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Reynolds v. L.T. Pennington

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 28, 2015

LT. PENNINGTON, et al., Defendants.


DeBORAH K. CHASANOW, District Judge.

Pending is a Motion to Dismiss, or in the alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment filed by former Warden Bobby P. Shearin, Governor Martin O'Malley, and Lt. Pennington.[1] ECF No. 24. Plaintiff has not filed a response.[2] Upon review of the 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 motion will be granted.


The case was instituted upon receipt of a civil rights complaint filed by Plaintiff John Reynolds, an inmate then held at the North Branch Correctional Institution ("NBCI").[3] ECF No. 1. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. ECF No. 19. Generally, Plaintiff alleges that he was subjected to inhumane conditions of confinement while housed at NBCI, he was subjected to excessive force, and he was denied access to medical and psychological care. ECF Nos. 1 & 19.

A. Excessive Force

Plaintiff states that on January 21, 2014, he was taken to Lt. Pennington's office to be interviewed regarding an administrative remedy complaint ("ARP") he filed regarding the closure of the cell windows in Housing Unit ("HU") 2. ECF No. 1, p. 2.[4] Lt. Pennington asked Plaintiff to specify when he had a problem with "mace" being sprayed on the housing unit. Plaintiff indicates that he advised Pennington he had not had a problem but expected he would. Pennington advised Plaintiff that the windows were closed for cost saving and security purposes. Id. Plaintiff challenged Pennington's assertions, angering Pennington who advised Plaintiff that the closure of the windows was approved by the Warden and he need not explain himself to Plaintiff. Plaintiff continued to argue with Pennington. Id., p. 3. Plaintiff states that Pennington became angrier, slamming his hand on the desk and yelling expletives at Plaintiff while advising him that Pennington was the housing unit manager and made the policies of the unit, not Plaintiff. Id. Pennington ordered Plaintiff from his office, grabbing Plaintiff by his left wrist and arm and ripping Plaintiff out of the chair. Plaintiff states he was handcuffed behind his back. He states that Pennington pushed and twisted Plaintiff's arm over his head and Plaintiff felt his shoulder crack, a sharp pain in his left wrist, and a pulled muscle in his lower back and neck. Id.

Officer Connor, who had been standing at the office door, assisted Pennington in dragging Plaintiff down the hallway. Plaintiff told the officers to let go of him, he could walk on his own. Pennington continued to hurl insults and expletives at Plaintiff. Id. When they arrived at the holding cell, Pennington threw Plaintiff onto a concrete bench. Pennington told Plaintiff that he, Pennington, ran the housing unit. Plaintiff states he could smell alcohol on Pennington's breath. Pennington then told Plaintiff that he was going to HU 1 (disciplinary segregation) because Plaintiff had threatened him. A short time later, Pennington came back and advised Plaintiff that he was not going to place him on disciplinary segregation. He reiterated that Pennington was in charge of the unit. Plaintiff states that due to his fear of Pennington he agreed with everything Pennington said. Pennington advised Plaintiff that his ARP regarding the closure of the windows was going to be dismissed and that if Plaintiff filed any other ARPS he would be sent to HU 1 and housed with an inmate who would attack him. Id. p. 4.

After returning to his cell, Plaintiff told Officer Connor that he wanted to be seen by medical because his neck, back and shoulder hurt from Pennington's handling of him. Id. p. 4. Connor advised Plaintiff that he had just caught a break and not to mess it up. Id.

Plaintiff claims that since the incident he has been on edge as Pennington is in charge of the unit and Plaintiff lives in fear of Pennington transferring him to disciplinary segregation and/or confining him with an inmate who will harm him. Id., pp. 4-5.

B. Conditions of Confinement

Plaintiff alleges that he has been subjected to inhumane conditions of confinement due to the overcrowding of Maryland's prison system. Id., p. 7. Plaintiff states that the cells at NBCI were designed as single cells but he has been forced to share the cell with other inmates. He notes that NBCI was designed for single occupancy to house the worst offenders. Id., p. 8. He claims that the conditions at NBCI breed violence amongst inmates and increase in suicides. Id.

Plaintiff states that each cell is only equipped for one inmate and there is no means for prisoners to evenly share the space, resulting in inmates using psychological intimidation and physical force to claim their part of the cell. Id., p. 9. Plaintiff indicates inmates are forced to eat in their cells and there is no place to put their trays other than for one inmate to set his tray on the sink/toilet combination while the other inmate eats out of his lap. Id. He states there is no way to get into the top bunk other than using the sink/toilet as a ladder to climb on and jump off. He indicates it is easy to slip off the sink/toilet combination. Id.

