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Roberts v. North Branch Correctional Institution

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 18, 2016




Brandon Roberts, who is self-represented, filed suit against defendants North Branch Correctional Institution (“NBCI”); former Warden Bobby P. Shearin; Major Mark Yacenech; and former Chief of Security Keith Arnold.[1] ECF 1. He subsequently filed an Amended Complaint. ECF 14. Roberts alleges, inter alia, violations of his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, claiming defendants denied him the opportunity to purchase certain books. ECF 14 at 3-4. He seeks declaratory relief, as well as compensatory and punitive damages. ECF 1 at 7; ECF 14 at 7.

Defendants have filed a renewed motion to dismiss or for summary judgment (the “Motion”). ECF 30. No hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, defendants’ Motion, construed as a motion for summary judgment, shall be granted.

I. Procedural Background

Roberts is a Massachusetts prisoner incarcerated at NBCI in Cumberland, Maryland, pursuant to the Interstate Corrections Compact.

On June 30, 2014, defendants filed a motion to dismiss, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment motion. ECF 16. It was supported by a legal memorandum (ECF 16-1) and several exhibits. Plaintiff sought two extensions in which to respond to the motion (ECF 18, ECF 21), both of which were granted. ECF 19, 22. In addition, on September 17, 2014, plaintiff filed a “Declaration of Brandon Roberts Pursuant to Federal R. Civ. P. 56 (D), ” in which he sought to engage in discovery before responding to defendants’ dispositive motion. ECF 20. I denied that request in an Order entered September 17, 2014. ECF 22. Thereafter, plaintiff noted an interlocutory appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. ECF 23. As a result of the appeal, I denied the dispositive motion, without prejudice, and subject to the right of defendants to refile it following the disposition of plaintiff’s interlocutory appeal. ECF 27. The Fourth Circuit dismissed the appeal on March 31, 2015 (ECF 28), and the Mandate issued on April 22, 2015. ECF 29.

On October 29, 2015, defendants moved to renew their dispositive motion. ECF 30. They also incorporated their earlier memorandum of law (ECF 16-1) and exhibits appended to it. See ECF 30 ¶ 7. Plaintiff was advised of the filing of the Motion and his opportunity to respond to it. ECF 31. On December 31, 2015, plaintiff filed a motion for temporary stay of proceedings (ECF 32), indicating that he was scheduled to be hospitalized for approximately four days for treatment of a fractured wrist and was therefore unable to respond to the Motion in a timely manner. I denied the request for a stay, but granted plaintiff an extension of time, to and including February 16, 2016, to respond to the merits of the dispositive motion. ECF 33. No response has been received.

II. Factual Background

In his suit, Roberts states that he ordered literature from Afrikan World Books, including “The Biggest Secret” by David Icke. ECF 14 at 3. The materials were received and held by the NBCI administration, without notice to plaintiff. Subsequently, plaintiff received notice from the book vendor that the materials had been sent back to the vendor by the NBCI administration. Id.; see ECF 16-3 at 3, 4.

Plaintiff asserts that he filed an internal complaint and learned that Warden Shearin authorized the return of the materials. Shearin indicated that plaintiff did not forward the proper form or get the proper approval to order the materials. Id. at 4. Plaintiff states that he obtained memos issued by Yacenech and Arnold restricting the purchase of books and requiring plaintiff to comply with a procedure that they put in place for ordering books, which was approved by Shearin. Id.

According to plaintiff, defendants were advised by the Commissioner of Corrections, on at least two occasions, to stop the practice, but they failed to comply. Id. Plaintiff claims that the practice gives defendants unchecked authority to obstruct or delay the receipt of books by inmates and is an exaggerated response to security concerns, as the policy does not prevent contraband form entering the facility. Id.

Defendants indicate that on February 27, 2013, plaintiff ordered from vendor Afrikan World Books the book entitled “The Biggest Secret.” ECF 16-3 (Vendor Correspondence) at 2; ECF 16-4 (Declaration of Richard Miller, NBI Assistant Warden), ¶ 4. The book was shipped to NBCI in March 2013, and on March 6, 2013, NBCI Property Room personnel returned the book to the vendor. ECF 16-4, ¶ 4. On March 29, 2013, the vendor wrote to plaintiff advising that the book had been returned by the institution. ECF 16-3 at 3. The vendor also notified plaintiff on April 30, 2013, that his book order of February 27, 2013, was returned again on April 29, 2013. Id. at 4. The correspondence also said: “4/30/13 I called NBCI property office. Spoke with Sgt. Harris. He said that all orders have to approved!!!” Id.

Notably, during the relevant time, plaintiff was assigned to disciplinary segregation. In particular, he was on segregated status from August 28, 2012 to March 20, 2013, and from April 28, 2013 to July 26, 2013. ECF 16-4, ¶ 3. Thus, when plaintiff ordered the book and when it was sent to him, he was on segregated status.

NBCI is a maximum security prison in Maryland housing approximately 1500 maximum security inmates, the majority of whom are serving life terms. ECF 16-4, ¶ 5. Assistant Warden Miller avers that NBCI’s population tends to contain those inmates with longer sentences and a history of violence, gang affiliation, poor institutional adjustment, risk of escape, and/or assaultive behavior. Id. Moreover, inmates on disciplinary segregation are not permitted to receive any packages “while on that status.” ECF 16-4, ¶ 3.

Miller explains that there have been “numerous” attempts “to smuggle contraband” into NBCI, including weapons, drugs, and on one occasion handcuff keys, concealed “in books sent by individuals posing as legitimate vendors.” Id. ¶ 7. NBCI Institutional Directive 220.0007.1, effective January 2, 2013, was implemented to prevent the introduction of contraband into the institution, because the contraband “would adversely affect the security of the institution.” Id. ¶ 7. It sets forth the procedure for inmates to receive packages. Id. ¶ 6; ECF 16-5 at 8-16. Effective January 28, 2013, Change Notice 05-13 was issued for that directive, which provided:

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. 250.0001.01.1 and may not exceed the 1.5 cubic feet allowed for storage space set forth in the ...

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