United States District Court, D. Maryland
J. FREDERICK MOTZ, District Judge.
Tracy Skinner ("Skinner"), a Maryland inmate, filed this self-represented 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint for damages against Patuxent Institution correctional officers, alleging that they violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment by using excessive force. Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, construed as a motion for summary judgment, and Skinner has filed oppositions. ECF Nos. 15, 18 & 20. The matter is ripe for disposition. For reasons that follow, the court will deny defendants' summary judgment motion.
Summary judgment is proper when the moving party demonstrates through "particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations..., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, " 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), (c)(1)(A); see Baldwin v. City of Greensboro, 714 F.3d 828, 833-34 (4th Cir. 2013). If the party seeking summary judgment demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to identify evidence that shows that a genuine dispute exists as to material facts. See Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986). The existence of only a "scintilla of evidence" is not enough to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251 (1986). Instead, the evidentiary materials submitted must show facts from which the finder of fact reasonably could find for the party opposing summary judgment. Id.
Skinner's claims arise from an incident that allegedly occurred on June 1, 2013, while confined at Patuxent Institution. His verified complaint alleges that he wrote an administrative remedy on Patuxent Tier Officer Juliet Ngeh, who contacted Captain K. Ibeadogbulem to inform him of the remedy. Skinner asserts that Ibeadoglulem arrived on the tier and accused him of using profanity and disrespecting an officer, even though Skinner was silent. He then claims that he engaged in conversation with Captain Ibeadogbulem, who called a code on his radio and told him to lock in. Skinner alleges that both Ibeadogbulem and Ngeh grabbed him and he "shook them off of me and pushed them away..." He then claims he was punched in the stomach by inmate Jason Delong, and subsequently grabbed, punched in the face, kicked in the ribs and face, and stomped on the back of his neck by correctional officers after he complied with an order to lay on the ground. He claims that the assault left him unconscious and he was examined on site by medics and transported by ambulance to the Shock Trauma Unit of the University of Maryland Hospital Center, where he was treated for back and neck injuries and multiple contusions. ECF No. 1, Compl. at pgs. 3-6. Skinner claims that he could not file administrative remedy procedure ("ARP") grievances regarding the incident because he was placed on isolation and denied access to writing material. Id., Compl. at pg. 7.
Defendants provide a significantly different factual background concerning the incident. They state that Skinner is a "mental health inmate" who was housed in the Correctional Mental Health Center at Patuxent Institution. Defendant Ngeh reported that during the morning of June 1, 2013, Skinner was cursing out loud. When questioned regarding his disrespectful language, Skinner indicated that he was speaking to his cell mate who was in the shower and he was going to call home. When Skinner came out of the shower area, he punched Ibeadogbulem in the head and face. When Ngeh tried to intervene, Skinner knocked her against the wall. Defendants affirm that at this time, Skinner's cell mate, Daniel Rector, joined him and they both continued hitting and kicking Ibeadogbulem while he was lying on the floor. Other officers responded to the scene and stopped the assault. ECF No. 15, Ex. 5 at Ngeh Decl.
Correctional Officer Diane Komgeum affirms that she observed Skinner cursing at Ibeadogbulem and then saw Skinner hit the Captain with a closed fist. She further observed Ngeh attempt to assist Ibeadogbulem, but Skinner pushed her against a wall. Id., Ex. 6 at Komgeum Decl. Komgeum maintains that she temporarily left the scene to allow responding officers into the secured door, and when she returned she observed Ibeadogbulem lying on the floor with blood on his face and uniform shirt. Id. Correctional Officer Owens affirms that when he responded to a call for officer in need of assistance, he observed Skinner and his cellmate Daniel Rectos standing over Ibeadogbulem, who was lying face down in a pool of blood. Owens maintains that he instructed both inmates to get on the ground, but both were combative and assaulted him. Owens stated that he blocked a punch and grabbed Skinner, who was then subdued when other correctional officers arrived on the scene. Id., Ex. 7 at Owens Decl. Owens' affirmations are corroborated by that of defendant Fredericks, who maintains that he observed Ibeadogbulem laying down on the floor in a pool of blood, with Skinner and Rector standing over him in combative stances. He affirms that Skinner continued to struggle until other officers arrived and helped to subdue him. Id., Ex. 8 at Fredericks Decl.