Plaintiff alleges that since NBCI was designed to house inmates in single cells, the additional inmates adversely impact the opportunity for recreation. Plaintiff states that recreation periods are regularly cancelled. Id., pp. 9-10.

Additionally, Plaintiff claims that cell assignments are done without classification procedures, resulting in the assignment of inmates with violent propensities being housed with "a young cellmate fresh in prison." Id., p. 10. Plaintiff claims that "numerous inmates have been killed by their cellmates since NBCI has been double celled." Id.

Plaintiff states that each cell at NBCI is equipped with one vent for ventilation. Plaintiff claims that the vent does not consistently function. Id., p. 11. Plaintiff indicates that while staff indicate that housing unit windows are closed as a cost saving measure, that in fact they are closed in retaliation for recent inmate-on-officer violence and in an effort to cause unnecessary pain and suffering, as the closing of the cell windows causes the cells to become extremely dry and hot. Id. Plaintiff states that he has awoken with nosebleeds and consistently felt nauseous and sick if moving about the cell, forcing him to try to sit still. Id. He indicates the windows in his housing unit were closed in early December of 2013 and the vents were not functioning from December 24, 2013 until approximately December 30, 2013. Id., p. 11. The vents did not work again for several hours on January 3, 2014, and again from January 4, 2014 until January 6, 2014. Id., p. 12. The vents also stopped working from January 6, 2014 to January 10, 2014. Id. p. 12.

Plaintiff states that he submitted a sick call slip on December 27, 2013, complaining of the foregoing conditions and the resultant nosebleeds. He was seen by a nurse on December 30, 2013, and provided nasal spray. Id. He submitted another sick call slip on January 6, 2014, complaining of a nosebleed. He was seen on January 8, 2014, and advised the nurse that the nasal spray did not work, and that the problem was the condition in his cell. He indicated to the nurse that he needed to be able to open his window when the vent was not working. The nurse advised him that a nosebleed was not a serious medical condition and that nosebleeds happened sometimes in the winter. He was advised to continue to use the nasal spray, which was all she was able to provide him, and she could not have his window opened or fix the ventilation system. Id., p. 12.

Plaintiff was again seen by the nurse on January 14, 2014, regarding his complaints of nosebleeds. He requested to see the doctor. Id., p. 12. He was seen by the doctor on January 23, 2014, who also advised that the only treatment was the nasal spray and that the doctor could not order NBCI to open Plaintiff's window because a nosebleed was not a serious medical condition and Plaintiff was not at risk of serious harm. Id.

Plaintiff complains that the trays he is served his meals on are also used by mental health and disciplinary segregation inmates who smear bodily fluids on the trays. Plaintiff states that once a tray has been contaminated there is no way to clean it to make it sanitary. Id., p. 12. Plaintiff states that although NBCI staff claim that all contaminated trays are disposed of, he claims it is impossible to know when the trays have been contaminated. He states that the trays are made of a porous plastic that makes them a sponge for the things they come into contact with. Id., pp. 12-13. Plaintiff claims the only preventative measure to insure food safety is the use of plastic inserts on the trays. Id., p. 13.

Plaintiff indicates that the diet he is served has a "mutually enforcing effect on [his] health" when coupled with the minimal exercise allotted. Id. Plaintiff claims that his diet is comprised mostly of starches which are known to cause diabetes and other health problems which he fears he will develop due to the combination of his diet and limited exercise. Id.

Plaintiff claims that on August 5, 2013, the entire prison was placed on lockdown. Plaintiff states he had no involvement in the incident but nevertheless was locked in his cell 24 hours per day, except for a shower once a week. He claims that he was subjected to the lockdown for approximately two months. Id., p. 14. In late September or early October he began to receive one hour of recreation per week. Id. Plaintiff states that the delay in restoring recreation was an "exaggerated response" to the emergency necessitating the lockdown.

While housed on HU2 Plaintiff received one shower per week and one hour of out-of-cell exercise per week until December 9, 2013. Id. p. 15. In December, Plaintiff states he began to receive 2-3 hours per week out-of-cell exercise. On the days he was not provided out-of-cell exercise he was provided one hour of out-of-cell time which he could choose to spend either in the library or a room with telephone where he could call his family. Id.

Plaintiff indicates that all of the foregoing taken together deprive him of humane conditions of confinement. Id., p. 16.

