United States District Court, District of Maryland
Ellen L. Hollander United States District Judge
The self-represented plaintiff, Scotland Williams, a Maryland prisoner incarcerated at North Branch Correctional Institution (“NBCI”), filed a civil rights suit against Gary Maynard, former Secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services; former Warden Bobby P. Shearin; J. Michael Stouffer, former Commissioner of Correction; and former Warden Frank Bishop, alleging that NBCI institutional directive 220.0007 improperly restricts his access to reading materials, including legal publications, in violation of his rights under the Frist Amendment. ECF 1 at 10. ECF 1; ECF 24. He also complains, inter alia, about “arbitrary denials” of prisoner access to library materials and the denial of “substantial library services” to prisoners in segregation. Id. at 10. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief invalidating the directive as well as monetary damages. ECF 1 at 14. His suit is supported by exhibits. ECF 1-1.
Defendants have moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. ECF 16; ECF 28. Plaintiff has filed a partial response. No hearing is necessary to resolve this matter. Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons that follow, defendants’ motions, construed as motions for summary judgment, shall be granted.
I. Factual Background
Williams complains that NBCI, a “practically new state-of-the-art facility, ” has no law library. ECF 1 at 5. Moreover, Williams notes that only general population inmates have access to the “institution’s library [, which] has a collection of general fiction and non-fiction books” and other periodicals. Id. But, the inmates in Housing Unit #1 (“HU1”), which houses prisoners on administrative or disciplinary segregation, have no such access. Williams also claims that each housing unit, with the exception of HU1, has a small library, which includes computers that provide access to the “premise database” and other information. Id.; see also Id. at 4.
According to Williams, the “general information requests” of inmates confined at HU1 are rarely honored. Id. He states that library services for HU1 are “sorely lacking.” Id. at 5. For example, periodicals are not available to segregation inmates and books lent to segregation inmates “mysteriously come-up missing, and prisoners are held financially responsible for paying questionably exorbitant fees. . . .” Id. at 6. As a result, that inmate’s library services are suspended until the fee is paid. Id.
Given these limitations, segregation inmates purchase books, periodicals, and reference materials from prison-approved vendors. Id. Williams states that the Division of Correction permits inmates to receive any mail and reading materials consonant with the law and prison regulations, id., and that “there is no limit on the volume of mail prisoners may receive.” Id. at 7.
According to Williams, in January 2013, Warden Shearin changed an institutional directive, and as a result, NBCI prisoners are restricted to ordering books only from vendors listed on the institutional directive change notice. Id. at 7. Plaintiff maintains that the only approved vendors are Christian Book Distributors and Hamilton Books. He states that neither vendor has any “books for prisoners wishing to challenge their criminal conviction or or [sic] conditions of prison confinement.” Id. at 7-8. Moreover, neither offers legal periodical subscriptions. Id. at 8.
Williams alleges that defendants “have refused to provide a valid rational connection between the prison directive that bans ordering books and catalogs from unapproved vendors and the legitimate Governmental interest put forward to justify it.” Id. at 8. He claims that the limitation of authorized vendors coupled with the lack of a law library and limited availability of the general library to segregation inmates constitutes an “abuse of discretion” and is an unconstitutional burden on his ability to exercise his First Amendment rights. Id. at 9-10. Williams specifically claims that the limitations have “hindered [his] efforts at identifying materials needed for post-conviction relief.” Id. at 10. Further, he claims that the limitation has affected his “quest for legal information, ” id., and has caused him to suffer mental deterioration, anxiety, and depression. Id. at 11.
Williams asserts that Shearin changed the directive without authorization from Maynard, then Secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, and Stouffer, then Commissioner of Correction. Id. at 8. Nevertheless, he claims that Maynard and Stouffer had “actual and constructive knowledge” of Shearin’s failure to obtain authorization to change the directive and took no steps to alter or amend the directive. Id. at 8-9. In addition, Williams states that he exhausted all available administrative remedies. Id. at 11-12; see also ECF 1-1 at 3-10.
By way of an amended complaint, ECF 24, Williams added the then current Warden of NBCI, Frank Bishop, as an additional defendant. Id.
Defendants indicate that NBCI is a maximum security prison housing approximately 1500 maximum security inmates, the majority of whom are serving life terms. ECF 16-2, Ex. A, Declaration of then Warden Shearin at ¶ 5. Shearin avers that NBCI’s population tends to contain those inmates with longer sentences and a history of increased violence, gang affiliations, poor institutional adjustments, risk of escape, and/or assaultive behavior. Id.
According to Shearin, contraband, including weapons and drugs, and on one occasion handcuff keys, entered NBCI concealed in books sent by individuals posing as legitimate vendors. Id. ¶¶ 6, 7. The contraband “adversely affect[ed] the security of the institution.” Id. ¶ 7. Therefore, on July 13, 2012, NBCI changed its Institutional Directive 220.007.1 concerning books, to read as follows: “Inmates at NBCI will not be allowed [to] order books unless they are preapproved correspondence courses for Education and/or Religious courses.” Id. ¶ 6.
On January 11, 2013, the Director of Program Services, in response to an Administrative Remedy Process (“ARP”) filed by another inmate at NBCI, ordered the institutional directive changed in order to conform to Division of Correction Directives. Id. ¶ 6. On January 16, 2013, because of security concerns, id. ¶ 7, the institutional directive was changed to read as follows, id. ¶ 6:
Inmates at NBCI may order books only from vendors approved by the appropriate Department Head/Unit Manager, Chief of Security and/or the Assistant Warden. The books must meet the criteria set forth in DCD.250.0001, DOC regulations, and NBCI.ID.250.0001.01.1 and may not exceed the 1.5 cubic feet allowed for storage space set forth in the ...