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Rodgers v. Stallings

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 4, 2015

ARTHUR RODGERS, Plaintiff
v.
MICHAEL STALLINGS, et al., Defendants

MEMORANDUM [1]

CATHERINE C. BLAKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Pending is a Motion to Dismiss or, in the alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment filed on behalf of defendants Sgt. Leah Youngblood, Sgt. Adam Whitacre, C.O. II Michael Stallings, C.O. II John Portmess, C.O. II Nicholas Soltas, [2] Executive Director of the Inmate Grievance Office (IGO) Scott S. Oakley, and Deputy Director of the IGO Robin Woolford. ECF 39. Plaintiff Arthur Rodgers has responded. ECF 46 & 65.[3] Upon review of papers and exhibits filed, the court finds an oral hearing in this matter unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons stated below, the dispositive motion will be granted.[4]

Backgroun

Arthur Rodgers, who is incarcerated at the North Branch Correctional Institution (“NBCI”), filed a self-represented complaint, alleging that on July 11, 2012, he was assaulted by NBCI prison guards. ECF 1, p. 3. Rodgers states that the assault began when he questioned Sgt. Youngblood regarding an administrative complaint he submitted. Id. Rodgers states that Stallings intervened during his conversation with Youngblood, telling him to “shut [his] fucking mouth.” Id., p. 4. After Stallings’ initial interjection, Stallings approached Rodgers and told him to “cuff up nigger” and “whether intentional or not his spittle hit my face as he said the word ‘nigger.’” Id. Rodgers states that he automatically pushed Stallings from him, after which Stallings and Youngblood sprayed a chemical agent at Rodgers’ face. Id. Rodgers responded by wrapping his arms around Stallings in order to prevent Stallings from hitting him with his handcuffs. Id.

Other officers responded to the scene. Id. Rodgers states he fell to the floor and while lying on his stomach with his right hand handcuffed behind him and his left hand over his head, he was kicked, punched, and spit upon while being called “nigger.” Id. Rodgers claims that he was hit on the head with handcuffs, causing two cuts in his forehead. Id. Although he could not see due to the chemical agent and kicks and punches to his eyes, Rodgers heard Youngblood tell Stallings to “fuck him up.” Id., p. 5. He also heard Whitacre say, “okay that’s enough the captain’s coming.” Id.

After being seen in the medical department, Rodgers was taken to Housing Unit (“H.U.”) #1, where he was stripped of his clothing, given a “jumpsuit, ” and placed in a cell. Id., p. 6. He states he was mocked by various prison guards and only fed sporadically for three days. Id. Rodgers states that Portmess repeatedly threw empty brown paper bags into the cell, so that it would appear he was being fed, but in fact he was not. Id. Rodgers also states while distributing meals, Portmess would tell him that he would receive “phlegm” or “semen” sandwiches. Id., p. 7. Additionally, Rodgers indicates he was not provided sheets, a mattress, [5] a pillow, or any means to wash his body or brush his teeth, nor was he provided his prescribed medications, including medication to treat hypertension, high cholesterol, and pain, as well as an antibiotic. Id., pp. 6-7.

On July 15, 2012, Rodgers was moved to a new cell, where he states a new round of threats and harassment was undertaken by Soltas, Ortt, and Lambert.[6] Id., p. 7. Rodgers states that on two occasions Ortt and Soltas threatened him, referencing the fate of a prisoner who had died at the Western Correctional Institution during an altercation with guards. Id. Soltas advised Rodgers that he decided which Administrative Remedy Procedure Act grievances (“ARPs”) to turn in and that two ARPs Rodgers submitted were not processed. Id. Rodgers claims that Ortt, Soltas, and Lambert threatened him with repercussions for filing ARPs, indicating that the altercation on July 11, 2012, was nothing compared to what they would do to him. Id.

On August 1, 2012, Rodgers was moved to a new cell with an inmate who had a long history of mental health problems and who had stopped taking his prescribed medication. Id., pp. 7-8. Rodgers states he notified Lambert and other authorities, and Lambert told him to “do your best, and we’ll just remember all you write when we’re legally stomping your ass.” Id., p. 8.

Rodgers alleges that his efforts to exhaust administrative remedies were thwarted. Id., pp. 12-14. He indicates that Woolford improperly denied his grievance filed regarding the July 11 incident. Id., p. 14. In his amended complaint, Rodgers alleges Scott Oakley, Executive Director for the Inmate Grievance Office, and Robin Woolford violated his 14th Amendment rights. ECF 22, p. 1. Specifically, Rodgers takes issue with Woolford’s reliance on his having been found guilty of inmate rule violations relating to the assault on July 11 as a basis for denying his grievance concerning the assault. Id., pp. 3-4.

