action was taken to fix the problem, he filed a timely ARP with the Warden and an appeal to the Commissioner, who did not ...

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