The Internal Investigation Unit ("IIU") Report provided by defendants is factually on point with the declarations provided by defendants and other officers. It states that:
"Captain Kenneth Ibeadogbulem and CO II Juliet Ngeh was conducting security rounds and Inmate Tracy Skinner #317270 started a verbal altercation with Captain Ibeadogbulem. Inmate Skinner then struck Captain Ibeadogbulem in the face and head several times with closed fists. CO II Ngeh attempted to assist and was thrown into the wall by Inmate Skinner. At some point Inmate Skinner's Cellmate (Inmate Daniel Rector #363751) began striking Captain Ibeadogbulem with closed fists. Captain Ibeadogbulem, CO II Ngeh and Inmate Daniel Rector were transported to Howard County General Hospital for treatment of their injuries."
No surveillance cameras in the facility captured this incident."
ECF No. 15, Ex. 2.
Defendants provide medical records to show that a contemporaneous evaluation was made of the involved parties. Nurse Sarah Bangbade noted that Ibeadogbulem was responsive but bleeding from bruises and lacerations. Skinner was found to have swelling on both sides of his face and minor bruises around the face and head. Skinner, who was treated at the University of Maryland Hospital Center's Shock Trauma Unit, received care for multiple contusions, abrasions, and a lip laceration. A CT Scan of his whole body was normal. The summary noted facial pain and prescribed the use of a "Miami J collar" for one week, with a recommended follow-up appointment in one week. Id. Exs. 2 & 10.
In his opposition "affidavit" Skinner affirms that he wrote an ARP on defendant Ngeh and initially had difficulty getting Ibeadogbulem to sign off on it. ECF No. 18. Skinner maintains that he engaged in several discussions with Ibeadogbulem, resulting in the officer calling a code, and that both Ngeh and Ibeadogbulem grabbed his arms in an effort to put him in his cell. He states that he "shook loose from Ibeadogbulem" and "pushed him away from me." Skinner reaffirms that at that time Patuxent inmate Jason DeLong attacked him and punched him repeatedly in the chest and stomach. Id. He maintains that his cell mate, Daniel Rector, then started hitting both officers and "after both my hands were free I attempted to keep everyone at least arms length away from me by pushing them away." Skinner alleges that "when he saw an opening he went through it" and walked to his cell. Skinner maintains that Correctional Officer Owens ordered him to lie on the ground and he complied without any resistance. Id. He claims that after he lay on the ground, Owens ordered officers to "fuck him up" while he was in handcuffs behind his back and Owens and two officers beat him while he was handcuffed, and repeatedly stomped and kicked him. Skinner states that he was maliciously beaten and denies that he kicked or hit Ibeadogbulem, Ngeh or any other officers with his feet or a closed fist. ECF Nos. 18 & 20.
Skinner's claims are subject to the administrative exhaustion requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). This requirement "applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong." Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). Under the PLRA, prisoners must exhaust their administrative remedies before filing claims under § 1983. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(h) ("[T]he term prisoner' means any person... detained in any facility who is accused of... violations of criminal law...."). Administrative remedies must, however, be available to the prisoner and this court is "obligated to ensure that any defects in administrative exhaustion were not procured from the action or inaction of prison officials." Aquilar-Avellaveda v. Terrell, 478 F.3d 1223, 1225 (10th Cir. 2007).
Skinner was therefore required to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing this lawsuit. There is no dispute that Skinner did not file an ARP regarding the June 1, 2013 incident at issue. Scott Oakley, Executive Director of the Inmate Grievance Office ("IGO"), avers that Skinner filed just one grievance with the Inmate Grievance Office back in October of 2010, and failed to otherwise exhaust administrative remedies as to the excessive force issue. ECF No. 15, Ex. 1, Oakley Decl. Defendants, through the Declaration of Kristina M. Donnelly, affirm that Skinner was housed on the Patuxent Institution mental health center/segregation unit from June 1, 2013 through July 8, 2014, and that although the ARP forms are "readily available to every Patuxent inmate, " Skinner did not file an ARP. Id., Ex. 2, Donnelly Decl. Throughout his ...