In support of their dispositive motion, defendants indicate that Rodgers’ allegations regarding use of force on July 11 were investigated by the Internal Investigative Unit (“IIU”). ECF 39-5. IIU Detective Sgt. Robert Fagan, who was assigned to review the case, reviewed Rodgers’ medical reports as well as staff reports and the video of the incident. Id., pp. 4-9. Additionally, Fagan interviewed Rodgers, medical staff, and several of the correctional officers. Id. When interviewed by Fagan, Rodgers admitted pushing Stallings. Id., p. 8. Fagan’s review of the video showed Rodgers as the aggressor shoving Stallings away and struggling with the officers as they attempted to control Rodgers. Id., p. 9. This behavior led to the decision to close the investigation. Id., pp. 7, 9.

Stallings avers that on July 11, 2012, he was assigned to security for the NBCI medical department which was conducting chart reviews with inmates housed in NBCI H.U. #3. ECF 39-8, ¶ 4. While reviewing his chart Rodgers began questioning Youngblood regarding the status of an ARP he submitted. Id., ¶ 5. Youngblood explained the ARP would be delivered once the mail was collected by the tier officers. Id. Rodgers continued asking Youngblood why she did not deliver the ARP to him personally. Id. At that point, Stallings attempted to redirect Rodgers back to his medical chart and attempted to reassure Rodgers by explaining that once the mail was picked up by the officers on the tier Rodger would receive the ARP. Id., ¶ 6. While explaining the process to Rodgers, Rodgers said to Stallings, “I wasn’t fucking talking to you.” Id., ¶ 7. Stallings directed Rodgers to look at his chart or go back to his cell, and Rodgers again responded that he wasn’t talking to Stallings. Id. At that point Stallings determined it was best for Rodgers to return to his cell and instructed Rodgers to place his hands behind his back in order to be handcuffed. Id. When Stallings approached Rodgers, Rodgers stood up and struck Stallings in the chest with both his hands. Id. When struck, Stallings immediately administered pepper spray. Id. ., ¶ 8. The pepper spray did not stop Rodgers; he grabbed Stallings and the two struggled, both falling to the floor. Id. On the floor Rodgers continued to struggle and refused Stallings’ orders to stop resisting and submit to handcuffing. Id. ., ¶ 9. Only when additional officers arrived to assist was Rodgers able to be handcuffed. Id. Stallings avers that no force was needed or used once Rodgers was handcuffed and he stopped resisting. Id. ., ¶ 10. Rodgers was then escorted to the housing units’ medical room where he was examined by medical staff Id. ., ¶ 11.

Stallings denies using any racist comments toward Rodgers. Id. ., ¶ 12. He also denies spitting on Rodgers. Id., ¶ 13. Stallings submitted a use of force report, wrote an infraction on Rodgers, and was interviewed by IIU. ECF 39-5, pp. 4-5, 21-22, 45. All of Stallings’ statements and reports are consistent in their reporting of the events surrounding the altercation. Id

Medical Records Clerk Christina Butler witnessed the altercation. Id. ., p. 35. In her witness statement and in her interview with IIU, she reported that while Rodgers was reviewing his medical chart he began cursing at Stallings who then instructed Rodgers to cuff up. Id. ., pp. 4, 35-36. Rodgers asked Stallings what he was going to do about it and then hit Stallings. Id. ., pp. 4, 36. As Stallings tried to cuff Rodgers they both went to the floor.[7] Id. ., p. 4. Youngblood also confirmed this version of events in her interview with Fagan, and specifically denied that Stallings used racial epithets when referring to Rodgers or otherwise provoked Rodgers. Id., pp. 4-5, 8.

Whitacre avers that on July 11, 2012, he responded to a 10-13 (officer in need of assistance) in H.U. #3. ECF 39-9, ¶ 2. He saw other correctional officers involved in a physical altercation with Rodgers who was on the ground with both of his hands tucked and hidden under his body. Id. He observed blood on the floor and that pepper spray had been dispensed. Id. Whitacre avers that the situation was extremely dangerous because officers were experiencing the effects of the pepper spray and the spray had made the floor extremely slippery as officers tried to gain compliance from Rodgers who was not restrained and who was refusing orders to be handcuffed. Id. Rodgers continued to struggle and kept his hands underneath his body as officers attempted to pry his hands from under him. Id. Whitacre avers that at that time he was unaware whether Rodgers possessed a weapon. Id. Rodgers continued to refuse orders to comply, and continued resisting and struggling, resulting in an officer taking a bad fall on the slippery floor. Id. ¶ 3.

