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Hernandez v. Vale

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 27, 2015

MELVIN HERNANDEZ, #350-236 Plaintiff,
PATRICIA VALE, Regional Executive Director, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, JOHN WOLFE, Warden (JCI), CHERIE PEAY, Ass't. Warden (JCI), JOHN DOE, JCI Case Management Team, Defendants.


DeBORAH K. CHASANOW, District Judge.

This complaint is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 by self-represented Plaintiff Melvin Hernandez ("Hernandez"), who is an inmate at Western Correctional Institution ("WCI"). (ECF No. 1). Defendants Patricia Vale, Regional Executive Director, John Wolfe, Warden and Cherie Peay, Assistant Warden, [1] by their counsel have filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 13).[2] Hernandez has filed an opposition. (ECF No. 15).[3]

The case is ripe for disposition.[4] 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 unnecessary.


Hernandez claims that during the time he was an inmate at the Jessup Correctional Institution ("JCI"), Defendants violated his constitutional rights by exhibiting deliberate indifference to his mental and physical welfare. Specifically, he alleges: 1) he was not provided a Spanish-speaking interpreter at his classification reviews; 2) he had been on administrative segregation for approximately twenty months pending a transfer to another institution; and 3) the conditions to which he was subjected in administrative segregation were inhumane and deleterious to his physical and mental health. (ECF No. 1). He is seeking injunctive relief and damages.

Defendants' dispositive paper raises defenses of failure to exhaust administrative remedies, respondeat superior, and qualified immunity. Further, Defendants maintain they are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity with respect to Hernandez's claims against them in their official capacities. Additionally, they assert the facts do not support Hernandez's claim that they acted with deliberate indifference to his physical and mental well-being. Defendants aver Hernandez was placed on administrative segregation for his own safety and his transfer to another institution was not unduly delayed. Defendants maintain the conditions of Hernandez's administrative segregation housing were not inhumane, and he was provided regular and timely treatment for his physical and mental health issues. Defendants also indicate Hernandez was provided the services of a translator. (ECF 13).

I. Plaintiff's Allegations

Hernandez has filed his affidavit with his complaint. (ECF No. 1-1). In it, he attests he is Hispanic and does not speak English. (ECF No. 1-1, p. 2).[5] Hernandez attests that during monthly administrative reviews, he was unable to understand the review procedure or "articulate a defense." Id. "Only on one occasion I was afforded a bilingual officer, Sgt. Roman, who helped me understand the proceeding." Id. Hernandez states Sgt. Roman "translated what was being told to me by the Team, that I was being transferred to another facility.'" Id. Nonetheless, he claims he was denied a transfer to another prison by Defendants without any penological reason or interest after he was be placed in solitary confinement from in November of 2012. Id. [6]

Hernandez attests that during his twenty months on administrative segregation, he developed a skin infection, causing severe burning on his face and back. He claims the medicine prescribed for him did not relieve his pain or ameliorate the rash.[7] He also claims he was unable to sleep and developed severe headaches, paranoia, depression, and anxiety. Id.

Hernandez claims that prior to his assignment to disciplinary segregation on September 25, 2012, following an "incident" and subsequent placement on administrative segregation, he had no history of mental illness. (ECF No. 1, pp. 3-4). Hernandez indicates that after the assignment to segregation housing the institutional psychiatrist prescribed a mild psychotropic medication which failed to relieve his anxiety, attacks, paranoia, and depression. Id.

Hernandez attests he presented these concerns to Defendants with the assistance of his fellow prisoners. Id. at 4-5; see also ECF No. 13-3, pp. 23, 25, 26. He complained to Defendants Wolfe and Vale about receiving "sham" monthly Security Classification Reviews and the failure to provide evidence to substantiate the reasons for his continuing assignment on administrative segregation and exposure to inhuman conditions of confinement. Id. at 6. He complained to Defendant Peay of discrimination and unjustified and unreasonable segregated confinement. Id. He asked Peay to consider releasing him from administrative segregation based on the deterioration of his physical and mental health. Id. Additionally, he complained to Defendant Vale about his deteriorating physical and mental health, his loss of industrial credits, and his inability to access benefits accorded to prisoners in general population. Id.

Based on these allegations, Hernandez asserts Defendants acted with deliberate indifference to his mental and physical well-being by unreasonably delaying his transfer to another correctional facility. Id. Hernandez, who is suing Defendants in their official and personal capacities, seeks damages as redress. Id. [8]

II. Defendants' Response

Defendants' response is supported with verified exhibits, including prison and medical records and a declarations executed by Defendant Peay, Michael Yates, Assistant Litigation Coordinator at WCI, and Scott Oakley, Executive Director of the Inmate Grievance Office. (ECF Nos. 13-2, 13-3).

A. Segregation Housing Records

Defendant Peay's declaration and verified prison records demonstrate that on August 26, 2012, Hernandez and another inmate Edgar Garcia-Zarala engaged in an assault on inmate Vincent Cameron Brown using a weapon. Peay attests that Garcia-Zarala is a member of a known Security Threat Group ("STG"), and Brown is a member of a different STG. (ECF Nos. 13-2; 13-3 pp. 5-13). Brown was added to Hernandez's "enemies list" following the altercation. (ECF No. 13-1, p. 2).

Hernandez subsequently pleaded guilty to violating institutional rule violation # 102 (assault or battery on an inmate) and was sanctioned on October 22, 2012, to 60 days of disciplinary segregation. (ECF No. 13-3, p. 9).

B. Administrative Segregation Housing Records

Hernandez was placed on administrative segregation for his safety after he was attacked by Brown in November of 2012. (ECF 13-2, p. 2).

On December 4, 2012, with the assistance of Sgt. David Roman, a Spanish speaking correctional officer, Lt. Ronel Legrand interviewed Hernandez. Hernandez stated that he did not fear for his safety and wanted to return to the general prison population. Id .; see also ECF No. 13-3, pp. 23, 35-36; 48.

Defendant Peay attests that December 7, 2012, Legrand interviewed an inmate who is a high ranking member of Brown's STG regarding the assault on Brown. The STG ranking member stated he did not have a problem with Hernandez. He stated, however, that he could not speak for anyone else from his organization. The STG ranking member stated that he did not want to be held accountable for Hernandez if he was involved in any incident. Id. at 2-3. Additional investigation by Legrand revealed information from confidential informants and institutional officers that a "hit" had been placed on Hernandez by Brown's STG. Id.

Based on this information, Legrand substantiated a threat against Hernandez and recommended placing him on administrative segregation pending transfer to the general population at another ...

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