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Tarpley v. Parrish

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 4, 2016

STEVEN E. TARPLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
SECRETARY CARROLL A. PARRISH, et al. Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GEORGE L. RUSSELL, III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff’s Motions for Default Judgment (ECF No. 18) and for Injunctive Relief (ECF No. 27) and Defendants’ Motion for Extension of Time (ECF No. 20) and Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 23). Having considered the Motions and supporting documents, the Court finds no hearing necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2014). For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff’s Motions will be denied and Defendants’ Motions will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Steven E. Tarpley is an inmate confined to North Branch Correctional Institution (“NBCI”) in Cumberland, Maryland. On June 7, 2010, Tarpley arrived at NBCI with approximately 817 pages of a trial transcript and other legal materials pertaining to his criminal conviction, including legal research he required for a motion to reopen post-conviction proceedings. Also, Tarpley possessed legal materials belonging to two other inmates because he was assisting them with drafting post-conviction motions and petitions. The documents amount to approximately 3.5 cubic feet of space.

Tarpley claims that Defendant Jeremy Crites ordered several searches of his cell. On May 15, 2012, Defendant Damon Thomas conducted a search of his cell, tossing all of the documents around the cell. On September 14, 2013, Crites confiscated one of Tarpley’s legal documents. In September 2014, Crites and Defendant T. Leasure searched Tarpley’s cell and took his neck brace. On December 6, 2014, Crites ordered a search of Tarpley’s cell resulting in confiscation of Tarpley’s legal papers, which were returned three days later by Defendant Robert Harris. On January 5, 2015, Crites ordered another search of Tarpley’s cell, during which it was determined that Tarpley possessed paperwork in excess of the 1.5 cubic feet limit. The excess paperwork was removed and placed in a storage facility.

Pursuant to prison policy, a prisoner who owns the excess property is permitted to determine what will be placed in storage and what will remain in the cell. (Durst Aff., ECF No. 23-2). The 1.5 cubic feet limit was created to ensure the security of the prison and avoid fire hazards. (Id.). All legal material placed in storage is accessible to the inmate upon his request. (Id.). The inmate reviews his documents in private, and the inmate may make copies and take documents back to his cell, provided he does not exceed the 1.5 cubic feet limit. (Id.). Generally, this is accomplished by exchanging documents kept in the cell for documents kept in storage. (Id.).

During the January 5, 2015 search of Tarpley’s cell, Defendant Gary Drozda discovered a piece of paper with the statement: “how do you spell relief? 10-13 officer’s down (I.E.D. Improvised Explosive Device)” which Tarpley created. (Id.). Prison officials charged Tarpley for violating a rule prohibiting use of intimidating, coercive, or threatening language and found him guilty of the violation on January 20, 2015. The officials sentenced Tarpley to serve 300 days on disciplinary segregation. Tarpley’s assignment to disciplinary segregation did not change the amount of space he was permitted for legal materials, nor did it change the procedure by which he was permitted to access material in storage.

Tarpley regularly accessed his legal materials in storage while on disciplinary segregation. (ECF No. 23-2) (demonstrating that from January 5 2015 to August 24, 2015, Tarpley accessed his legal documents). Tarpley received free copies of his documents due to his indigent status. (Id.). On June 15, 2015, Tarpley asked to have paperwork removed from his cell because it contained mold. (Id.). Pursuant to that request, two paper bags of documents were taken from the cell and placed in storage.

It is undisputed that Tarpley filed several administrative remedy procedure requests (“ARPs”) concerning the January 5, 2015 search of his cell from January 5, 2015 through March 2, 2015. After he was informed that the property was removed because it exceeded allowable limits, Tarpley’s January 6, 2015 ARP was dismissed. (Id.). Tarpley did not appeal the dismissal to the Commissioner of Corrections’ office.

On March 2, 2015, initiated this action alleging violations of his constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2012). (ECF No. 1). Specifically, Tarpley alleges Defendants have denied his right of access to to the courts in retaliation for bringing claims against Defendants. On March 25, 2015, Tarpley filed a complaint with the Inmate Grievance Office (“IGO”).[1] Tarpley filed a Motion for Default Judgment (ECF No. 18) on August 21, 2015. Defendants filed a Motion for Extension of Time to file an answer to the Complaint by September 22, 2015. (ECF No. 20). On September 8, 2015, Tarpley filed an Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 21). On September 22, 2015, Defendants file a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 23). On December 8, 2015, Tarpley filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order (ECF No. 27), rather than a response to Defendants’ Motion.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Motions for Default Judgment and Extension of Time

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55 states that the Clerk must enter default as to a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought when the party has failed to plead or otherwise defend. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, however, has “repeatedly expressed a strong preference that, as a general matter, defaults be avoided and that claims and defenses be disposed of on their merits.” Colleton Preparatory Acad., Inc. v. Hoover Universal, Inc., 616 F.3d 413, 417 (4th Cir. 2010).

In Tarpley’s Motion, he asserts that Defendants are in default for failure to file a responsive pleading on or before August 7, 2015.[2] On August 7, 2015, Defendants, however, filed a Motion requesting an extension of time to file their response to the Complaint by September 7, 2015. (ECF No. 17). The Court granted the Motion on August 21, 2015-the same date Tarpley filed his Motion for Default Judgment. (ECF No. 19). On September 8, 2015, Defendants again sought an extension of time to and including September 22, ...


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