Whitacre avers that when an inmate remains non-compliant, the use of a higher level of force is permitted. Id. He states that at this point in the altercation, using his professional judgment, he decided to attempt to dislodge one of Rodgers’ hands by kicking Rodgers’ left shoulder, forcing his left arm back and permitting officers to secure the handcuffs. Id. Whitacre then placed his right foot on Rodgers’ shoulder so that officers could safely exit the area. Id.

Whitacre and Officer Simpson escorted Rodgers for decontamination of the pepper spray. Id., ¶ 4. Whitacre and Sergeant Werner then escorted Rodgers to the Support Services Building to the Medical Department for further assessment or treatment. Id.

Whitacre denies stating “Okay, that’s enough the Captain’s coming, ” as Rodgers alleges. Id., ¶ 5. Whitacre further states that given the location of the incident, a confined area, it is impossible to see for a long distance. Id. In addition to his affidavit, Whitacre was interviewed by IIU and also submitted a report regarding the use of force. ECF 39-5, pp. 5, 20. Both comport with his affidavit submitted in this case. Id.

Results of the IIU investigation showed that Officers Thomas Dorcon, David Robey, and S. Simpson responded to the incident. Id., p. 5. Simpson indicated he responded to the call for assistance and assisted in securing Rodgers and escorting him to medical. ECF 39-5, pp. 5, 24. Robey stated that when he arrived at the scene, pepper spray had been applied and Rodgers was continuing his assault on Stallings. Id., pp. 5, 28. He reported applying several closed fist blows to gain control of Rodgers and stop the assault. Id. He also reported assisting in forcing Rodgers to the ground. Id. Dorcon also indicated he responded to the incident, where he observed officers and Rodgers involved in an altercation. Id., pp. 5-6, 31. He reported throwing approximately six right hand punches to Rodgers’ body in an effort to gain his compliance and stop the assault. Id, pp. 6, 31. Once additional staff arrived he assisted in securing Rodgers’ left arm so that handcuffs could be applied. Id.

Rodgers was seen in the medical unit on July 11, 2012, where he received four sutures on the right side of his forehead. ECF 39-5, pp. 51, 71-72. The laceration on the left side of his forehead was closed with Dermabond medical glue. ECF 39-5, pp. 51, 71-72; ECF 39-10, p. 53. His face was swollen. ECF 39-5, p. 71. X-rays were negative for any facial fractures. ECF 39-10, p. 50. Other than lacerations on his face with a small amount of bleeding, facial swelling, and tenderness, no other injuries were noted. ECF 39-5, 71-72; ECF 39-10, p. 53-54. The sutures were removed on July 25, 2012. ECF 39-10, pp. 60-61. At that time Rodgers did not report any pain at the laceration site. Id., p. 60. Rodgers complained of eye problems following the use of force. ECF 39-10, p. 44. Medical staff noted he was in need of an eye examination and eyeglasses and was referred to Optometry, where he received new eyeglasses Id., pp. 21, 43-44, 46-47, 62-63. He continued submitting sick call slips complaining of headaches and vertigo, sometimes accompanied by nausea, indicating that his symptoms were caused by the altercation on July 11. Id., pp. 23, 28, 40, 42, 44, 65, 67-68.

As a result of the July 11, 2012 incident, Rodgers was served with a notice of inmate rule violation charging him with violating rule #101 (assault or battery on staff), and violating rule #400 (disobeying an order). ECF 39-14, p. 7. Rodgers’ hearing was held on July 24, 2012. Id., pp. 10-13. He was found guilty of both violations and received one year of disciplinary segregation and a mandatory loss of visitation for one year. Id., pp. 12-13; ECF 39-15.

Contrary to Rodgers’ assertions, Fann has no recollection of making any statement to Rodgers concerning his allegations that he was mistreated by staff, nor does he recall providing Rodgers a mattress. ECF 39-11, ¶¶ 4-5. Fann never witnessed staff withhold food from Rodgers or any other inmate. Id., ¶ 5. Soltas avers that he has never failed to submit an ARP received from Rodgers or any other inmate and that he has never harassed, abused, threatened, or retaliated against Rodgers. ECF 39-12, ¶¶ 4-5. Portmess avers that he has never withheld meals from Rodgers, nor has he ever told Rodgers his food was laced with phlegm or semen. ECF 39-13, ¶¶ 4-5.

From March 21, 2007 through July 30, 2013, Rodgers filed 64 ARPs while confined at NBCI. ECF 39-16. Relevant to this case, on July 10, 2012, the day before the July 11 altercation, Rodgers submitted ARP NBCI #1813-12 complaining that his new cellmate had mental health issues. ECF 39-17. The ARP was dismissed as moot on July 11, 2012, as Rodgers ...


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