C. Designation as member of Security Threat Group

Plaintiff claims that there is no due process regarding validation as a member of a security threat group ("STG"). Id., p. 10. Plaintiff claims that he has attempted to have his STG designation removed for years but has been ignored or told vaguely that there is evidence to support the designation. Plaintiff states that he cannot review or challenge the evidence. Id. Plaintiff claims that his inability to remove the STG label puts him at risk in the event of a gang war in the prison. Additionally, he claims he is unable to hold any institutional job which earns ten days good conduct credits per month, limiting him to assignment of jobs which only earn five days of good conduct credits. Id., p. 10-11

D. Programming/Housing Assignment

Plaintiff states that in August of 2013 he was assigned to general population and signed up to attend weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and a weekly case management program, and was on the waiting list to be assigned an institutional job so that he could earn money and good conduct credits. Id., p. 13-14. Plaintiff states that subsequently he was not allowed to attend Alcoholics' Anonymous meetings, institutional programs of any kind, or hold an institutional job. Id., pp. 15-16.

On October 3, 2013, Plaintiff was taken to an interview with Pennington, his case manager, and several other officers. Plaintiff states he was questioned regarding his sentence and advised that a "level system" was going to be placed throughout the facility with only HU 4 being general population. He was advised that his file would be reviewed and a determination made as to what level he would be placed in. Plaintiff states no notice was given prior the meeting and he was not allowed to present any evidence as to why he should not be removed from general population. Id., pp. 14-15. Thereafter, Plaintiff states inmates were moved among the housing units in an arbitrary fashion, with the administration picking and choosing who would be allowed to remain in general population and who would be moved to more restrictive units. Plaintiff states he did not receive an inmate rule violation or formal disciplinary action in violation of his right to due process. He states he was removed from general population to a more restrictive unit without due process. Id., p. 15.

Plaintiff states there is no educational or vocational training provided at NBCI. ECF No. 1, p. 18. Plaintiff states his release date is June of 2018 and he has no ability to prepare for release. He claims he is kept on maximum security status by Case Manager Zies in retaliation for his filing a complaint against her in November 2013. Id.

Plaintiff states that his assignment to NBCI and labeling as a member of a STG affects the duration of his sentence, since he cannot earn good conduct credits at the same rate as other inmates not so assigned. Id., p. 18. Plaintiff further claims that "Mutual Agreement Plan or MAP" wherein inmates are given a plan to stay out of trouble and complete certain programs in exchange for a reduction of sentence, are not available at NBCI. Plaintiff claims he should be assigned to medium security. Id.

Plaintiff alleges that each year he is entitled to a security classification review. Plaintiff states that as a matter of due process he is entitled to notice prior to the hearing and an opportunity to be heard. Id., p. 17. He claims that in 2013 he did not receive notice of his annual review, nor was he provided an opportunity to present any evidence regarding his security status. Id. On December 5, 2013, he received notice that his security status was to remain "max." No rationale for the determination was provided. Id. p. 17-18. In his amended complaint, Plaintiff indicates that on May 12, 2014, he was given a security reclassification hearing, without prior notice. ECF 19, p. 1. During the hearing Case Manager Zies told Plaintiff that she had received information regarding his affiliation with a STG and she was recommending his security level be raised from Max I to Max II. Id., p. 2. Plaintiff states that he is not a member of any STG and has tried to correct this inaccuracy for years. Id. Zies advised Plaintiff to speak to Lt. Harbaugh or Sgt. Barnhart about his designation as a STG member. Id. Zies then gave him pamphlets on anger management and relaxation techniques. Id.

During the security review, Plaintiff alleges Zies falsely identified Plaintiff as a sex offender registrant in order to fabricate a Prison Rape Elimination Act ("PREA") survey. Id., p.

3. Plaintiff states a PREA alert was placed on Plaintiff's file. Plaintiff states that this erroneous designation became the basis for housing Plaintiff with a sex offender Najarred Walker, who had a history of violent confrontations with his cellmates.[5] Id., p. 3. Plaintiff states that after weeks of housing with Walker it became clear that they were not compatible as cellmates and one of them needed to move in order to avoid violence. Id., 3. Plaintiff and Walker wrote to the Housing Unit manager advising that they were not compatible as cellmates and needed to be moved into separate cells. Id., p. 4. Plaintiff states that Officer Whetstone advised him during the week of June 15, 2014, that Plaintiff would be moved into an empty cell. On June 19, 2014, Whetstone spoke to Plaintiff and Walker separately and advised each that the move was not going to happen because each inmate had a PREA alert status and they could only be housed with each other. Id. Plaintiff has provided an affidavit from Walker ...

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